On Wednesday a producer rang to tell me that councils in Bristol, Gloucestershire and Somerset have been reviewing their financial support for Smokefree South West.
One council has decided to stop funding the group, another has cut its funding, and a third is considering its position.I'm sure your heart, like mine, bleeds at news of this tax tap being slowly turned off.
Simon Clark continues ...
It's council tax payers' money, after all. I think they have a right to know [how much money Smokefree South West get], even though the Sunday Politics film made a point of saying that the cost to the local community is just 30p per person.
Add it up across the region, though, and it's a tidy sum. Exactly how much I don't know because the Smokefree South West website doesn't say, but I'm sure, with a few FOI requests, we could find out.I can give you a ballpark, though, because I asked just that question to all Smokefree South West's funders - "15 Public Health teams based in local authorities across the region", according to their website - back in 2012. For 2010/11, these were the amounts.
Cornwall & Scilly £263,184
South Gloucs £127,197
Bristol £184,718.70 (and 70p?!?)
Bath & NE Somerset £87,814
NHS Somerset £259,318
North Somerset £100,702
That's without counting Devon who acknowledged my request but somehow forgot to reply. So the yearly sum was somewhere just shy of a cool £2.5 million! Whether it has increased since then, we don't know but I'd expect not.
Never mind the floods down there at the moment, Smokefree South West are swimming in cash compared to the same reply I received from North East PCTs detailing funds of a comparatively small £733,000. Little wonder, then, that much of the UK tobacco control industry's activity is coordinated by their poster child in the South West, eh? You may remember that the plain packs campaign was led by SFSW thanks to their ability to pull £486,462.06 from their usual funding to lobby the government with their (or our) own money.
As Clark says, congratulations to the councils concerned for recognising that this is something which shouldn't be consuming such a large proportion of our taxes. Seeing as so many other groups have so much to say on tobacco control, let them put their own money up instead of ripping off the public and getting their pharma industry lobbying done at our expense.
Bravo Bristol, Gloucestershire and Somerset, let's hope other regions follow their lead and cut hard; cut deep.