From April 2013, councils in England will be given £5.2 billion to improve the health of their populations, and cash incentives for those who make the most improvements, Ministers have announced.

Each council will receive a ring-fenced budget - a share of around £5.2 billion based on 2012/13 funding - and their levels of success in improving their populations' health will be assessed according to 66 health measures set out in the new Public Health Outcomes Framework 2013-16, published this week by the Department of Health (DH).

Seeking "to improve and protect the nation's health and wellbeing, and improve the health of the poorest fastest," the Framework concentrates on two high-level outcomes to be achieved across the public health system: - increased life expectancy; and - reduced differences in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy between communities.

The nature of public health is such that the improvements in these outcomes will take years - sometimes even decades - to see marked change, says the DH. "So we have developed a set of supporting public health indicators that help focus our understanding of how well we are doing year by year, nationally and locally, on those things that matter most to public health," it adds.

Councils will be able to choose how they spend their public health budgets, but the 66 indicators against which their progress will be measured include: - fewer children aged under five having tooth decay; - people weighing less; - more women breastfeeding their babies; - fewer people aged over 65 suffering from falls; - fewer people smoking; and - fewer dying from heart disease and stroke.

The measures will also deal with the causes of ill-health, so they will include issues such as school attendance, domestic abuse, homelessness and air pollution.

Announcing the initiative in a speech given to the Royal Society of Public Health, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "we are giving local councils the money, the power, the right expertise and information to build healthier communities. Every area of the country is different, so councils will be able to decide what the most important public health concern is for them and spend the money appropriately."

"It is absolutely right that the budget and decision-making sits with councils. They will be able to address all aspects that affect our welling - such as school attendance, homelessness and fuel poverty - in the round," he added.

The whole system will be refocused around achieving positive health outcomes for the population and reducing inequalities in health rather than focused on process targets, and it will not be used to performance-manage local areas, says the DH. It also points out that much of the new public health system described in the Framework depends on the provisions of the Health and Social Care Bill, which has yet to be passed by Parliament.

- The DH has als launched an online Campaign Resource Centre, which it describes as "a one-stop stop for all [DH] public health campaign information and resources for anyone who works directly with the public."

"If you want to start conversations with families and adults about healthier lifestyles, stopping smoking, the signs and symptoms of cancer or stroke, or you need trustworthy advice about the issues that affect young people, the Campaign Resources Centre can help," it says.

The Centre provides up-to-date news and access to leaflets, posters, ads and toolkits which are available to support public health campaigns.