TAXPAYER-FUNDED spending on public health programmes targetting smoking, drinking, overeating and physical activity has been slammed as "wasteful" in a report which reveals a North-East council racked up a bill five times its neighbouring authority.

The report published by the TaxPayers' Alliance this week identified Durham County Council (DCC) as the local authority that spent the most cash on the four public health interventions in the region - a whopping £7,209,146.

Data gathered by the pressure group found in the same time period (2015/16), neighbouring North Yorkshire paid out a fraction of the cost - £1,359,485 - and was more successful in two of the categories.

John O'Connell, chief executive at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "In spite of far more people living in North Yorkshire, authorities in Durham managed to throw more than £7million on wasteful public health programmes, five times that in North Yorks.

"Almost £2,000 a head was spent on obesity programmes in County Durham, yet in North Yorkshire it was closer to £300.

"Residents need to challenge their council and ask why there is such a disparity and a cavalier attitude to taxpayers' money.

"Those who do want to make lifestyle changes are free to do so if they choose - there is no need for bureaucrats to blow our taxes on good behaviour schemes, especially if they are not measured for cost effectiveness."

The think tank has called into question the benefit of such public health programmes, arguing that many authorities even fail to measure the cost effectiveness.

Despite spending £1,254,000, Darlington Borough Council was among dozens of authorities with no cost effectiveness measure for its initiatives.

And where authorities did supply a breakdown, the TaxPayers' Alliance believes the schemes have proved to be "remarkably bad value for money" and has queried the rationale for expensive government interventions.

Overall a staggering £230million was spent across the UK to stop people eating sugary foods, drinking alcohol or smoking while bills for changing just one person's behaviour ran into the thousands.

In Durham, the council spent £1,286,281 on a service tackling obesity, with 702 people losing, weight while in North Yorkshire £207,685, was spent, with 756 people losing weight.

More than 250 people reduced their alcohol intake in Durham, compared to 363 in North Yorkshire.

However, the report details differences in data across the board, highlighted between the two counties where Durham forked out £3,920,414 on physical activity while North Yorkshire commissioned no service at all.

And the number of people who stopped smoking as a result of Durham's service was 2,903, out of 5,333 who accessed it, while only 956 people stopped smoking across the border.

In other areas of the North-East such as Newcastle, South Tyneside and Sunderland, public health programmes hovered above the £1million mark while in Gateshead more than £5million was spent.

Amanda Healy, director of public health for DCC, said: “The figures quoted by the Taxpayers’ Alliance are from 2015/16 and, therefore, do not reflect current prioritisation and funding.

“However, it is important to note that we are a large county and our spending is based on a number of factors, including population size, and that a significant amount of the spend on obesity intervention is used to provide sport and leisure activities which benefit a much larger number of people than the 889 figure (those who accessed service) quoted.

“In addition, all of our services are subject to regular review to ensure they provide value for money and meet statutory requirements, including compliance around the use of the public health grant and the requirement to improve the health and wellbeing of local people.”