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Change is Possible: The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act

May 8th, 2015

wellbeing

The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act became law in Wales last week 

It has, in the words of the Act, been designed to “make public bodies think more about the long term, work better with people and communities and each other, look to prevent problems and take a more joined up approach”.

An international first, the Act incorporates much of the thinking of the Early Action Task Force, establishing  a Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, and placing a duty on all public bodies to base decision making on five “Principles” . The first and second principles are  “…the importance of balancing short-term needs with the need to safeguard the ability to also meet long-term needs”  and “… how acting to prevent problems occurring or getting worse may help public bodies to meet their objectives” For the other three principles and all the detail see this “Guide to the Essentials

Writing to the Early Action Task Force, Peter Davies, the Sustainable Futures Commissioner, said  “I want to thank you so much for all your support and contributions to the development of the legislation. We now have the task of making it work!”

Indeed we do. And, as the nation begins the first 100 days of a new Government, we also have a second task, equally important: We must  work to bring a similar approach to the rest of the UK. Our “One Hundred Days for Early Action” published last month, and our previous publications, show how …

It’s time to get cracking.

 

One Hundred Days For Early Action: Time for Government to put prevention first

May 6th, 2015

The Community Links led Early Action Task Force has recently published a new book One Hundred Days for Early Action: Time for Government to put prevention first: A collection of essays by a respected group of leading experts and thinkers with decades of experience of Government – as, civil servants, senior advisers or respected commentators.

Concluding our serialisation of the essays before the General Election, in this article David Robinson – co-founder of Community Links and Chair of the Early Action Task Force takes an overview of the collection and places the contributions in context.

Download the book.

 

One hundred days, FDR believed, was what it took to set the course for a presidency. It was his swift and determined grip on pulling America from the depths of depression in those early days of his first term that set the bar for future presidents.

Signalling intent is no less important for Prime Ministers and, in particular for our next one. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimate that 45% of the planned fiscal tightening will be still to come when the new Government is elected (£92bn). They will inherit a country of escalating needs, diminishing resources and an alarming direction of travel.

As funds have been cut in recent years acute services have been prioritised at the expense of earlier action. More problems have become more difficult when they might have been minimised or prevented. These trajectories are unsustainable but they are not inevitable. In this collection a range of commentators suggest the steps that might be taken by the new Government to build a society that prioritises an alternative approach – preventing problems from occurring rather than as now, struggling with the consequences. It would be, in the words of our first essayist Polly Toynbee, one that is “fairer, greener and more generous spirited”.

Another of the contributors to this collection Danny Kruger has spoken about the shift in the role of the Government from state as provider in the post war years to state as commissioner more recently. He has imagined an imminent further shift towards state as preventer in the years ahead. It may sound bombastic but when we look around and see where the flow is taking us we think the truth is inescapable. This is an idea whose time is overdue.

Unlike other Early Action Task force publications this collection does not represent our collective opinion. We wanted to generate a vigorous discussion and although all our contributors have either worked in Government or opposition, or been advisors or observers close to the centre, their experience and perspectives are very different. There is notable agreement on many of the policy prescriptions but also challenge and disagreement on some. None of the authors are responsible for the whole or, of course, for the views of others.

Sometimes the vocabulary in this territory can be confusing. In this collection we have reserved the phrase “early intervention” for work with children and their families and used the term “early action” to describe preventative work throughout the life cycle. Effective support in the early years is tremendously important but preparing for the world of the work, keeping fit in middle-age and getting ready for retirement are all also essential if we are to avoid difficulty in the next phase. A society that valued good quality lives and a sustainable economy above political fixes and short-term crisis management would do it all.

Some of our writers, remembering Gordon Brown’s dramatic activity in the opening days of the 1997 Government, suggested that early action needs a “Bank of England moment” – sweeping and decisive action immediately after the election, significant in its own right and also setting out the stall. Others urge a more patient approach, listening and learning and sharing ideas before doing anything at all. Most agreed that language is more important than ever in the early days. Government officials, parliamentary colleagues and the wider public will be alert to the signs. When electioneering is over, at least for a while, what is it that this Prime Minster really, really wants to do?

Some experts suggested practical programmes. Professor Layard recommends, amongst other ideas, Parenting Classes and Incredible Years group training, Luke Price an early action social security system and Professor Power a Troubled Youth programme learning from the Troubled Families initiative.

Of course every new minister will have their own favourites jostling for the PM’s attention and raising the thorny issue of priorities. Fortunately there are some possibilities where multiple benefits can ripple out to other agendas. Liz Meek, for instance, points out the close links between mental illness and physical ill-health. All such new expenditure programmes should, Lord O’Donnell suggested, be cleared by a new institution – the Office of Taxpayer Responsibility to ensure that “our accountability system is focused on preventing mistakes”.

Other authors also focused on the workings of Government believing that, with the machinery in place, transition to earlier action will gradually course through the system – longer term planning focused on delivery of outcomes, ten year testing, and a change in the rules allowing expenditure on early action to be treated like capital investment are suggested many of our contributors, and a “spot purchasing outcomes revolution” recommends Matt Robinson.

Better system leadership” said Rob Whiteman, is absolutely critical and others agree. Nowhere is this more important than at the heart of Government. Some think that responsibility for driving the early action agenda should reside in No10, others at the Treasury. Either way the Unit behind the leader (and there should be a Unit) must be central and it must be powerful and it must have the authority to lead change across Government – this is, above all, a cross-departmental agenda. Ultimately early action can be about saving money, not spending more, but without structural and systemic reform, vigorously endorsed from the top, change will be limited and, very likely, unsustainable.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that every development must be a step in the dark. New ministers can be suckers for novelty and, of course, an appetite for innovation is not generally a bad thing, but nor is it always needed. Sometimes old ideas could work well but need testing more thoroughly. We need to know more about what works best. Dan Corry, Carey Oppenheim and Haroon Chowdry stressed the importance of effective evaluation not least because, as Michael Kell has observed from the National Audit Office “what gets measured, gets managed”.

Governments are of course dependent on popular support and given the finely balanced state of the parties in the run up to the election it would be surprising if the new Prime Minister was not more sensitive than most to the proclivities of a uncertain electorate, even in the first 100 days. All the more important then for a wider movement, to support these big changes and also, as Ray Shostak suggested, to “get early action trending” by working on the “small practical ways to readjust the system”.

Stephen Tall quotes H.L. Mencken “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong”. In the experience of the Task Force pretty much everyone agrees that preventing problems from occurring, rather than picking up the pieces afterwards, is a broadly sensible approach but it isn’t easy. Financial procedures, operational models and deeply embedded organisational cultures get in the way. That’s why, though it may be common sense, it isn’t yet common practice.

The new PM and his or her ministerial team will face many challenges in their first one hundred days but in almost every area of Government there will be the same strategic choice – prevent now or pay tomorrow. The implications are challenging but it would be a mistake of enduring importance, and a missed opportunity, if the new Prime Minister did not declare a bold and unequivocal preference.

A new deal for parents and children Guest blog by Prof. Richard Layard

May 5th, 2015

The Community Links led Early Action Task Force has recently published a new book One Hundred Days for Early Action: Time for Government to put prevention first: A collection of essays by a respected group of leading experts and thinkers with decades of experience of Government – as, civil servants, senior advisers or respected commentators.

We are serialising the essays before the General Election, in this essay  Richard Layard – Professor Emeritus at the London School of Economics outlines that relationships ara at the core of  peoples sense of wellbeing.

Download the book.

 

We need policies which focus on the main problems which people worry about from day-to-day. Wellbeing research shows that, even in hard economic times, people’s main worries are about relationships, including

  • relationships between them and their children
  • relationships between them and their partner
  • the values and behaviours their children pick up at school
  • the children’s chances of meaningful work after school, and
  • mental illness in the family.

There are of course many other important relationships – above all, at work. But I suggest that the ones I have listed could form the centrepiece of a New Deal for Parents and Children. In each area there are well-evidenced things that can be done, which also have the merits that

  • they would benefit and resonate with all social classes
  • they would have very small net cost.

Let me outline them first and then revert to cost.

Proposals

  1. Support for parents

a Post-natal depression affects 20% of all mothers. Most are not treated. Health visitors are now being trained to identify this but those affected need professional therapy. They should be guaranteed professional psychological therapy in the NHS within 28 days of referral (as part of the wider guarantee in 3 below).

b Seriously bad behaviour affects about 10% of children at some point. For mild to moderate cases the right approach is group training for parents in how to relate to their children. After the Webster-Stratton Incredible Years group training programme about two thirds of children improve in a way that is sustained. About 3,000 workers have now been trained but free access to this programme for parents should be guaranteed.

c Conflict between parents is common and is one of the most damaging experiences for children. It also reduces the happiness, productivity and tax payments of the couple. Couples therapy should again be available as a standard offering within the NHS.

d As a preventive measure, couples should be offered nearly-free parenting classes around the time of childbirth, covering not only biology but also relationships (between parent and child, and between parent and parent).

 

  1. Schools for life

a School discipline is a major issue for many parents and children. In a recent survey 43% of children said that other children were “always” or “often” so noisy that they found it difficult to work. There are well-tested Webster- Stratton programmes for training teachers to control behaviour, based on the same principles as parent training. They should be part of standard teacher training, and available to serving teachers who want to take them.

b Values. We need schools to be as concerned with character as with competence. A respectful, altruistic ethos is successfully cultivated in “values schools”. They provide a good example of what can be done.

c Resilience/PSHE. All research shows that happier children learn better. Academic results and personal wellbeing are not rivals, as DfE currently believe, but complements. There are professional evidence-based ways of teaching PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education). These should be encouraged through brief courses for serving teachers, and organisationally PSHE should become a graduate specialism in the PGCE. Every school should have a Wellbeing Policy, which includes mental health awareness.

 

  1. Mental illness in the family.

One million children and young people and six million adults are mentally ill. The new Act promises parity of esteem for mental and physical health. But under a third of mentally ill people are in treatment. This is true of children and adults, and is mainly due to lack of facilities. Moreover, there are no waiting time targets for psychological therapy. It is a disgrace and a new deal is required.

a NICE recommended psychological therapies should be available to all who need them. The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme which we launched in 2008 has according to Nature set a world-beating standard, and has 45% recovery rates. But it only reaches 15% of adults with depression and anxiety. A good objective for 2020 would be 25% of adults and 33% of children – with at least 50% recovery rates.

b Every school should have a named (part-time) therapist working there (on outreach from CAMHS).

c The training of GPs should include a mental health placement.

 

  1.  Transition to work

An essential feature of a good society is that young people feel they are wanted, and have a natural way in which they can contribute to society. We have two excellent policies which we should reactivate:

a The apprenticeship guarantee for 16-19 year olds. This was in the 2009 Apprenticeship Act but this was repealed in 2011.

b The job guarantee. We should guarantee every unemployed youngster a job within 12 months – and remove the option of continued life on benefits (which the Coalition have incredibly re-introduced).

Cost

There is good evidence that most of the above proposals would have no net cost to the Exchequer.

  1. For adult mental health, there is good evidence that within two years, the Exchequer cost is recovered twice over, through
  • savings in physical healthcare, and
  • savings in benefits and lost taxes (mental illness is 40% of all illness in working age people).
  1. For child mental health, the savings take longer to accrue but there is good evidence that once again they exceed the cost. The same is true of resilience training in schools, where the gross cost is very small since it fits within the existing timetable.
  2. Better school discipline and values yield savings which are harder to measure. But the gross cost of the proposals is small.
  3. The apprenticeship guarantee is based on the evidence of a 40% rate of return to apprenticeship30 – much of which goes to boost tax receipts. The job guarantee is estimated to recover about half its cost in savings on benefits and lost taxes.

The gross cost of these proposals (before deducting savings) would need some work but is probably of the following order (excess over 2015):

The low cost of the first four rows is striking, when one considers their transformative potential for people’s lives and the daily worry that these issues cause.

 

Fast Tracking Early Intervention

May 1st, 2015

The Community Links led Early Action Task Force has recently published a new book One Hundred Days for Early Action: Time for Government to put prevention first: A collection of essays by a respected group of leading experts and thinkers with decades of experience of Government – as, civil servants, senior advisers or respected commentators.

Thwo authors share the billing in this post serialising the essays between now and the General Election: Carey Oppenheim – CEO of the Early Intervention Foundation and former Special Advisor to Tony Blair in the Number 10 Policy Unit; and Haroon Chowdry – Evidence Analyst for the Early Intervention Foundation. Their article outlines what an incoming administration should prioritise to an ensure early action approach at the heart of government.

Download the book.

 

 

After 7th May, the new Government will wake up to the big challenge of how to meet growing needs and demand with sustained reductions in public services spending at national and local levels.

The less money is available, the more important it becomes to offer timely support to people in a way which reduces future demands on public services and the taxpayer. Our recent report shows that the state spends £46 million every day on “late intervention”: the acute services and other support required when children and young people experience significant difficulties in life. In order to reduce this cost – not to mention the far more substantial suffering and wasted potential that it represents – Early Intervention is more crucial than ever.

What do we mean by “early intervention”? It is about supporting children, young people and families early on when issues arise, and there is still the opportunity to prevent lasting consequences. A growing body of evidence from psychology, social science and neuroscience shows that the right interventions or support can significantly improve children’s lives and future prospects.

Politically, there is a strong consensus for the principle of Early Intervention – the case made by Graham Allen MP in his reports to Government was accepted across the political spectrum. Our own organisation, the Early Intervention Foundation, was set-up to promote greater use of evidence-based early intervention that improves the lives of children, prevents future social problems and reduces the costs of such problems. Prevention and early intervention is a now common refrain – all aspire to getting to the root causes of social issues, whether it is ill-health, or youth crime, or unemployment – rather than dealing with the symptoms.

In terms of action, there have been noteworthy initiatives: investment in evidence-based parenting programmes including Family Nurse Partnerships; the Department of Communities and Local Government’s Transformation Challenge Award scheme, which has supported some areas with innovative redesign in the delivery of early intervention; the Big Lottery Fund “Better Start” programme, focusing on evidenced-based approaches for families with the children aged up to three; and the growth of social finance to support Early Intervention approaches. These are helpful steps forward, but they are piecemeal and not yet near the scale of what is required to meet the challenge ahead.

So what should a new Government do to fast track Early Intervention in its first 100 days?

1.Prioritise early intervention during austerity
Rising demands on services coupled with tighter budgets have made early intervention more difficult to prioritise for departments and councils alike. The available estimates, crude though they are, suggest that only £1 in every £20 spent in health and social policy is preventative. In local government, unprecedented demand for social care on one hand combined with reduced funding from central Government on the other means that, as statutory services are protected, Early Intervention services bear the brunt of cuts. This trend creates the risk of mounting social and health problems later on. Currently youth crime and unemployment both cost over £1 billion a year,12while the long-run cost of childhood obesity has been estimated in the region of £600 million. If these and other costs continue to rise, then dealing with the “costs of failure” will swallow an increasing share of increasingly scare public resources.

To get on top of this, the next Government must accurately measure what is currently spent on early intervention and prevention by national Government, local government and other bodies. It must also ensure that resources are available to prevent it sliding down further.

After a baseline for early intervention spending has been established, the next Government should set a national target for a concerted shift in spending towards Early Intervention by 2020 (followed by further targets for future years). Alongside this, the Government should track child and family well-being using a basket of indicators relevant to Early Intervention. This is important because it will ensure that the focus is on outcomes and therefore on the quality of spending, not simply the quantity.

A new Government should also create an Early Intervention “Invest to Save” Fund, focused on increasing the quality and quantity of early intervention. This would follow the examples set by Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, where large-scale funds for early intervention have been created as part of an agenda led by National Government. Like the much larger Obama investments in testing what works in Early Intervention, these approaches allow for localism without sacrificing good measurement and evaluation.

The Fund could draw in public, private and social finance, and invite bids from all sectors to trial evidenced based approaches to Early Intervention. Importantly, the public element would not have to be additional spending; it could be redirected from existing budgets by identifying duplication, inefficiency and money that is currently not well spent. Bids would have to meet minimum quality criteria including good use of evidence, robust implementation plans, and detailed plans for evaluation and cost-benefit analysis. Funds could be offered in a number of forms – low interest loans or an offer to match contributions raised by local partnerships. Importantly, there should be a minimum of five years to trial and evaluate the initiatives funded.

2.Incentivise local public services to work together better
It is also clear, however, that existing resources for early intervention must be used better, rather than layering on new services to an already complex system. Ensuring that public agencies pool budgets, jointly commission and deliver services, and share information about the communities they serve is crucial, both to protect early intervention but also to make it more effective. We need to move beyond the traditional silos that still characterise too much of our public service delivery, and develop flexible services that can respond to the totality of people’s lives and problems.

In many cases organisations that fund early intervention are not the major beneficiaries of the improved outcomes which result. For example, a local authority programme might generate benefits for schools, the NHS, police and youth justice services, and the Treasury. If only a small part of the programme benefits accrue to the local authority itself, then the programme – through no fault of its own – might not be deemed viable.

Some local areas are already working flexibly across local authority and other boundaries to invest together in shared services (for example, Camden and Islington have developed joint approaches with their Clinical Commissioning Groups). The approach of the Public Sector Transformation Network is also promising. Reforms which enable commissioners to secure contributions from other agencies and levels of Government (and indeed from the private sector) will help catalyse early intervention on the ground; the funding measures above can be structured to promote this.

Successful Early Intervention is not just about sharing budgets, but also about how services interact with each other and with the people they serve. Health and Wellbeing Boards in each area provide an important focus for working across local Government and health functions; early intervention for children and families should thus feature more centrally in their role. They could be charged with producing and implementing a clear strategy for early intervention in their area. The aim of this would be to ensure that adult and children’s services inside and beyond the local authority share data and work together to better assess local needs, prioritise target groups for support, and jointly agree strategies for commissioning services. These boards could also be required to report on progress on shifting to prevention at local level in an effective way. Finally, even the best early intervention services can fail to reach those who most need them. Public service reform needs to put this centre-stage, ensuring that data and whole-family approaches reach the most vulnerable, and learning from the most effective methods (trusted lead workers or intermediaries, multi-agency working, use of new technologies such as apps). It is also important to ensure that the key workforces are able to identify families and explicitly focused on engaging those who are least likely to access services. For example, agencies which have policies of striking families who fail to attend appointments off their lists are often storing up problems for later.

3.Put the early intervention agenda at the core of its vision
Perhaps the most important step, as well as a precursor to the steps outlined above, is to ensure that early intervention and prevention are at the heart of Government activity. This could be achieved through create a central Government unit responsible for it, or by building on the What Works Network.

Alternatively, there may be a role for a new Early Intervention and Prevention Commission. The current coalition’s programme for Government had fairness and social mobility as its core theme, which became the litmus test for many of its policies. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission was also created to monitor trends, report on the state of the nation, make recommendations and ultimately hold Government to account.

Early intervention could be the theme of the next Government, with an Early Intervention and Prevention Commission performing a similar role. This would be an arms-length standing body but located at the heart of Westminster, supported by the Treasury but with an independent chair. Its initial tasks would be establish a baseline measure of early intervention spending, and then use that to inform a Spending Review to come in the autumn. The Commission would also have an important role in shaping the public debate and helping to forge consensus about the importance of Early Intervention. Establishing prevention and early intervention as the approach to public services is unlikely to grab front page headlines. It may not lure people to the ballot box or provide convenient sound bites for a leaders’ debate. But it is the smart and realistic choice for using ever scarcer public money. Broad acceptance of the principle of early intervention must be matched by the political will to back it for the country’s long-term interest. If we are committed not to leave future generations with a mounting fiscal deficit, we should also apply such foresight to the social problems they will have to deal with. Our report shows that these aims can be achieved together.

This is the prize to be won if the next Government can put Early Intervention at its heart.

The ‘Big Society’ manifesto gap? A call for leadership

April 30th, 2015

Can it really be just five years ago that David Cameron was inviting us all to “join the government of Britain”?
2015-04-30-1430393278-2239568-Tory2010.jpgThe 2010 Conservative Party Manifesto began with an audacious challenge: “Some politicians say: ‘give us your vote and we will sort out all your problems’. We say: real change comes not from government alone. Real change comes when the people are inspired and mobilised, when millions of us are fired up to play a part in the nation’s future. Yes this is ambitious. Yes it is optimistic. But in the end all the Acts of Parliament, all the new measures, all the new policy initiatives, are just politicians’ words without you and your involvement.”

The 2015 Conservative Party Manifesto contains only one invitation for public involvement in the nation’s future – a pledge to build on what David Cameron calls our “nation of volunteers” by passing a law requiring public sector employers and companies with more than 250 staff to give staff up to three days a year to do voluntary work. All good in so far as it goes but apparently that’s it. One solitary requirement to do what many big companies (and also lots of smaller ones) do well already.

In 2010 it was the “Big Society election” when opposition leader David Cameron raided natural Labour territory for a paean to solidarity, compassion and cooperation and a promise to extend localism, citizen engagement and cross sector collaboration. No hustings was complete without reference to the power of the people.

Maybe only Nick Clegg signed up for national service but others, myself included and particularly in the voluntary sector, welcomed the rhetoric whilst searching desperately for the substance. Gradually the penny dropped. The emperor, if not completely starkers, was shivering in his boxers. Disappointment turned to disillusionment for hope dashed is worse than no hope at all.

Even Big Society minister Nick Hurd, a solid and often isolated beacon was eventually shabbily dismissed on the empty pretext of the PMs drive for more women and greater diversity in Government. The new minister was a man, middle aged, white and hot foot from the treasury.

The free thinking, idealism of Steve Hilton, albeit sadly unspecific, has now been replaced in the Tory high command by the grinding disciplines of Lynton Crosby. There is no big open hearted renewal of the “join me in government” invitation in this year’s manifesto just one modest pledge that will, apparently, help to “build a stronger society”. Would that it were that simple.

I have owned the naivety of my own false optimism, but I still defend the value of the cross party core of the Big Society proposition – neighbourhood politics and localism, co-ops and community organising, volunteering, mutualism, and the small battalions. In practice, the policies, though worthy were thin and fatally undermined by public expenditure cuts in other places but the fundamental principles were still good ones, not new but good, humane and enduring.

That’s why I appealed last year for the rehabilitation of those principles in this years manifestos. Now, with just a week to go in the campaign, I am unable to find any substantial reference in any major speech by any significant political figure (beyond the volunteering pledge) to these ideas.

Perhaps the derision of his own colleagues (not all of them on the back benches) was too painful and damaging for Cameron to fullfill the early promise or to repeat the exercise this time around but what of the opposition? When Labour leadership candidates traded references to “community organising” immediately after the 2010 election it seemed that the new opposition would be contesting the social turf. Ed Miliband subsequently encouraged this early confidence with the widely trumpeted appointment of international community organising guru Arnie Graf. For a while his influence was apparently formidable. Now it seems to have disappeared entirely, along with Arnie himself, back to the United States. I wonder if he and Hilton, now exiled to Stanford University, ever relive the glory days together?

The announcement of the Manchester deal, just before the campaigns began in earnest, rekindled my optimism. The joining up and devolution of health and social care services along with other devolved powers for the Manchester region suggested a late flowering of localism . As greater Manchester is Labour controlled and led by Labour grandee Sir Richard Leese it offered a rare opportunity for both Labour and Conservatives to share credit.

What happened? The national Labour leadership spoke out against the deal. Study the text and it is difficult to conclude that there was really any other reason than “not invented here”. It was the kind of mean spirited and small minded tactics that get politics a bad name.

Yet whilst our political leaders have been largely retreating from this territory others, perhaps less obvious, have been crowding in. The Bishops recent “who is my neighbour?” letter to the people was an extraordinarily even-handed but effective exposition of the common good and Andy Haldanes “social value of volunteering” speech in which he likened the volunteering sector to the energy sector for its scale and significance, was made yet more remarkable by the fact that Mr Haldane is the deputy governor of the Bank of England.

These ideas still do have resonance with a lot of very different people and, more than ever they do still matter There is still time. Here are five things that I would like to hear the party leaders say in the run up to May and deliver in the next five years

  1. We know that the government alone can’t do everything and that a top-down state is too often oppressive rather than enabling. But contracting out public services shouldn’t be about passing this role unchanged on to the private sector or others. As decision-makers we will ensure that public procurement at central and local levels is accessible for the voluntary sector, and works with them – learning from their expertise and local experience as well as supporting them to innovate and deliver.
  2. We acknowledge diseconomies of scale and will prioritise public service provision that is “local by default”, that builds from the principles of co-design and co-production, that, put simply, engages the people it seeks to serve.
  3. If we are to involve more citizens in decision-making and allow local providers, statutory and voluntary, to pool resources and deliver the best service then, paradoxical though it may seem, the aspiration must have much stronger direction from the top. Requiring councils to work with local partners and to integrate budgets will generate the change that successive ministers have talked about but only tinkered with. We will introduce a local authority “duty to collaborate” with a matching “right to lead”, empowering other local service providers to require the co-operation of the council if it fails to step up.
  4. The banks that crashed the economy must play their part as responsible corporate citizens. The Brown government introduced legislation to gather and redirect unclaimed assets from the high street banks – estimated at the time at £10bn. Less than £0.5bn has surfaced so far. There was an expectation at the time that the original group of contributors would be squeezed for more and the scheme extended to other financial institutions. Neither has happened. Potentially this represents an important pot for a voluntary and community sector that has struggled in recession but is so important to so many in the UK. We will go back for more.
  5. The public sector was designed to deliver reactive, acute services, targeted on occasional, exceptional need. The need is now neither occasional nor exceptional: more and more people need more and more help. The demand for acute public services is rising but the money to pay for them just isn’t there. We will adopt a need reduction approach to the development of public services, prioritising early action and working with the whole community to prevent problems from occurring, not pick up the pieces afterwards.

My message today is a call for leadership. Most of this agenda is not about right or left. It should not be owned by one party or another. It is about right and wrong and even a week away from Polling Day – it’s still not too late for a political leader to do the right thing.

early action to beget Early Action

April 29th, 2015

The Community Links led Early Action Task Force has recently published a new book One Hundred Days for Early Action: Time for Government to put prevention first: A collection of essays by a respected group of leading experts and thinkers with decades of experience of Government – as, civil servants, senior advisers or respected commentators.

The latest of our posts serialising the essays between now and the General Election is by by Dan Corry – CEO of New Philanthropy Capital, former head of the Number 10 Policy Unit and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers at HM Treasury. This article stresses the need for a new government to act quickly if potential gains from an early action approach are to be realised.

Download the book.

 

 

The Government elected in May 2015 will have buckets to do – not least if it has to sort out a complex Coalition Agreement. But if it does not get the ball rolling on Early Action from the start, then nothing much will happen over the next Parliament. So acting fast is of the essence: early action to beget Early Action.

DSCN4335So, right from the off, the Treasury and No 10 must make clear that all new proposals for new spend or indeed to cut expenditure must have a ten year analysis of its effects on spend and outcomes. This, straight away, shows where short term savings or spend do or do not save money in the longer run. It will also put more incentives on departments and others to do some serious impact analysis and evaluation especially as the Treasury must insist these ten year analyses are published in full and open to scrutiny by the Select Committees as well as the public and academics. This approach should be part of Spending Review 2015 which, ideally, will set spending plans for five years (with the first three being firmer than the last two). Such certainty of funding will make the longer term pay- back that characterises a great deal of prevention spend, much more relevant and attractive.

But this is not enough to get things moving. So, right from week one the Treasury should announce its aim to increase the proportion of public spending going on early action and prevention, estimated recently by the National Audit Office to be around 6% in four key areas, by a minimum of 0.5 percentage points a year. That may not sound a lot but if only this minimum was carried out over a Parliament we would be up to 8.5%, a very big switch in the way resources are used. The NAO or the Office for Budgetary

Responsibility should be asked to oversee classification and monitoring of this and targets should be set with each Secretary of State since the ability for movement clearly varies across topic area. The Government must commit to an annual White Paper on how it is doing on this, with the White Paper delivered in the House by the Chief Secretary in prime time and not by some junior minister on a quiet Friday morning.

Third, to encourage more early action spend – where too often the savings go to someone other than the body paying for the early action – the Government should announce a revised and modernised version of Public Service Agreements, outcome focused objectives that are shared by more than one department, which will help us move away from an obsession on spend and outputs and help counter silo thinking and planning. The Treasury must also announce a preference for pooled budgets at local level along the lines of Total Place and Community Budgets as part of its commitment to a better localism. City regions should be empowered and asked to address a number of social problems via its own devolved spend without the silo commissioning that the Work Programme, Transforming Rehabilitation and so on have engendered. The “Devo Manc” model recently announced, that gives the Greater Manchester area far more control over key budgets and strategic decision making, looks to be a good one to follow here. The Treasury should also announce the setting up of a review of the case for an Early Action Loan fund along the lines suggested in a recent EATF paper.

Fourth, not all of this is one way. The new Government must make a demand of the prevention and early action lobby group: it’s time to get serious with your evidence. Not yet more anecdotes and good stories but without data to go alongside it. No more “SROI inflation” and flaky evaluations that too often characterise the claims made. Instead good measurement and evaluation that tries to really work out the net difference you make, taking into account what might have happened anyway, and that avoids spurious accuracy and point estimates (of the one pound in, ten pounds back variety) when the data is only good enough to talk about a wide range of possible values.

In return, the Government must promise to make its data much readily available to allow proper evaluation following the path set by the award winning Justice Data Lab established through the work of NPC and Clinks and taken on board by the Ministry of Justice. All departments will be expected to release their data in the same easy-to-use way so that longitudinal analysis with decent comparator groups becomes possible for all.

Finally, to make sure that all this happens, a unit will be set up to oversee and chase progress, akin in some ways to the Delivery Unit of the Labour years and reporting to both the PM and the Chancellor.

Moving us on to a trajectory where we start to act earlier to prevent problems, thereby avoiding human misery as well as reducing public expenditure in the longer run, is going to be tough. But if the new Government takes the steps outlined here, then we will at least have made a big step in the right direction

 

Early Action Focus on Social Outcomes.

April 28th, 2015

The Community Links led Early Action Task Force has recently published a new book One Hundred Days for Early Action: Time for Government to put prevention first: A collection of essays by a respected group of leading experts and thinkers with decades of experience of Government – as, civil servants, senior advisers or respected commentators.

The latest of our posts serialising the essays between now and the General Election is by by Matt Robinson – Director of Strategy and Market Development at Big Society Capital and former Deputy Director in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit. He outlines two challenges – and two ideas which might combine to tackle them and put an Early Action approach at the heart of government.

Download the book.

 

 

Whatever shade of Government is painted in 2015, it will face two huge challenges:

1 Tackling the deficit - the UK is only five years into a ten-year fiscal consolidation. Even after the longest and deepest consolidation in modern times, national debt is still forecast to be 73% of GDP, higher than at any point since the mid-1960s.

2 Tackling a set of persistently poor social outcomes. These include wide inequalities across the population-at-large, whether in health (see for example the 2004 Wanless reviews and then the 2010 Marmot review), educational attainment or ultimately social mobility (witness the various depressing reports of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission since its creation in 2010). Specific groups within the wider population have endured particularly poor outcomes for decades, such as ex-offenders or the so-called 120,000 “troubled families”.

If these twin challenges are not daunting enough, they are also seemingly in tension with each other. Put simply, tackling the deficit requires spending a lot less public money; tackling thorny social issues means spending a lot more. Or does it? The allure of early action is that it both leads to better outcomes for individuals and their families, and can be much cheaper for taxpayers to boot. A well-judged package of domiciliary care (say £320 per week) or even a simple home adaption such as a stair rail can prevent an older person falling. In turn it could prevent a broken hip (a hip replacement costs the NHS an average of £5,400) or even permanently reduced mobility (an ongoing package of residential care is as much as £1000 per week). This hypothetical example is from later life, but early action can make even more sense when applied to early-years education, at the transition to secondary school, when entering and if faltering in the labour market, and for lifestyle decisions around exercise, eating and drinking in middle-age.

Why is there not a lot more early action if outcomes are better and it’s cheaper? I am reminded of the fable of frogs jumping straight out of boiling water, but happy to boil to death if water is slowly heated-up. Public and social services in 2014 are already many years into a slow, inexorable increase in demand (not least from demographic trends, but also changing expectations). At the same time intervention models have only been tinkered with and the basic tenants of these services (hospitals, schools, prisons etc.) have remained basically unchanged for decades if not a century or so. Now the UK is trapped running expensive acute, reactive services, and we have nothing left to spend on prevention just as we need it most.

So what can the next Government do to promote more early action, improve outcomes and lower costs? How can it make progress in prevention where recent Governments (not just in the UK) have failed? I have two ideas. The first I will call a spot-purchase outcomes revolution. It mainly requires a dose of pragmatism and common-sense, and not letting the best early action model be the enemy of a good one. The second I will call an outcomes based spending review. This is a much more structural and systemic response, and requires tackling vested interests in Whitehall. But long-term it could put outcomes and early action at the heart of public finances.

The spot-purchase outcomes revolution requires a ruthless trawl to find every public service that is currently bought on a “spot” market, mainly from private providers, and paid for on the basis of inputs or services. Anecdotally, I am aware of many such arrangements, including: some pupil referral units for children excluded from mainstream schools; some inpatient beds for adults with severe learning difficulties; children in care residential places and adoption services. A body such as the National Audit Office would be well-placed to flush-out and publish just how extensive and widespread this spot-purchase practise is. Then, such contracts could be immediately recalibrated onto more of an outcomes basis. Markets don’t need to be reshaped, and contracts don’t need to be cancelled, re-commissioned or re-tendered – that is after all what spot contracts mean. This is exactly the logic behind the Essex Social Impact Bond tackling children-at-risk of care, or the It’s All About Me Adoption Bond. It is exactly what is proposed by the excellent recent report by Resonance into the “Winterbourne View” cohort of adults with learning disabilities housed in inappropriate inpatient settings.

The spot-purchase outcomes revolution would be quick, relatively simple to enact, provide some short-term incentive to the provider market to innovate around outcomes not inputs, and give commissioners more confidence in embarking on their own more tricky reforms. But it would be limited in its scope.

So in tandem, the next Government should conduct a social outcomes-based spending review in 2015 for the whole of the next Parliament. This would put social outcomes at the heart of public finances, and would provide a much more systemic and longer-lasting approach to embedding early action in public services. It would need to

  • Identify some social outcomes to focus on. I would focus on social outcomes that are both persistently poor, and hopelessly lost between departmental silos: for example NEETs, troubled families, homelessness, and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Make settlements on the basis of these outcomes. This would necessitate re-imagining the concept of Departmental Expenditure Limits (DEL) in managing public finances – as departments would no longer be the only unit of settlement.
  • Learn and build from precedents. Luckily there are some. The £3.8bn p.a. Better Care Fund was created in 2013 and pools money between the NHS and local government to support the integration of health and social care. The DfID, FCO and MoD conflict pool was created as long ago as 2001 to prevent conflict around the world, and currently runs at c. £250m a year. The Cabinet Office has since 2012 run a Social Outcomes Fund designed to “top-up” contributions from departments commissioning on the basis of social outcomes, although it is far too small at £20m.
  • Prevent the Treasury from running the spending review process by itself. The Treasury is driven by the primacy of short-term expenditure control and will not like the concept of explicitly linking long-term social goals to public finances7. Neither will individual Whitehall departments– they will see the writing on the wall for their own futures if a greater-and-greater proportion of public finances is settled around social outcomes, not legacy institutions. So an outcomes-based spending review would need to be run by a cross departmental team under the auspices of the Cabinet itself and the Cabinet Secretary. At the apex of the spending review process should be a small quorum of senior ministers, including the Prime Minister as well as the Chancellor. If the coalition Government had run such a process, the “Quad” would be perfect for this task. (See for example NESTA, The End of The Treasury, Giles Wilkes and Stian Westlake, September 2014)
  • Find a pool of money to allocate to social outcomes not departments. A-ha!. This I admit is the hard bit. The obvious approach is simply to salami slice departmental budgets harder – as the most recent OBR fiscal forecasts showed, non-protected departments’ spending cuts are going to be cut savagely over the next Parliament, so perhaps 5% more will barely be noticed. Another approach is to take more risk on AME-DEL switches – NEETS and mental health are probably good candidates here as they should flow through to JSA savings within a few couple of years. A third idea is to link to a hypothecated tax – arguably the public would find it easier to stomach a specific levy that prevents rather than attempts to cure social ills (an even easier to sell would be a windfall tax on a ‘damaging’ industry, such as alcohol or tobacco). The fourth and perhaps most promising way to find a pool of cash is to treat the social outcomes settlements as capital expenditure not recurrent expenditure. After all, they are designed to reduce, not increase, long-term recurrent expenditure on public services. And if social outcome settlements flow through to mandatory outcomes-based contracts, there would be no legacy in-house state-provided service that would be impossible to turn down or turn off if priorities shift in the future.

A spot-purchase outcomes revolution and an outcomes-based spending review will go a long way to put early action at the heart of public finances and public services. Together, they will create a stronger market for positive social outcomes – and here a series of complimentary reforms would help further. Some of current coalition Government’s measures should be sustained and expanded. The What Works Initiative, including stellar institutions such as NICE and the Educational Endowment Foundation, are particularly welcome as they will help outcomes-based settlements and contracts flow to what is proven to work, not assumed to work. Efforts to promote the social investment market are also helpful as social investors are particularly focused on defining, measuring and being rewarded only when social outcomes are met.

But the next Government also needs to take more risk in a richer diversity of providers, if a more outcomes-focused public service market is to flourish. For this diversity it needs to look even harder to the voluntary, charity, social enterprise and SME sectors. The current Government has made much noise about ‘open public services’, not least through its eponymous 2011 White Paper. But its revealed preference as seen in major outsourcing programmes such as the Work Programme and Transforming Rehabilitation is for the perceived safety of the largest multinational’s balance sheets. The next Government needs to address the size bias in its market models, through more balanced contract sizes, and much more judicious use of financial tests and instruments such as parent company guarantees.

More early action and prevention is not a question of why. It is a question of how. I hope that my ideas of a spot purchase outcomes revolution and an outcomes based spending review give some sense of how all the talk around this can be turned into, well, early action.

Early Action as a Unifying Concept: learning from post-war austerity

April 27th, 2015

The Community Links led Early Action Task Force has recently published a new book One Hundred Days for Early Action: Time for Government to put prevention first: A collection of essays by a respected group of leading experts and thinkers with decades of experience of Government – as, civil servants, senior advisers or respected commentators.

The latest of our posts serialising the essays between now and the General Election is by by Professor Anne Power, London School of Economics who looks at the learning from post-war austerity to consider if  Early Action could be a unifying concept which brings together the solutions to a complex set of issues facing an incoming government.

Download the book.

 

A new Government in May 2015 will have its work cut out to commit to much spending in its first 100 days, due to the continuing deficit and voter antipathy to raising taxes.

The economy is still shaky and a majority of people feel poorer than they did. Social solidarity has weakened with the long recession and there is a wall of hostility to those vilified as scroungers, immigrants and the unemployed.

The rising cost of social care and health services in an aging society make tight budgets even tighter. The sharp rise in obesity and diabetes, the increase in mental ill health, and the physical disabilities resulting from our sedentary lifestyle all add to the long-term funding and social pressures on Government.

The cost of “welfare”
The cost of “welfare”, including pensions and in-work benefits, continues to rise, while drastic cuts in welfare payments have barely dented the problem as more older people are live longer, needing longer pensions and more care as they age. As more workers are on low pay with irregular hours and precarious job contracts, they rely on benefits to close the gap. Universal Credit will push up the benefit bill for this reason. Low income households now rely increasingly on private renting, paying high rents for insecure tenancies so housing benefit costs also rise for the Government. Homelessness has risen due to evictions, forcing even greater reliance among working people on housing benefit.

Young people
The younger generation is triple hit by housing shortages and costs, job insecurity and low pay, and cuts in welfare. Meanwhile, ludicrously high salaries are paid to business leaders and Chief Executives while they pay an even lower share of taxes. The fall of wages at the bottom and rise at the top creates such inequality that “Occupiers” protest. This divide will burden a new Government, keen to make its mark quickly. It will have to broker a new deal at lower cost. The problems of the bottom half of the population are far more concentrated and intense than the top half, and therefore need more help, more Government resources and some redistribution. Otherwise, problems risk getting out of hand and harming the whole society. This makes early action at low cost vital but difficult.

There are some powerful, unifying issues. We are all subject to sickness, aging, housing problems, anxiety and insecurity. Business is particularly vulnerable to a workforce that is too poorly paid, inadequately housed, with low skills and no security. Businesses argue for local government to tackle the overarching problems that go beyond their individual powers but damage their business.

We can learn from our post-war austerity and sharing. A basic healthy diet, fair distribution of essentials, preventive care of mothers and children, work for all able-bodied men and women, a minimum income for all, were introduced to tackle the “five giants” of poverty, ignorance, disease, squalor and want. Today, by undermining that universal system of support, we are recreating the age-old “giants”.

Five giants
Five “giants” stand out for action, echoing those great reforming ideas of 1945: housing, income insecurity, food, public health, the environment. When we were poorer after the war, we produced cheap, modest, decent homes; improved conditions and ensured a basic minimum income for all citizens – in sickness and in health, in and out of work, old or young. We introduced free health care at the point of delivery and universal free maternity care, health visitors, district nurses, school nurses, midwives, relying heavily on well-trained women who spot problems in advance and “help nature do its work”. We set in place greenbelts, National Parks, clean air legislation and so on. These are all central to our wellbeing and one part of our hard-won welfare which has nothing to do with “scroungers”. Our life expectancy rose because of sanitation, clean water, hand washing, street cleaning, refuse disposal, food hygiene, light, ventilation, all measures pioneered by nineteenth century local government and expanded after World War II. Growing food locally in small amounts was a key to health during and after the war, and could be a low cost key for today – something that low income groups will do if given the chance.

The most inescapable issue is the natural environment; our most precious, shared resource, finite, damaged and dangerous – floods, storms, heat waves, rising seas, collapse of fish stock, loss of forests, pollution, climate change. We risk huge extra costs unless we control pollution, reforest bare land, protect our eco-systems, enforce green belts around cities, stop sprawl, and more than halve the energy we use. We can avert disaster, with big benefits to the economy, jobs, communities and conditions.

Free markets and unrestrained economic growth in the 1980s were countered by New Labour from 1997-2007, valiantly committing to “abolish child poverty”, to “ensure that no one was disadvantaged by where they lived” and to “provide equal opportunities for all”. But the ongoing shrinkage in manufacture, hardening of North-South divide, created a further cleavage that Labour did not budge. Some inroads were made, but not enough to stop either deep inequalities or the great financial crash of 2008. Some Early Actions – Sure Start Centres, neighbourhood renewal, school academies, city-region devolution, family intervention projects – had a strong preventive focus and encouraged local action.

However, the international banking crisis and deep recession that followed has changed everything. For seven years, we have experienced economic uncertainty, falling wages, job losses, resource limits, rising costs for essentials, public spending cuts, all leading to increasing hardship and a growing disenchantment with politics and political leadership. Voters deserting to UKIP is no answer. A new Government offers a new lease of life. Early action defines a new Government, and 100 modest actions in the first hectic 100 days is the goal – I choose just ten simple, basic ideas.

Ten Early Actions

1. No subsidised rented housing – Council or Housing Association – shouldbe demolished except in extreme conditions. Councils should not sell  their assets to developers for “mixed communities” and “regeneration”. Developers can add homes at profit to publically-backed schemes, not the  other way round.

2. Low cost rented homes can be added to subsidised estates through ground-floor conversions, infill and corner additions to increase density, create a mix of households and expand the affordable supply.

3. Council tax bands must be raised at the top for expensive property to generate revenue and reduce incentives to under occupy. The Welsh Government has already done this. Council Tax charges for the poorest households should be near zero.

4.  The minimum wage should be fairer to the lowest paid and Universal Credit should be reformed to stop encouraging employers to offer penal employment conditions, including zero-hour contracts.

5. Private renting requires “light-handed regulation” to provide greater certainty and control to landlords and investors while giving greater security to stable tenants. Minimum security, standards and conditions help both landlords and tenants, while allowing flexible, shared accommodation and the use of small spaces. Emergency, short-term and time-limited lettings must be included through special provisions.

6. Food growing could become everyone’s responsibility as during and after the war – no matter how small the contribution. With a strong push, most people can produce some food for themselves. Window boxes, front areas, tubs, street corners, yards and alleys can all house plants. Fruit trees, apple, plum and pear trees, with glorious spring blossom, can replace ornamental flowering trees on streets. Food waste can be cut from 30% to 5%, targeting all public institutions first – schools, colleges, hospitals, offices, but also restaurants, cafes, banks etc. Councils could levy a food waste tax on institutions which would generate revenue, while cutting waste, similar to the landfill tax which has slashed building waste. The Energy Company Obligation should be reshaped to ensure stable investment in existing stock to tackle fuel poverty, energy bills and to halve energy use in homes and commercial buildings. Energy companies should not be the installers of energy saving measures as this can lead to abuse. Suspended and cancelled permissions on outstanding onshore wind turbines must be reconsidered where objections are of a lower order than community benefits. Wind energy is now the most cost-effective, easy-to-install renewable energy source in the UK – and potentially reliable if distributed far and wide.

7. We must protect and extend our vital eco-systems:

a. National Parks
b. Forests, woods, hedge-rows and urban trees
c. River systems and flood plains
d. All areas of valuable top soil
e. Marine conservation areas
f. Parks, play spaces and playgrounds
g. It is easy and cheap to “green cities”, involving citizens of all ages.

8. Planning is a vital and inexpensive tool for the Common Good. Government must play an overarching, brokering role in planning any development as a crowded island poses multiple challenges. A layered approach between national, regional, local and community level action plans works best – a jigsaw approach, as in Scandinavia, Austria, Germany.

9. Young people are worst hit by income, housing and job barriers. Hand-holding and face-to-face support transform those barriers into opportunities. Building on what works, we can create a “Troubled Youth” programme, learning from the “Troubled Families” programme. A personal and group support process gives people who struggle a real chance.

10. Social care is increasingly costly and burdensome. Training, enhanced status and fairer contracts for care workers could transform the quality of social care at modest cost. Simple ideas such as “sharing homes” can work cheaply and brilliantly – a non-profit agency encourages elderly people with spare rooms to house a young worker who lodges cheaply in exchange for simple services, company and security.

We have broken new ground with few resources in our past. A new Government must do it now.

Do we need a movement to get early action trending?

April 24th, 2015

The Community Links led Early Action Task Force has just published a new book One Hundred Days for Early Action: Time for Government to put prevention first: A collection of essays by a respected group of leading experts and thinkers with decades of experience of Government – as, civil servants, senior advisers or respected commentators.

The latest of our posts serialising the essays between now and the General Election considers whether Early Action needs to generate a popular movement to get it “trending” . Contribution by Ray Shostak , International Adviser, former Head of the Prime Ministers Delivery Unit and Director General, Performance HM Treasury.

Download the book.

 

And can you imagine fifty people a day? I said fifty people a day…Walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant” and walkin’ out?  Friends, They may think it’s a MOVEMENT, and that’s what it is…

ARLO GUTHRIE Alice’s Restaurant lyrics

For me early action is when a health visitor sees that if a family doesn’t get help they are storing up problems (and costs) further down the line – and does something (either themselves or through referral) that turns the situation around. Or when a pre-school or GP sees that a child may not be ‘school ready’ and helps the family address the issues.

Or when a teacher sees the early signs of a student’s behaviour impacting on learning – and sorts some help with either the child or the family to stop it getting worse. Or when a local worker in a community based charity acts quickly so a young person doesn’t find themselves on a downward cycle of problems with substance abuse.

These are the actions of the people we know who make a difference – the frontline of nurses, social workers police officers, doctors, teachers – who work directly with children, young people and families. Each day they work tirelessly on behalf of children and families and do what they can to help, to find someone else to help, or to intervene in a way that is outside their normal response. I find them everywhere I go and they are passionate about helping those in our communities to make the most of their lives and reach their potential. Unfortunately, far too often I also find them frustrated in trying to make the siloed bureaucracies join-up. And too often the required thresholds essentially say: “go away and get worse and then we can help”.

So a new Government should quickly ask ‘what can we do that is more enabling for frontline practitioners?’ I am not suggesting that Government should avoid issues such as poor performance, unresponsive services or provider capture. But it needs to do its business recognising that frontline services are delivered at the frontline and that our public services will never be better than the skills, attitudes and behaviours of those that do the job. Given their role in creating the legislative, financial and policy context for services, it is critical that Government looks at the things which can make services more difficult to deliver, including:

  • poorly constructed legislation,
  • funding regimes that force silos,
  • poorly designed approaches to inspection,
  • micro-guidance
  • the balance struck between the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

There now seems to be a consensus that the individual social costs and financial consequences of late action are too great a price to pay – the common sense case for early action has been made. The good work of many local partnerships, local authorities, the Early Action Task Force, the Allen Reports and the Early Intervention Foundation have all played their part in both raising the issues and finding new ways of managing the challenge of meeting acute needs and at the same time acting earlier. But it is not enough and often the work is at the level of “the system”. At a time of restricted resources and more complicated lives it is even more critical we break the cycle at the level of “the individual”.

I have been thinking recently that Government focus on the complexity of integrated working, attributing financial benefits, accountabilities and coordination (all of which matter and are important) may be the wrong place to start. I have been wondering if there is a danger that we are making early action too complicated and starting in the wrong place. Maybe what we need is a movement that starts with citizens and the frontline.

I am not suggesting that the new Government doesn’t need to prioritise early action spend as it will save us money in the long term. The Treasury also needs to play a more active role in both creating a framework which will support cross-department planning and coordination – and figuring out how savings in prison and benefit costs can be reallocated to social workers. Certainly there is a need for Local Authorities, other commissioners and providers to increase investment in evidence-based programmes; and local partnerships to integrate their services. But what I am really reflecting is that given I find that the people in the system – politicians, civil servants, local government officers, commissioners, frontline folk – all care deeply about helping the people they serve more quickly it is odd that we are finding this so difficult. We continue to invest when it is far too late. Maybe we need to readjust our thinking to recognise it is only people on the frontline who can spot the need for early action. And it is only the frontline that can take the early action; we should build our systems from that staring point.

So my proposition for the new Government is that instead of thinking about new legislation or new initiative they should focus on ensuring the system supports the early action judgements of frontline practitioners and citizens. How about a movement of frontline practitioners to get early action trending, because movements start with people working together to advance their shared ideas and maybe we are not paying enough attention to them.

What would happen if the Government focused more on giving the frontline greater voice? Finding ways in which we could amplify the strength of their judgements about what needs to be done to help the people they see each day. Finding ways of empowering them to act decisively when early action is the right response to the day-to-day challenges faced by the children and families they work with. What would be the consequences if the Government really focused on unblocking what gets in their way rather than the bigger ‘systems’ issues. After all, they are the people who identify the practical, often small, changes in behaviour that can begin the process of changing the reality for children and families. They see it and do it every day.

If they did have an enhanced voice would it be so loud that the system would begin to change? At a time when ‘austerity’ is impacting on frontline numbers and the nature of our universal services (let alone the more targeted ones) will the reality of what is at stake become clearer? If we give voice to the people who are applying the thresholds and witnessing the consequences would we get the change we are after?

If we enable them to speak out will they be seen as whingers, disrupters or activists? The danger of movements is that it becomes disruptive and focuses on blaming others. That would be a disaster. Is it possible to magnify the reality of what frontline practitioners see in a way that frames their contribution the way it is intended – to solve problems. More importantly, can their perspective be heard in a way that leads Government to action and overcome whatever obstacles exist?

Similarly, can the Government get better at learning from what frontline folk do, as individuals in both their interventions and in the way they unblock the system to help those they work with? Could we turn this learning into system change – rather than the other way around? Do we need a movement which is not about big changes (although those are needed too) but about small practical ways to readjust the system to focus on solving the day to day problems and challenges – and get incremental improvement now?

Or maybe it is happening already. Discuss.

Early Action Policing – invitation to presentation

April 23rd, 2015

Our previous early action guest blog posted by Deputy Chief Constable Andy Rhodes on March 16th was exceptionally well received and, as Andy noted in his additional comment on March 26th, widely circulated, (as was his second blog post earlier this week)

Lots of readers asked for more information or for the opportunity to discuss the work. Dawn Austwick, CEO of the Big Lottery Fund, kindly offered to host a meeting for Andy to share his experience. It will be from 10.00 to 12.00 on June 1st in central London, venue to be confirmed.

It’s free, of course, but we expect lots of interest so please book early by clicking here.

Register now to hear about the pioneering early action work of Lancashire Constabulary from Deputy Chief Constable Andy Rhodes.