Tacking the barriers
Recommendations for tackling the barriers have been put forward by various bodies including the National Audit Office, Public Accounts Committee, the Early Action Task Force and the Inclusive Growth Commission.
Although some of these recommendations are directed at central government, many of them could also be applied at a more local level.
These recommendations include:
· Longer term planning in which the longer term costs and benefits of existing and new initiatives are assessed before decisions on future spending are taken. The National Audit Office (NAO) and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) advocated mandatory ten year impact assessments, and multi year funding agreements. The Early Action Task Force calls for a ten year planning horizon, the first five years of which would be firm, and a Ten Year Test for spending decisions to assess costs and benefits including on other agencies.
· Classifying early versus acute action. The NAO has put forward a definition to apply consistently across the public sector, which also breaks down early action into earlier and later interventions (primary, secondary and tertiary prevention). This has been further developed and put into practice by the Early Action Task Force.
The NAO has estimated that only £12bn was being spent on early action, compared to total social spending of £377bn.
· Treating early action spending as an investment, protecting it like capital investment from being raided to fund short term, acute pressures by keeping it in a separate budget with a one way valve, as proposed by the Early Action Task Force. The NAO said that the treasury should look again at ring-fencing early action budgets.
· Setting targets to shift spending from acute to early action spending. Spending on early action could be progressively increased within total spending through Early Action Transition Plans, as recommended by the Early Action Task Force.
· Pooled budgets for early action are recommended by the NAO, PAC and the Early Action Task Force to help break down silos and create new funds for early action. The Early Action Task Force suggests “social profit sharing agreements” between bodies would facilitate shared investment, with prior agreement about the sharing of future savings.
· An early action loan fund and the use of social finance to help bring in additional money to finance innovation and deal with the problem of “dual running” until savings are made. To introduce new discipline, change the culture and shift incentives to work across silos, the Early Action Task Force proposes that an Early Action Loan Fund could be created outside government to provide interest free loans, for example, for local action to reduce welfare costs. It is suggested that this could be financed by new forms of taxation such as a polluter pays tax on the gambling and alcohol industries.
· Better evaluation of what works, with the Government setting up new What Works centres, including the Early InterventionFoundation. The Inclusive Growth Commission is exploring ideas for allowing new investment in early action based on evaluation frameworks of future savings.
· Investment in stronger leadership and culture change is required. The NAO concludes that the Treasury itself should take responsibility for promoting early action and should take a leadership role. The Early Action Task Force emphasizes that not just systems changes are required but also clear leadership with clarity about the outcomes sought, investment in shared leadership across different organisations and sectors and consistent performance management targets and goals and commissioning and procurement practices. As an example, the Early Intervention Foundation is running the Early Intervention Academy for Police Leaders to help build leadership.