In our newly launched paper, “Towards Effective Prevention”, the Early Action Taskforce argue that early action, an ethos that emphasizes intervening earlier at all points in the lives of individuals, should be a central part of the next government’s policy framework.
The paper outlines a set of recommendations that could contribute to this vision, split broadly into three themes. Firstly, by building support for early action goals across the whole political spectrum we can enable people to live happier and healthier lives. Integral to this is ten year, longer term planning, including regular budget reviews to ensure changing economic circumstances are taken into account. Finally, we must increase investment in early action by utilising better information, incentivising the breakdown of silos, and encouraging collaboration between a wide range of innovative people and organisations.
Responses at the launch
The recommendations were welcomed by Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, who stated in her response that it was time early action, a common sense idea that most sign up to in principle, was implemented across the board. She argued that moving beyond a parochial focus on political cycles was integral to this, and that leadership firmly rests with the Treasury and Cabinet Office. Furthermore she called for ring-fenced funding for early action initiatives, and suggested that Labour would do well to adopt an explicit early action ethos if it gained power in the 2015 General Election. Indeed, some of these ideas are already embedded in Labour’s most recent thinking about public services.
Alison Scott, assistant director at CIPFA, echoed some of these sentiments and added that there is a need for accounting practices to focus on outcomes as well as outputs. She argued that, by quantifying future liabilities that were likely to incur without such a transformation, we could incentivise a shift towards early action. She also recognised that whilst buy-in from the Centre is important, we must not forget the importance of a local approach in finding solutions and overcoming silo working.
These responses prompted a thoughtful discussion from attendees. A fundamental concern centred on the high costs of simultaneously running both preventative and acute services. This is exactly why longer term planning is needed, however, as higher costs in the first few years will be saved further down the line as demand for acute services diminishes. It is very important that this is made explicit in plans and budgets during the interim period in which policy shifts towards early action.
Another strand of discussion emphasized how we need to understand the way in which cultures and systems reinforce each other. Whilst it is important that we financially incentivise change, there must also be a shift in wider policy cultures. Linked to this is a need for a concerted effort to replicate successful early action initiatives. Both of the above could be addressed through a more localised approach, one which complements change at the Centre. This is an issue that the Taskforce has started to think about, and will be developed in more detail at a later date.
What are we waiting for?
It is always striking how you can tell anyone about early action and they will, to some extent, agree with its central tenets. Unfortunately there are still several barriers to overcome in both central and local government; barriers such as short termism, under investment, and silo-working.
It does not need to remain this way. The 2015 General Election is a prime opportunity for any new government to transform what is currently accepted as common sense into something concrete; a platform of early action from which everyone in society can benefit. With the framework set out in this paper, there is no longer any excuse not to act.
The paper launch was reported at localgov