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Posts Tagged ‘Big Lottery Fund’

Young unemployed supported by Big Lottery Fund’s Talent Match London programme

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

After a week of headlines about apprenticeships, including ours which highlighted the growing underrepresentation of young people, it’s time for our employability programme Talent Match London to receive some recognition for creating a lasting change in youth unemployment services.

With unemployment ranking as the number one fear among Britain’s youth, there has rightfully been an increase in the backing and precedence for Talent Match London – a partnership of organisations which places youth-leadership at the core of tackling the biggest issue young people feel they face.

Funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and run by London Youth with Community Links as a main partner, Talent Match London launched in 2014 to support long-term unemployed young people aged 18-24 into positive, productive futures. With two years into its service delivery, almost 1,000 young people across 7 London boroughs have been engaged on the programme.

This includes those who are completely outside of the benefits, work and training system and those facing the biggest barriers to getting work: from young mums to former gang members, to those simply lacking the confidence or skills to find jobs.

Whilst many programmes rely on young people ‘coming to them’, Talent Match London is different and has been hugely successful in its peer-to-peer outreach. The team spend a lot of time targeting hard-to-reach communities and in doing so, of the 939 young unemployed people so far engaged: 11% are caring for somebody; 16% have a disability; 17% have a child; 20% are ex-offenders; and 18% have experienced homelessness.

Following detailed mapping of need and existing provision, the Big Lottery Fund have continued its funding for a further three years giving the opportunity for sustainable employment for young people.

What makes Talent Match stand out from the rest?

We asked Talent Match London’s Youth Adviser Fateha Begum, how the programme is different to other employment schemes out there?“Talent Match London is youth-led which you don’t tend to see in many services. It fully involves the participants and has a Youth Advisory Committee who are involved from the strategic level to outreaching and planning events in the local community”. From the onset, Talent Match not only focusses on getting young people into a job, but it gives them the skills, the positive attitude and the drive to build themselves a career Fateha explained.

Fateha signed up to Talent Match through Community Links when it launched and described the programme as being too surreal to be true. She had been volunteering with Community Links for two years prior to becoming chair of the Youth Board which is made up of young people from across the partnership. Now as a young person in a paid Youth Adviser position for Talent Match London, she explained how young people play an important role in the service delivery: “They understand what their barriers are and can describe where they are coming from, so building solutions for them is a lot easier than having to base things on assumptions. The programme gives young people empowerment, but the support is always there from people who care and have a passion for what they are delivering”.

As a main partner for Talent Match London, Community Links takes a holistic approach towards engaging young people. We work with West Ham United Foundation, City Gateway and Poplar Harca in the areas of Barking, Dagenham, Newham and Tower Hamlets. Through our delivery of the programme, young people are matched to a dedicated personal advisor and in some cases also get a Talent Mentor from Community Links who provide guidance and advice on a one-to-one basis to boost young people’s confidence and skills with the ultimate aim of supporting them into careers.

Youth Unemployment – one of the biggest challenges facing the UK’s labour market

Latest figures show that young people in the UK are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than people of other ages. Despite a wealth of investment into interventions, there is a disconnect between young people and employers. Particularly, a disparity between what young people consider important and what employers are actually looking for.

A Reed survey of 2,000 young people across the UK highlighted that three out of five placed ‘skill set’ ahead of ‘mindset’ when considering what employers are after – while a previous survey with employers showed that 96% of employers picked ‘mindset’ over ‘skill set’ as the key element in those they seek and retain.

This mismatch of expectations is being confronted head-on by Talent Match London. Its model for service delivery brings together detailed input from young people, partnerships of employers as well as education providers and others towards boosting opportunities for young people. Talent Match London has been designed to provide not only the skill set, but the confidence, resilience, networks, and the sustained backing that young people might need as they set out to navigate a fulfilling career path.

During its first two years of delivery, Talent Match London have helped 227 young people into employment, with continued support to make sure they can sustain jobs once they are in them. A further 39 young Londoners have been supported into self-employment.

Talent Match London supporting young people into meaningful careers

Talent Match London will be using the Big Lottery Fund investment to continue placing young people at the centre of the programme, ensuring the principles of good youth work are fundamental to the way the programme is delivered. Over the next three years Talent Match London will benefit 2,500 16-24 year olds, all of whom have been out of work for over a year, placing a particular emphasis on those who are ‘hidden’.

To find out more information about the youth-approach programme you can access Talent Match London’s two-year learning report here.

Big Lottery Fund boost for early action

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Indira Gandhi’s grandfather told her that “there were two kinds of people in the world: those who do the work and those who take the credit”. “Try to be in first group” he said. “There is much less competition”.

In the world of policy development, where one idea often leads to another, it is very hard to attribute or claim credit but we can all celebrate progress and early action has clearly advanced since the Task Force was established in 2012.

  • The phrase “early action” did not appear in the Conservative, Labour of Lib Dem manifestoes in 2010. It appeared in all the major party manifestoes, alongside specific commitments in 2015.
  • The first Task force report, the Triple Dividend, led to the Public Accounts Committee calling for a landscape review of Early Action. We worked with the National Audit Office on the review and with the PAC on recommendations arising from this work. They concluded that “a concerted shift away from reactive spending towards early action has the potential to result in better outcomes, reduce public spending over the long term and achieve greater value for money.” Early action wasn’t widely recognized in government. It is now.
  • With the NAO we created a process for classifying government spending and we subsequently developed this work with a group of independent funders. This resulted in the formation of the now independent and nationally-focussed Early Action Funders Alliance which was launched in July 2014 and now has over 60 members. In January 2015 it began making large grants through its first joint project, the Early Action Neighbourhood Fund. Meanwhile the classification process has been used by a wide range of organisations from the Big Lottery Fund to the Scottish government and from large statutory bodies to the smallest community groups.
  • Although we have focused primarily on England the Welsh government incorporated much of the thinking of the Task Force in its Well-being of Future Generations Act which received Royal Assent in 2015. Certainly a trail blazer, possibly a model?

We originally established ourselves as an informal Task Force with a fixed three year work programme because we wanted to progress some big ideas not build an institution. Together we have made useful progress but the job is not completed and so we are very pleased to report today that the Big Lottery Fund have agreed to support a second phase beginning on April 1st.

“We start from the perspective that people want to overcome barriers and take control of their lives. We also know that charities, funders and commissioners are looking to early action as a more sustainable and positive means of supporting communities. The Early Action Task Force provides the ideas, expertise and tools to make the most of people’s strengths and build a more preventative society.” Big Lottery Fund Chief Executive Dawn Austwick.

We will be continuing what we have started and breaking new ground with three shifts in emphasis and activity:

  • The Task Force have published seven major reports so far and used this body of work to support voluntary and statutory organisations wanting to act earlier. In the process we have built up a network of almost 500 organisations committed to early action. Our second phase will build with, and on, the accumulated wisdom in this network and beyond. We are a planning a gallery of case studies and a new programme of knowledge sharing events as well as maintaining our monthly bulletins and further publications.
  • In recent months some government powers have shifted, and others are shifting, to cities and regions. The evolving devolution agenda is a major opportunity to address some of the barriers to more effective early action, whilst providing clear and measurable objectives for devolution policy. We will be taking ideas which have so far largely focused on Westminster and Whitehall out into the cities and regions.
  • Over the last three years, and most recently at our 4 Nations event in Glasgow last autumn, we have learnt from early action work underway across the UK and been able to share our thinking more broadly. In the next phase we will be officially expanding our focus from primarily England to a UK as a whole.

The resources of the Task Force as an independent entity are very small. Our great strength lies in the cross sector leadership group and the wider and ever expanding network. It is they who, in the words of the Mahatma, “do the work”. Please join us.

If we don’t know you already and you would like to know more about the Early Action Task Force please contact Luke Price.

Have you been bitten by the politics bug? We joined the NVRD campaign to ramp up the numbers of young people registering to vote

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Do young people not care about politics or does politics not care about young people? Community Links teams up with Bite The Ballot and some of our young members in Stratford to challenge the stereotypes.

Since the change from ‘head of household’ to individual electoral registration, 800,000 people have dropped off the electoral register, and the move has particularly affected young people and students. The current system is not working for an entire section of our society. British politics hasn’t been kind to young people in the past few years – youth clubs are being closed, and university fees have tripled. The harsh reality is that a lot of Government decisions have been made which affect young people, yet by not voting, a majority of young people haven’t been part of that decision making process. This begs the question, do young people realise how deep-rooted politics is?

If you were playing a word association game, what words would come to your mind if someone mentioned ‘politics’? Perhaps middle-aged men, wigs, power, voting – or maybe corrupt, out of touch or even broken promises? Do you ever associate the ‘P’ word with opportunity? Or do you consider that actually much of what you do; in your school, in your youth centre, even in your own house is affected by politics. Its influence reaches a lot further than you may realise – and it isn’t just confined to the ambling corridors surrounding the 1,000 rooms inside the Houses of Parliament.

This simple idea is the driving force behind Bite The Ballot, a charity which aims to inspire and engage young people in politics, so they can become active changemakers in a society. While there are currently 7.4 million 16-24 year olds living in the UK, only half of those are registered to vote and – of those registered and eligible – only 43% turned out to vote in 2015. This is a worrying trend among young people in politics and a problem Bite The Ballot have tasked themselves to address.

“I would tell my friends to vote because I think it’s important to voice your opinion”

Last week marked the third ‘NVRD’ (National Voting Registration Drive) – an annual campaign launched by Bite The Ballot, addressing the stark lack of young people registering and voting in the UK. During the week of 2-8 February 2015, a record-breaking 441,500 people registered to vote, including 166,000 on one day alone. With registration rallies, workshops and events taking place in schools, colleges, youth clubs and students’ unions across the country, Bite The Ballot announced that this year, with the focus fixed on reaching the most-marginalised groups in society, NVRD has inspired an additional 134,000 citizens to take a stake in democracy for the first time.

Some of that success took place at our Rokeby community hub in Stratford, where Community Links joined forces with Bite The Ballot to allow for the voices of a group of young people to be heard on the issues they care about. Bite The Ballot’s community engagement officer, Ashar Smith, led the interactive workshop called ‘The Basics’ which started off with a debate round called ‘Vote on your Feet’. The small group of ten were asked questions such as ‘should the UK stay in the EU?’, to which all of them voted by steering to the left of the room for ‘Yes’. This was followed by ‘should we abolish the monarchy?’, ‘should the UK take in more refugees?’, as well as ‘should we bring back the death penalty?’.

The participants really got involved in the debates. Ashar said: “We’ve had great responses. We talked about whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote, which was a really interesting topic. One member of the group said ‘when I was 16 I didn’t know anything about politics because they don’t teach you about it at school.’ And that’s one of Bite The Ballot’s aims – to make political education a priority in every school’s curriculum”.

Having worked at a grassroots level for the last five years, Bite The Ballot know that young people care about political issues – it’s the lack of education that’s the problem. “There’s a lot of first time voters who come out of school when they are 16 or 17 and they can get disillusioned or disenfranchised because they are not given any information about how they can change things in local or national government”, Ashar explained. Ralph Adjei-Tetteh, 23, who has been going to the Community Links Rokeby youth centre since last September, agreed: “I think when it comes to talking about politics, most of us would not know anything about the Government and voting until we’re 18”.

By rebranding political jargon into plain English, Bite The Ballot are actively engaging more young people into democracy, and encouraging them to bring about substantive change. Ralph, when asked what he might say to his friends about voting, replied: “I would tell my friends to vote because I think it’s important to voice your opinion as it can affect a decision that might benefit us”.

“If young people registered to vote it would make a big difference to the democratic process”

The geography of politics is currently changing. MPs’ constituency boundaries are set to be redrawn based on the current electoral register, which will leave young people further under-represented at Westminster. As Ashar explained: “If young people registered to vote, then what they want would get listened to. It would make a big difference to the democratic process. But there are other things that need to change too. Why can’t we vote online? Why can’t the council register us automatically? And why don’t schools take political education seriously?”

At the end of the session when Ashar asked the group if they would like to register to vote, one participant responded: “Yes, I think my voice counts”. That answer in itself shows the worth of NVRD and why Bite The Ballot’s work is needed to engage young people in democracy. Likewise, our Rokeby youth centre and other Community Links hubs, are playing a major part in fostering the concept of community development and democracy. By providing important spaces for people to address local needs or problems, they signify a symbol of togetherness and empowerment which work towards achieving positive futures.

Most of the members who participated in the workshop for NVRD at the Rokeby hub are being supported by Talent Match London and attend the centre most Fridays. Talent Match London is a brilliant initiative focusing on unemployment hotspots in the country by taking a partnership and youth-led approach. Funded by the Big Lottery Fund and led by London Youth, Talent Match supports young people into sustained jobs, overcoming personal barriers on the way to employment. If you would like to know more information about the hubs and programmes Community Links run, please click here.

And don’t forget, make sure you register to vote. You can do it online at:

Spending Review 2015: The Good, the Bad, and the Hanging Question

Friday, November 27th, 2015

As the dust settles on the Spending Review three topics attract my attention:

Social Impact Bonds

First the Chancellor allocated £105 million for new Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) tackling youth unemployment, homelessness and poor mental health. Like many useful ideas the SIB has many parents. Community Links is the oldest. Back in 2006 Community Links supporter Peter Wheeler, then working at Goldman Sachs, was visiting our Alternative to Custody project. We had been contracted by the Home Office to run a 12 month programme. Payment was dependant on 90% of the young people turning up 90% of the time. As Peter noted this metric bore no relationship to whether or not the programme succeeded in reducing re-offending. If it didn’t reduce it there was no benefit for society so we shouldn’t be paid anything, if it did the long term value was far greater than the unit cost and we should be paid more. The payment mechanism needed to recognise the value of prevention rather the cost of deliGeorge Osborne 0480amvery.

Peter told me about the International Finance Facility – a cross sector instrument which had been developed by Goldman Sachs to facilitate child immunisation in developing countries. Cutting a long story short we considered how the mechanism might be adapted for tackling domestic challenges first taking a sketchy outline to the then Chancellor Gordon Brown and subsequently developing it through the Prime Ministers Council on Social Action. Social Finance did all the hard yards brilliantly turning a simple concept into a working model and eventually launching the trail blazing project reducing reoffending in Peterborough. Now there are 31 SIBs in the UK alone and over 50 more worldwide

SIBs don’t, as some more excitable ministers and commentators appear to believe, instantly dispense with the need for public expenditure on issues like homelessness or re-offending. We will only do that when we have successfully dispensed with homelessness and re-offending. They do focus public money on successful interventions, not on process, and so facilitate investment in new developments without risk to the public purse. In our favourite metaphor they can pay for the fence at the top of the cliff without garaging the ambulance at the bottom unless and until people stop falling over the edge.

Some SIB projects won’t work, but failures like the recent Rikers’ Island attempt to reduce re-offending in New York may be deeply disappointing for the participants but actually vindicate the model. A new approach was trialled, it failed, investors lost out but the tax payer didn’t. Public servants are always nervous about risk and particularly averse at the moment when every penny is needed on the front line. I am worried about whether the Cabinet Office will have the capacity to deliver this programme (and also an ambitious expansion of the National Citizen Service) whilst their own budget is cut to the marrow but, that aside, the new money should allow us to keep pushing forward on the prevention agenda at a time when so many other funding streams are drying up or have already disappeared. It is good news in an otherwise gloomy statement and that, sadly, takes me to my second point….

An end to austerity?

Osbornes statement on Wednesday emphatically did not “usher in the end of austerity” as the Daily Telegraph gleefully proclaimed. Even the Chancellor was keen to nail that fiction: “It is not an end to the difficult decisions” he told Radio 4’s Today programme. “There are going to be difficult choices for different government departments. Billions of pounds of savings, billions of pounds of savings in the welfare budget as well. This spending review … takes those difficult decisions in day-to-day spending so we can invest in the long term.”

Lord Porter, the Conservative chairman of the Local Government Association spelt out the scale of those “difficult decisions” for local authority leaders: “Even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres and turned off every street light they will not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face by 2020.”

We know from the PMs correspondence with the leader of Oxfordshire that this will have devastating, potentially life threatening results for Council service users everywhere. In areas like east London where provision has already been cut to the bone and services are already under staffed and under siege the consequences are almost unimaginable.

I can understand the chancellors political choices (and be clear, the bulk of the burden is borne by the poor – that is a political choice) but it is plainly bonkers to argue, as Mr Osborne did, that cutting public health , youth work, even ultimately social care and children’s services allows the nation to “ invest in the long term” . As Luke pointed out on this blog yesterday, underinvestment in these services is as foolish and myopic as underinvestment in roads and railways. We will be paying the price for years to come.

The hanging question

Finally my hanging question: Immediately before the Spending Review statement on Wednesday the PM described the Big Lottery Fund (BLF) as “an absolutely excellent organisation” and the Chancellor did not then talk about raiding it’s coffers as I feared that he might. Mr Osborne did however announce the £300m expansion of the National Citizen Service without explaining where the money is coming from. The Blue Book is also mute on the subject. A policy adjustment for BLF nudged through in the months ahead rather than a wholesale diversion of funds announced in the Spending Review would be an easier path for the Chancellor to take but amount to the same thing. I hope very much that my doubts are misplaced and unworthy. Lots of people, far better placed than me, are reassuring on the subject but I will still sleep a little easier when we know exactly where the £300m will be coming from.

Update on Lottery funding and the Spending Review

Friday, November 20th, 2015

This post is an update on David Robinson’s previous blog on Big Lottery Funding – “The Big Lottery Fund: Not your money Mr Osborne

I am grateful to everyone who has spoken to me about my pieces on this blog and also in the Huffington Post.

It is now clear that there has been “serious investigation” into using BLF funds to deliver existing government programmes which are consistent with the kinds of things that BLF might otherwise choose to do e.g. the National Citizen Service. I said in my earlier blog that this would be a thinly disguised cut and so it would be,diverting money to pay for a programme which, in this case, has been funded previously by the Cabinet Office.

The net effect of a diversion on anything approaching the scale that has been rumoured would be devastating but my suggestion that BLF could only cope with it by closing their doors to all new applications is not true. This is, as I understand it, because BLF account fully for every new grant in the year in which it is approved e.g. a 3 year grant for £100k a year is all taken off the balance sheet in year one. Consequently all prior commitments have already been accounted for. A cut now would hit the new funding budget but even the worst case figures rumoured this week wouldn’t wipe it out entirely.

Will Mr Osborne take the money? We will know next week but even if there is no mention of BLF in the Spending Review this shouldn’t be taken to mean that the possibility has been dismissed. Ministers often fly kites. They test out the operational practicality of an idea and its political viability. It would not be without precedent if this one didn’t feature in the CSR but pops up fully formed in the 2016 spring budget or autumn statement. If there is no mention next week we who love the Big Lottery Fund should think immediately about how we can so make the case for the Fund in the next few months that ministers will never again contemplate a raid. Like many good friends I have spoken to this week I take the BLF for granted. It is only when I imagine life without it that I realise how important it is.

The Big Lottery Fund: Not your money, Mr Osborne

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

On a late autumn day very like this one 20 years ago the Big Lottery Fund (BLF), or the National Lottery Charities Board (NLCB) as it was then called, was about to make its first round of grants. The Board was advised by seven Regional Advisory Panels (RAPs). I chaired the London RAP. We had a staff of two. They had spent the weekend before our Panel meeting camped in my kitchen with one lumpy laptop and a small mountain of carrier bags full of application forms. It was, it would be fair to say, a rather less sophisticated operation than today’s BLF.

The press were lottery mad at the time and the smallest story made the news. Speculation, and subsequent confirmation, that we intended to fund local community groups, including those that worked with single parents, refugees, even gay people (!) flabbergasted the Fleet Street establishment who thought every penny should go to Cancer Research. David Mellor, the responsible minister, shared in the apoplexy of the moment and even Prime Minister John Major chipped in from time to time. To his great credit, the chair of the national Board Sir David Sieff, a former Conservative Party treasurer and no left wing patsy, stood firm in his brave and resolute support for the recommendations of the Regional Panels and gradually the independent judgement of the NLCB was asserted, established and ultimately vindicated. There is no community in the UK that has not benefitted many times over from David’s determination, continued by his successors, to make decisions independently and to meet the needs of the whole community without fear or favour. Indeed it is also fair to say, no community that hasn’t benefitted from the foresight of a Conservative government that wrestled with the temptation to interfere. And didn’t.

Now the Big Lottery Fund is threaded deep into the weave of our national life, underpinning tiny community groups and major national charities with grants ranging from £300 to over half a million. Speak to volunteers and staff at the village community centre or the urban youth club, the national advice line or the residential home, and hear how the Fund is tacking disadvantage, creating opportunities, improving lives day in day out. It distributes more each year than Comic Relief and Children in Need, added together, raise in three years and is, far and away, the biggest independent funder of a voluntary and community sector that is admired across the world.

Gone are the lumpy laptops and the Tesco bags. Now BLF is a highly experienced, smart grantmaker leading much of the thinking in the sector and widely respected. Getting a grant isn’t an easy process. It is fair, thorough and utterly professional and as local authority budgets dwindle and pressure mounts on independent philanthropists the Fund has never been more important.

This is why the rumours in recent days that the Chancellors Spending Review next week will take 48 percent from BLF fills me with despair. It is likely that such a cut would leave the Fund unable to pay for anything beyond its existing commitments for the foreseeable future. This wouldn’t be a blow to the administration of a quango in SW1 – it would strike at the beating heart of our communities in every post code throughout the country.

Is there truth to the rumour? My soundings suggest that there is, although of course no one who knows is in a position to talk and no one who talks, at least to me, is in a position to know. Certainly 48% is oddly precise for a baseless fiction and surely a bigger percentage than the gloomy fantasists might ever have imagined possible. Possibly the exaggerated figure emanates from the Chancellor’s own circle. It’s a familiar stunt – float the idea of 48% and then, hey presto, a 20% cut, a previously unimaginable figure, suddenly seems like a blessed relief.

If it were to happen it would probably be presented as a diversion of money not a cut: redirecting lottery funds into replacing a mainstream government programme. Be in no doubt, such a diversion would be a cut with a false beard and this would be a dangerous ruse. It is not an exaggeration but a fact to say that every constituency of every party colour benefits from the Big Lottery Fund. One senior Tory told me yesterday that he will be “watching like a hawk for any manoeuvres to reshape what BLF funds.” “It can’t” he said “be used to substitute government funding”.

George Osborne isn’t the first politician to covert the lottery millions. Rumours have circulated regularly, some well evidenced, but in the end no more than rumours. The Chancellor must understand, as have his predecessors, the unique and irreplaceable valuable of a substantial fund that meets need and unleashes potential in communities throughout the UK. The Big Lottery Fund is at the heart of our common wealth. It is not your money, Mr Osborne.

Investing in Early Action

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

The National Audit Office’s landscape review of early action, published a couple of weeks ago, has been warmly welcomed by the Early Action Task Force, including in an article by David Robinson in today’s Guardian, and in this blog from Big Lottery Fund England Director Dharmendra Kanani, which was first published today by the Guardian and is reproduced below. Dharmendra sits on the Task Force, and Big Lottery Fund support the Task Force’s work.

Prevention is better than cure. Yet although we all know this intuitively, we do little about it.

Because society invests so little time and effort in proving this, it does not feature in policymaking or public spending decisions. We are all far better at responding to problems than we are at stopping them from getting worse or even starting in the first place.

Every time we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, for example economic recession, the received wisdom is to focus on acute services because the business case for prevention is not made. However, a shift away from reactive spending towards early action is the only way to reduce public spending over the long term.

The National Audit Office’s Early Action: Landscape Review follows recommendations made by the Early Action Task Force (of which the Big Lottery Fund is a member) to carry out a value for money study of early action. It states that while government has “signalled its commitment to early action as a principle” and taken some “tentative steps” towards realising that ambition, “short-term thinking, a lack of integration in many areas and poor evidence gathering” are holding back progress.

In an age of austerity, how can we make a compelling case to invest in projects, partnerships and interventions that may not see benefits for five, six or 10 years or more? BIG is investing more than £400m to address some of these challenges in England.

We are not constrained by statutory obligations to specific citizens. We are able to fund schemes early and over a long period of time, even up to 10 years. We are not bound by parliamentary terms or annual budgetary rounds that might temper longer-term ambitions and financial commitments. We do not face the problems of departmental silos.

We can organise investments around the needs of individuals, concentrate on early action and evidence what works. We can then share that learning so that civil servants who design national systems or commission local services can be confident in the value of preventative approaches without facing the risk of failing to meet shorter term deadlines.

A Better Start is just one example. Under this programme, BIG is preparing to invest between £30m and £50m in three to five local areas in England over the next decade. This will demonstrate what can be achieved when services are organised around the needs of vulnerable babies in three key areas of development: social and emotional; communication and language; and nutrition.

A fundamental part of our approach is to provide the evidence needed to change the way that local health, public services and the voluntary sector work together to put early action at the heart of service delivery.

Independent evaluation is built into our plans. Across the UK we are supporting outstanding early intervention projects that have a strong track record or that have already been proven to work. We have commissioned research to help understand not only what the most effective interventions are, but how these can be replicated or extended to many more needy people.

For example, Roots of Empathy, a groundbreaking project that our funding is bringing to England and Wales for the first time, involves a baby coming into schools acting as a “tiny teacher” to help children learn empathy and reduce aggressive behaviour. Research in Canada shows that this decreases social aggression in up to 39% of students and increases helpful behaviour by 78%.

The NAO states that “early action has the potential to improve outcomes and value for money, but evidence of its impact and cost-effectiveness is currently patchy”. BIG has a programme of investments under way that will build that evidence base.

It is essential that policymakers engage with these now, so the lessons we learn are captured for the benefit of everyone in the UK, not just the people participating in the projects. Making the business case for society to invest in prevention will hopefully help us to stop endlessly repeating responses and reactions to society’s problems.

Early Action Season 4: Paying for Change

Monday, November 26th, 2012

We will be launching The Deciding Time, the second report of the Early Action Task Force, in Westminster on November 28th. (spaces are still available if you’d like to attend). In the lead up to the event we are blogging on early action and some of the big ideas in the report.

We can’t turn on a sixpence. Voluntary agencies that are delivering acute services with a queue at the door can’t release the time or the money to track back and work on prevention. So it is that the flow of human need continues unabated year after year.

If the sector is to  stop funding and running acute services without abandoning the most desperate we have to find new money to invest in transition over a sustained period of time.

The Early Action Task Force has been urging funders to focus some of their resources on this purpose and  there has been good progress. In the second report, to be published this Wednesday the Big Lottery Fund’s Ambreen Shah reports on how the UK’s biggest third sector funder has been prioritising early action, and last month government and the Big Lottery Fund chose to focus the new Advice Fund on early action almost before the ink was dry on this recommendation from The Deciding Time.

We would like to see the approach copied and developed.

It is becoming increasingly common for major funders to ask applicants for evidence of their environmental policies. This is driving awareness and behavioural change across the sector with a ripple effect well beyond. There is an opportunity to do something similar around earlier action with grant makers  not only funding the transition but  helping to drive it by requiring Transition Plans and critically, by supporting their development with a kind of “grand bargain” approach. When a grant seeker asks for funding to meet the needs at their door the grant maker should offer 25% more – first to meet the need and then to reduce it. That or nothing.

Once the strategy has been established it becomes realistic to plan for the gradual shift of core funding, staff time and organisational capacity but without dedicated funds most organisations will continue to meet the same needs for as long as they can. Sadly, as we know, funds are disappearing and needs are increasing so if this was ever an intelligent strategy it certainly isn’t now.

The Task Force has begun talking to grant makers and investors about a fund that pays, and only pays, for transition to earlier action. It wouldn’t necessarily focus on any specific client group but would be entirely concerned with the success and replicabilty of  the process of transition. This clarity of focus would ensure that the money is not sucked into paying for acute services no matter how valuable and it would enable us to build up a serious body of experience and expertise. Funded projects would be practical and judged on results not ideas – we don’t want a report, we want a change.

Developing an Early Action Transition Fund is a priority for the Task Force in its next phase. Pressures on time and money are legitimate reasons why progress on the early action agenda has not been as fast as it ought to have been in the third sector, but they shouldn’t be show stoppers.  No one can turn on a sixpence but with investment we can buy time. And with time we can change. Several funders are already leading the way. We need more.

Once a visionary, now a realist

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

This post was first published on the Big Lottery Fund blog, and is reproduced here with kind permission.

I’m not a big fan of conferences – too many tedious recitals of repetitive power points – but every now and then a stellar performance grabs an audience and shakes it up and you feel it was a privilege to be there.

George Hosking’s presentation to the BIG-sponsored WAVE Primary Prevention Conference on June 13th was such a star turn. For 40 minutes brick by brick he built the case for prevention work, particularly with parents and babies, drawing on extensive research from across the world.

For me the studies on relationships between mother and baby were particularly gripping, showing how the impact of “low maternal responsiveness” at 10 – 12 months retards the development of empathy and how this leads first to temper tantrums and attention seeking then step by step to fighting, stealing, and adult violence.

Ultimately and tragically, George noted, it is the absence of empathy between parent and infant that is being played out again so vividly and so finally when, at the conclusion of the murder trial and the handing down of the sentence the correspondent reports “the accused show no emotion”.

If we hadn’t got it already we surely got it then. The right support at the right time – good and early – saves lives and, although it may seem base to link the two, it saves an awful lot of money as well.

It would be strange to attend such a conference if you weren’t, at the very least; broadly sympathetic to the basic premise that prevention is a good thing. Unsurprisingly therefore George got a good reception from an audience of commissioners, managers and practitioners drawn in almost equal numbers from local authorities, voluntary agencies and the health service. The hanging question at lunchtime wasn’t “is this a good idea?” but “how do we do it?” And how, in particular, can we make the case outside this hall and at a time when budgets are shrinking and demand is rising.

The answer lies, at least in part, in some of the bleaker moments in the day. David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA Children and Young Peoples board noted that in his 14 years as a councillor better preventative services had always been an intention but rarely achieved. It was a story recognised by many. Custom and practice, rules and fiefdoms get in the way and nothing changes.

The CSJ’s Robin Millar told the conference about Barnet Council’s “graph of doom” which depicts with graphic intensity the unsustainability of current spending profiles.

And in the break I talked to a health service manager. She described how acute spending on the “3 Ds” – dementia, depression and diabetes –were “strangling” her budget when all are conditions that can be managed more effectively and for less money at an earlier stage.

Bring these remarks together and we see how the forces of inertia held sway in times of plenty but also how now the world is changing. Health and social care services across the sectors are desperately overstretched and rapidly running out of money. Business as usual may once have been an option but it isn’t anymore. Reducing future liabilities is no longer a luxury it’s a financial imperative. Fourteen years ago, even five years ago, George may have been a visionary. Today he is a realist.

BIG’s England director, Dharmendra Kanani, indicated how some of this change might be initiated when he told us about BIG’s interest in “shifting the debate” and about patient, long-term funding directed at issues that are deeply entrenched. The £1.3bn that BIG will spend between now and 2015 is modest compared to government and its agencies but potentially a crucial catalyst when invested in prevention.

Strategic deployment of these funds attracting other partners, leveraging social finance and anchoring investment, can be an essential game changer enabling service providers to shift their emphasis from last gasp acute provision to earlier action without abandoning those in greatest need. Critically, BIG will be seeking to generate evidence, surely of benefit to the whole sector, and will be looking hard at the learning

Of course on its own BIG’s money is not enough but this is the kind of thoughtful spending that is required, and the kind of leadership that we need, to make the transition from a society that waits for trouble and pays the price, to one that prevents problems from occurring and reaps a triple dividend – thriving lives, costing less and contributing more. A transition that was once a vision but is now a necessity.