Public Accounts Committee Publish Early Action Landscape Review

This is a guest post from Will Horwitz, Researcher for the Early Action Taskforce. 

The social finance movement has always believed that in social policy as elsewhere, prevention is better than cure and social impact bonds, famously, provide a mechanism for the public sector to act earlier without having to spend up front. But despite their encouraging adoption in some areas, most of government has lumbered along as before – disjointed and head down, focusing on the short term and usually reacting too late.

A new report from the Public Accounts Committee could see that begin to change. Their Early Action Landscape Review succinctly and bluntly lays out the case and exposes the failings:

“The Government spends nearly £400 billion each year on, for example, health, education, employment, justice and welfare, but huge numbers of people still suffer preventable health problems that are expensive to treat, too many young people leave school with too few qualifications and unable to get a job, too many young offenders commit further crimes when they leave prison, often because of drugs or alcohol addiction, and too many families get locked into benefit dependency.”

More importantly, they suggest what needs to change. Government is short-sighted and disjointed in its planning, with no-one taking responsibility for early action so the Committee recommend the Treasury step up, leading a drive for early action across government. Beginning by agreeing a definition to be used across government and mapping how much is spent. Then by asking departments to include ten year impact assessments in their spending review submissions, forcing a focus on the longer term and ensuring cuts now won’t cost more later. And finally by leading a shift towards pooled budgeting and joint working between departments so the benefits of investment flow to those who spend upfront.

These recommendations and others would create an environment in which social finance could flourish, as departmental boundaries are hurdled and commissioners are encouraged to look beyond next April. Promising recent progress, such as the Cabinet Office’s Social Outcomes Fund, give us a flavour of what could emerge if the PAC’s recommendations were adopted vigorously across government. It would be better late than never, ensuring we’re never too late again.

This is a guest post from Will Horwitz, Researcher for the Early Action Taskforce. 

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