Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Building a society that is ready for anything

Our now traditional Fabian Dragons' Den was a great success at this year's Labour Party Conference with a parallel session taking place on Radio4 as we conducted our live event in Liverpool Town Hall. In the end Daniel Elton, of the website LeftFootForward, walked away with the prize for best idea with his pitch to break-up the big six energy companies.

Before the event we asked for entries from Fabian members for their one idea to win the next election. We recieved over 0ne hundred submissions, the quality was extremely high and Manchester Fabian William Cook put forward his idea on start-up capital for new businesses to the panel and came a very respectable second place.

We recieved a few ideas which, had we the time, we'd have definitely put to our panel. Below is one such idea from David Robinson.

Building a society that is ready for anything

Nef and Catch 22 have shown that every £1 spent on work with young people facing ‘complex’ problems could save £5.65. Youth unemployment currently costs £8bn a year, and youth crime £1bn. Similarly KPMG have calculated that the failure to learn how to read in primary school has a lifetime cost to the state of between £45,000 and £55,000 per child. A reading recovery programme costs £2,600, has a 79% success rate and yields a return of between £11 and £17 for every pound invested.

Where ever you look the story is the same. Youth unemployment, debt, anti social behaviour, bullying, underachievement at school particularly in the basic skills, family breakdown, drug abuse, homelessness, violence in the home or on the streets, cost more, if tackled later. And that’s at best. Sometimes later is too late for any intervention to ever be totally successful.

The next Labour government should commit to building a society that prevents problems from occurring rather than, as now, one that copes with the consequences. I picture a cliff with a “ready for anything society” at the top. Its people are ready and able to learn at primary school, to thrive in secondary, job-ready as young adults, primed to be good parents when the time comes and, because we all experience difficulties at some point in our lives, ready and able also to manage adversity - to cope with losing a job or a relationship, to rebuild after illness or bereavement, to adapt to change. Such a society is characterised by "Enabling services" and by clear rules that build capability, equip us to flourish, protect us from harm and prepare us for change.

Even here things will sometimes go wrong. “Prompt interventions” at the cliff edge pick up the first signs of difficulty and respond to them targeting services at individuals, families, communities with identified problems which, if not forestalled, could lead to more serious difficulties. An open-access play scheme, a learning support group or detached youth work in communities where many young people are on the streets might be examples of such a “prompt intervention”

Further down the cliff face the service becomes more targeted at those with more developed problems and prompt intervention gets closer to an "Acute service". Eventually it is primarily focused on “Containment ” - warehousing problems that we haven't resolved and people that we aren’t helping

CLG officials have been required by the coalition government to ask of every initiative "how does this promote localism?" and "how does this give power to citizens?" Suppose policy makers under the next government in every department and in every delivery agency locally and nationally were expected instead to ask of every service, "Is this in good time?" And, if not "how might we next engage one step sooner?”

A swift and radical switch of resources from acute provision to enabling services and preventative action is impractical but a steady, incremental migration could be achieved with Early Action Transition Plans.

The last Labour government’s stepped approach to the reduction of carbon emissions with Low Carbon Transition Plans is not dissimilar. Absolute proportions will vary from service to service but if the aspiration is to gradually shift the balance, government departments and local authorities might be required to publish Early Action Transition Plans with Early Action Milestones visibly charting progress on Early Action Scorecards. . For example, “We spend 5% of our budget on prevention and early action. We aim to increase that proportion by 5% each year for the next three years.”

Commissioners, charitable trusts, the Big Lottery, the new Big Society Bank could be encouraged to follow incentivising and sustaining the transition in the third sector with similar milestones and, of course, if we expect open and ambitious milestones from the funders we should expect them also of the funded – the organisations delivering the services from community groups to council departments: Government leadership on publicising and promoting this good practice would frame it as the expected behaviour of a progressive, forward thinking organisation.

A stitch in time is common sense but it isn’t common practise. It is socially intelligent and financially smart. It should be the organising philosophy for public services under the next Labour government.

David Robinson is a member of The Fabian Society

1 comment:

Renideo said...

This is absolutely right. Of course not only is it true that earlier is better, but that larger scale, non-incremental shifts in policy are preferable to piecemeal changes. As so many of these problems are transmitted across generations, and via geographic concentrations, it is necessary to put the right level of resources into dealing with them, so that good policies are not defeated by bad contexts.