Report finds central government is falling short on early intervention pledges

By Gabriella Jozwiak, Friday 01 February 2013

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The government has failed to back its commitment to early intervention with adequate investment, despite recognising its importance, an independent review has concluded.

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The National Audit Office wants the Treasury to calculate the benefits of early intervention. Image: Martin Figura

A National Audit Office (NAO) report has found that despite government departments including early intervention as a high-level objective in policy plans, spending on preventative work has remained constant at about six per cent of their combined budgets each year.

The report makes recommendations to government on how to invest in intervening early, rather than reacting to problems as and when they arise.

These include gathering more evidence about what works, overcoming the political election-driven “short-term bias” and improving cross-departmental practices, such as pooling budgets.

The NAO also suggests that the Treasury should quantify the potential of early intervention to reduce future public spending and increase economic growth.

Graham Allen, chair of the Early Intervention Foundation, described the report as “yet another solid slab of evidence” to add to the “ever-growing mountain of proof about early intervention”. 

“The NAO makes clear that early intervention, as well as being great for individuals and families and excellent social policy, is also the biggest deficit reduction programme available to the UK because of the massive long-term savings it produces,” he said.

“The Treasury now has to take this evidence much more seriously and build in the early intervention culture. Instead of continuing to throw money wastefully at problems far too late, it should respond positively to the recommendations in the report.”

The report includes evidence that shows some early intervention projects could provide a fourfold return on investment.

“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,” said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO.

“The government has signalled its commitment to early action as a principle, and taken some tentative steps towards realising that ambition.

“There remains much room for improvement, however. Short-term thinking, a lack of integration in many areas and poor evidence-gathering are impairing effective adoption and implementation of early action across government.”

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