Why don’t we invest in early action?

Why don’t we invest in early action? – the question raised by this report is as pertinent now as it was over the last decade when the Early Action Task Force worked to make early action not just common sense but common practice, bringing together expertise and leadership from across the sectors and looking across the piece from cradle to grave to getting things right first time in services and systems.  Sadly, Britain then and now is stuck in a recurring pattern of underinvestment in early action, exacerbated by short-termism and silo working.  It’s a downward spiral, with expensive crisis management leading to cutbacks in existing preventative services and social infrastructure, making a bad situation worse. Over the last decade, we have seen this happen as a result of austerity brought on by the financial crisis. Looking ahead, the financing of the cost of the Covid-19 pandemic may have a similar effect.

If you are grappling with these problems, we hope you will find this report useful.  It brings together analysis and recommendations from the Task Force’s work which are still highly relevant – from planning for the longer term, with a Well-Being Budget as in New Zealand, to identifying how much of spending is going to early action in order to shift the balance; and to stressing the importance of social infrastructure, with a major fund to kick start investment, and deep value relationships in ‘enabling’ services and communities. Hosted by Community Links, the Task Force had the advantage of being able to link grass roots knowledge of what works with national expertise and policy-making.   

It is clear the Task Force had significant impact, creating a growing consensus about the importance of early action and influencing policy and practice, from the Well-Being of Future Generations Act in Wales to the work of Lancashire police force.  Its imprint can also be seen in the Johnson Government’s levelling up White Paper and Scotland’s commitment to increase the proportion of spending on prevention. 

The report also brings together insights and reflections from leading thinkers and practitioners about where we are now and on what is needed to shift the dial even further. What emerges most strongly is that change on this scale takes considerable time and the challenge is how to build the momentum, find common cause and maintain our efforts over the long-term.  The report therefore makes the case for further investment, for example, in an Early Action Commission or Task Force and practitioners’ network to bring together champions, spread good practice and work with others to tackle systemic barriers.  If you are interested in these ideas, do get in touch.

Why don’t we invest in early action? is published by Community Links, the host of the Early Action Task Force, and is written by Caroline Slocock, the Director of Civil Exchange and a former member of the Task Force. The Task Force was supported by the Barrow Cadbury Trust and by the National Lottery Community Fund. Our thanks go to everyone who was involved in the Task Force and the other contributors to this report.

The Executive Summary and full text is here.