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Common sense but not yet common practice

28 November 2012

Today the Early Action Task Force, which is supported by BIG, launches its second report; The Deciding Time: Prevent today or pay tomorrow. Guest blogger David Robinson explains more about the report.

David Robinson

David Robinson

One council leader we spoke to earlier this year summarised his budget for us and outlined the cuts. He talked about services ‘running on fumes’, about the demographic change in his locality and its implications for the future and about the likelihood of further cuts next year.

He sketched his own ‘graph of doom’ depicting the probable point at which the money runs out for all but the most essential, acute services and then the point where even they are unaffordable.

His plan was less of the same, cut by cut. Why? ‘Because it was, he said ‘fear driven … if a vulnerable pensioner dies or a child is killed no one gets sacked for doing what the last guy did. We did our best.’

Wherever we have gone with the Task Force over the last 18 months we have been struck by two things:

First that an acute, fear-driven, crisis-led service, rescuing not preventing, is rarely enough and that even if it is we are running out of rescuers. Services for public good, and particularly for the most vulnerable, are struggling in 2012 and will struggle more. They will soon be unaffordable. They are unsustainable.

Second, we could do better, earlier. This is a practical proposition. Budgeting, planning, managing, delivering, evaluating will all need to change but largely we, not the Task Force but the people that are doing it at the moment, know how. Acting to prevent problems from arising rather than dealing with the consequences is common sense but not yet common practice.

BIG are amongst those leading the way – alongside their support for the Task Force, BIG’s recent investments in the Advice Services Transition Fund and Fulfilling Lives: A Better Start embed early action principles at the heart of major national funding programmes. The report we’re launching today includes a piece from BIG’s Ambreen Shah explaining more about their approach. As she says:

“Decades of well meaning effort have not done enough to prevent the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage within families, nor to help unlock the potential trapped within some sections of our society. Remedial services are not only costly in terms of wasted human potential, they are huge cost drain on our public services.”

Our report recommends a whole package of measures to force heads up from a short term focus on meeting need to a long term commitment to reducing it. We suggest charities, funders, government and business should focus not just on their impact now but on the ten year consequences, planning and investing to be doing things differently in a decade’s time.

So our challenge to those at the launch today and to readers of this blog: spend half an hour thinking about how your organisation could act one step sooner. What problem that you currently deal with could you start to prevent, such that in a few years you may be doing something completely different? And then spend half an hour talking about it with colleagues. The Task Force will be continuing for another three years, so we’d love to hear how you’re getting on.

David Robinson is founder of Community Links and Early Action Task Force chair.

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