PM urged to give Early Intervention plan the go-ahead

John Hess
Political editor, East Midlands

image copyrightbbc
image captionLow aspiration and poor education may end in reliance on benefits and unemployment

As George Orwell observed: "We are all born equal, but some are born more equal than others."

Take a journey to parts of Nottingham and you'll find communities, where opportunities for children on some estates can be narrow.

A combination of low aspiration and poor education may end in unemployment, reliance on benefits, teenage pregnancy and crime.

It's a pretty grim picture and a tough social nut to crack.

Early intervention

But Labour MP Graham Allen could be on the cusp of a breakthrough.

His solution is co-ordinate health workers, police, schools and other public bodies to target young mums, in particular, and guide them on raising their under fives.

He calls it early intervention. And he believes it's a cheaper option for government than picking up the tab for the consequences of late intervention.

By that, Graham Allen means the cost of failure. Imagine the situation: a young child grows up, goes off the rails, becomes unemployable and gets into trouble with the courts.

Massive savings?

The Nottingham North MP has achieved remarkable cross-party support for his thinking.

image copyrightbbc
image captionGraham Allen MP is an advocate of early intervention

Gordon Brown designated Nottingham as Britain's first 'Early Invention City' in 2009.

And after becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron commissioned Graham Allen to produce two detailed reports on how early intervention would work... and more importantly, how it would be funded.

His second report 'Early Intervention: Smart investment, Massive Savings' maps out some surprising approaches to finding the cash.

The problem for any sympathetic Prime Minister is that early intervention requires long term funding. There's no guaranteeing a government would see the benefit or cash returns over the electoral cycle.

Social investment fund

This week, Graham Allen secured his latest parliamentary debate to question a government minister on his ambitious early intervention template.

What fascinated me was how he proposes to tap into the private sector bond market to help get his project off the ground.

His report suggests a social investment fund. It would draw on new private investment in "programmes for disadvantaged children and generate cash savings".

Here's one example: over a seven year period, the fund would pay for a programme to raise numeracy for primary school children, reduce truancy and improve their behaviour.

It would raise cash from private investors for charities to deliver the pre-agreed outcomes.

According to management consultants KPMG, £5m invested would produce savings for the government in the region of £100m over 10 years.

There's a hint that private investors would get a cash dividend from their initial stake.

But that's if the early invention generation of young children stay on "the path of attainment, achievements and employment".

The alternative, says Graham Allen, is a path of failure, truancy, exclusion and NEET - "Not in Education, Employment or Training".

His report and its recommendations are now with the Prime Minister. But will it be marked "for action" or be sidelined?

Tempting the Treasury

When I met Graham Allen at Westminster, he looked relieved that his year of intensive research and report writing for Downing Street was complete.

"I don't know what the outcome will be. But it's a good case and it'll be there as a framework for all future governments," he told me.

As he wrote to the Prime Minister: "It is now time for clear leadership to change Early Intervention from a philosophy to a funded, sustained and practical programme of investment and returns."

That may appeal to the PM: more importantly, it may also tempt the Treasury.