Taking an interest. . .

Does the Government have much of an idea the outcome of spending 40% of the national income? Well the answer is not very much, sadly.

Graham Allen, the Nottingham Member, brought together a small group in the cabinet office today. There we met Steve Aos, who runs for Washington State, USA, a research unit that tries to answer the question of how to spend public money to best effect. It was an impressive display.

I could not but help wondering whether we were not missing the obvious. Steve outlined a whole host of intervention programmes, the success rate, and the amount of savings to tax-payers by employing each of the schemes.

He made a passing reference regarding trying to reduce crime. The one intervention with least effect was where the offender had very little contact with the programme.

We ranged over the whole list of interventions, pre-schooling, starting school at a younger age and so on. I couldn’t help wondering whether the real impact of these programmes was that someone was taking an interest in the recipient and his or her family.

Most of us know that our lives can be touched by a good teacher who tells us what we can achieve. Might not the same happen for those families in receipt of an “intervention programme”?

Might not the most effective intervention be to give the Mum of the family a buddy, whether it be an adopted “brother or sister” or an adopted grandparent? The buddy needs to have the skills of raising successfully their own family. Might not the most effective intervention programme be to give that bit of extra long term help and real interest in a family succeeding by employing this sort of approach?

Any legislation coming before Parliament has to have the financial impact of the bill and also whether it fits within the human rights legislation. I suggested at the meeting that those MPs present today should propose a Bill that no expenditure programme would be approved until the receiving organisation sets out what, say, the three major objectives it believes it would achieve. Continued funding would then depend on research being carried out on the impact of the expenditure.

I will report back more on Friday when a group of civil servants and I are up in Nottingham to look at how Nottingham City Council has bought in a very very early intervention strategy.

It was wonderful to sit down and listen to senior officers contribute to a debate so constructively and, thereby, add to the collective wisdom of the whole of the group.

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