Government launches 'centres of excellence' network to guide social policy

Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, says What Works will gather evidence to inform policy in areas including health, crime and ageing

Danny Alexander
Danny Alexander

The government has launched a network of "centres of excellence" designed to guide social policy in areas including health, crime and ageing.

The What Works network will comprise six organisations including the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which is an existing advisory body to the NHS, the Educational Endowment Foundation, and four new independent institutions that will cover crime, ageing, fostering local economic growth and early intervention. 

Each organisation will be responsible for gathering, assessing and sharing the strongest evidence to inform policy decisions and service delivery in their subject area.

The government will use the new centres to build on existing evidence-based policy making and said they would influence decisions on £200bn of public spending.

The centres will produce and disseminate research to local decision makers and support them to invest in services which deliver the best outcomes and which represent value for money for taxpayers, a Cabinet Office statement said.

The network of centres will be part-funded by the government with contributions from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Big Lottery Fund.

The Cabinet Office did not provide the full funding breakdown for each organisation but said the Centre for Local Economic Growth would receive £1m a year for three years and the Centre for Early Intervention would be given £3.5m over two years.

The government said the centres will gather evidence from all sources, including charities, and will work with the voluntary sector to provide material for policy decision makers.

Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, said: "It is vital that we continue using evidence-based policy to shape decisions on public spending, particularly in this climate."

Ralph Michell, director of policy at the chief executives body Acevo, said: "This is a positive development: it can only be a good thing for government to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

"It is essential, however, that alongside these centres the government also promotes innovation, because we need to find radical new ways of delivering services – which will sometimes mean being prepared to try the untested."

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