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Billions of pounds to be saved thanks to new What Works Network findings

Taxpayers’ money could be saved and spent more effectively thanks to findings from the government backed What Works Centres.

Cabinet Office Minister Grant Shapps announced that billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money could be saved and spent more effectively thanks to findings from the government backed What Works Centres.

The What Works Network, set up in 2013, was created to allow policy decisions to be made based on robust and insightful evidence allowing government and local decision makers to improve public services while making sure that taxpayers’ money is spent effectively.

Today’s announcement comes as the What Works Centres and their National Adviser, Dr David Halpern, come together to publish and share their findings from across the Network for the very first time. These findings will be used by government decision makers to allocate money and resource more effectively, saving taxpayers’ money and creating an even more efficient government.

Read the new report: What Works? Evidence for decision makers.

One of the key roles of the Network is to take complex and previously inaccessible evidence findings and turn them into practical and useable tools for decision makers.

With it currently taking 17 years for empirical results in medicine to feed into clinical practice, and even longer in other policy areas, it’s possible that money could be spent in this time on interventions that are inefficient or don’t work. Getting that crucial evidence into the hands of decision makers as quickly as possible allows people like doctors, head teachers and police chiefs to make smarter decisions based on empirical evidence of what works and what doesn’t.

Top findings from the What Works report include:

  • more lives could be saved or improved if people with acute heart failure were routinely treated by specialist heart failure teams
  • the use of peer tutoring in schools, where young people work together in small groups, has a high positive impact on achievement
  • repeating a year at school is an expensive intervention that has consistently been found to have a negative impact on attainment

Five of the centres have been in action for over a year and their initial findings are now being used by a range of policy makers, allowing government and local commissioners and practitioners to improve public services while making sure that taxpayers’ money is spent effectively.

Grant Shapps, Cabinet Office Minister, said:

At a time when finances are tight it is crucial that taxpayers’ money is spent in the most effective way. Last year the UK public sector spent £674 billion on important projects and initiatives in this country. These findings, and the continued work from the What Works Network, will help minsters and decision makers spend money even more effectively, creating a more efficient government and making substantial savings for the tax payer.

Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said:

I helped develop the What Works process to ensure public sector decision making became more effective and efficient, giving taxpayers a better service while also saving them money. Today’s findings show that we’ve already made significant progress, and I look forward to helping save more billions for taxpayers as part of this government’s drive to create a stronger economy and fairer society.

Oliver Letwin, Minister for Government Policy, said:

I believe that in the coming years, as the Centres mature, the What Works Network will deliver a step-change in the way that local government, national government, and frontline practitioners make decisions.

About What Works Centres

What Works Centres are fundamentally different from standard research centres. They use robust evidence to create accessible products which communicate the likely impact of real policy initiatives.

Based on the model of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), founded in 1999, a series of independent What Works Centres have been created since 2010:

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)
  • What Works Centre for Crime Reduction, hosted by the College of Policing
  • Early Intervention Foundation (EIF)
  • Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), established by the Sutton Trust
  • What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth (LEG), hosted by LSE with Arup and the Centre for Cities
  • Centre for Ageing Better (in development), established by the BIG Lottery Fund
  • What Works Centre for Wellbeing (in development)
  • Associate members: What Works Scotland & the Public Policy Institute for Wales

Example of What Works Centre success:

  • the Sutton Trust/Education Endowment Foundation (ST/EEF) was designated a What Works Centre in 2013
  • in total, EEF have commissioned 93 evaluations, are working in 4,500 schools and reaching 630,000 pupils
  • their Teaching and Learning Toolkit is a ground-breaking example of how complex and often inaccessible research findings can be presented in a useful way to practitioners
  • a recent survey found that 45% of school leaders said they used the Toolkit to inform their spending decisions, up from 36% in 2013; among secondary school leaders the proportion rises to 54%


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