A new “centre of excellence” tasked with examining the success of government outcome-based commissioning innovations such as Social Impact Bonds is to be created at Oxford University and run in partnership with the Cabinet Office.
The announcement follows recent concern from the National Audit Office that the government has little evidence of the success of outcomes delivered by £15bn in payment-by-results spending since 2010.
Civil society minister Rob Wilson said the Government Outcomes Lab – or GO Lab for short – was being set up in partnership with Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government to find new ways for the public sector to commission services and achieve better social outcomes, aligning the interests of local authorities, social investors and charities.
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A statement from Oxford said GO Lab would develop “world-leading research” about when social impact bonds and outcomes-based commissioning worked, and when it did not, as well as providing practical support to local commissioners. It said the Blavatnik School would also host a repository of case studies and evidence.
In June last year the NAO said that payment-by-results mechanisms were “technically challenging” and that neither the Cabinet Office nor the Treasury appeared to be monitoring how schemes were working.
It said government should set up a “repository of information and expertise” about public-sector use of payment by results, including data on the extent to which individual schemes had delivered expected benefits and value for money in comparison with alternative options.
Schemes the NAO looked at included the Department for Work and Pensions’ Work Programme, a range of Department for International Development projects, and two Ministry of Justice reoffending-reduction programmes.
The Cabinet Office's Wilson said Social Impact Bonds represented “a revolution” in the way government delivered public services, and cited some 32 bonds generated by the government’s Fair Chance Fund that were aimed at tackling youth unemployment, mental health and homelessness.
“The Government Outcomes Lab will give local authorities the support they need to develop more Social Impact Bonds more quickly and build a centre of research excellence within the UK,” he said.
“It will continue our world leadership in this area and help us to build a truly compassionate society.”
The Cabinet Office said the GO Lab partnership would initially run for five years and that the next phase in its development would be the appointment of a director, which would be followed by an “intensive phase of design”.
CSW asked the Cabinet Office how much funding would be allocated to the GO Lab. It did not provide a figure, but said government funding for the project would be “matched” by the Blavatnik School of Government.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said that support offered by the GO Lab would be focused on local government organisations including councils, clinical commissioning groups, and police and crime commissioners. He added that the work was expected to enable new social impact bonds to incorporate the latest research in areas such as public health and contracting.