The Early Years Framework

Steps the Scottish Government, local partners and practitioners in early years services need to take to give all children in Scotland the best start in life.


This framework sets out high ambitions for early years and early intervention at a time when overall growth in public spending is projected to be modest. Within that context, we cannot rely on large amounts of new money being available to implement the framework.

Much is achievable in the short and medium-term through changing what we do with existing resources, but there are also elements of the framework, particularly the medium to long-term priorities, that are likely to involve an element of new capacity.

The scale of the challenge

Expenditure on early years services is already significant. For example, around £300m per annum is spent on pre-primary education and childcare, several hundred million on the early stages of primary, and £350m on maternity services. When we add in other health expenditure and social work services, the total spend on early years services is likely to be at least £1.5bn per annum.

Within this context, adding in a few £million here or there is not a realistic means of delivering the ambitions of this framework. Those can only be achieved by a realignment of the existing resource combined with a transfer of resource into prevention and early intervention.

Creating a virtuous cycle

Over time, we believe that a focus on early years preventative and early intervention services will reduce the need for crisis interventions. We know that crisis interventions are very costly and that saving even a fraction of those costs could release significant resources for reinvestment in prevention and early intervention.

  • A family evicted for anti-social behaviour with 3 or 4 children requiring custodial care, residential care and foster care can cost £250,000 - £330,000 in a year. The cost of an intensive family support project intended to reduce ASB range from £3,954 for an outreach programme to £36,580 for a project with a core unit.
  • By the age of 28, cumulative costs of public services over and above basic universal provision for individuals with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties were 10 times higher than for those with no problems - on average £70,019 for the SEBD children compared with £7,423 for the no problem group.

Through such a model, there is the potential to create a virtuous cycle whereby progressively greater savings support increasing investment in early years and early intervention which in turn further reduces the need for crisis intervention.

There are significant challenges in creating the virtuous cycle above. The first is the time lag between prevention and early intervention and any measurable difference being seen in demand for crisis intervention services. International research would suggest that the greatest savings come in the long-term through reduced dependence on benefits, better employability and reduced crime. Savings in the short-term may be much more modest.

The second issue is around realising savings from crisis intervention services. In many areas, demand for such services may exceed supply at present and there may be a strong case for improving the quality of those services as well. We cannot simply write off those who need our support now.

A realignment towards early intervention services is not simply a case of transferring resources. A reorientation in the philosophy and design of services is needed alongside the transfer of resources to achieve the ambitions of this framework.

Where to start

There is no simple solution which allows resources to flow immediately and without consequence from acute services to pay for early intervention. It would be difficult if not impossible to come up with a solution to early intervention which would work in every local area. However, there is a broad agreement that, over a period of years, there is a strong case for a shift of resources into early years and early intervention.

By far the biggest elements of current spend are on health services and pre-school and school education. The first priority must be to make these resources support outcomes more effectively. There are elements of the action plan that are deliverable through universal services at relatively modest cost, such as providing a greater focus within existing services on the development of parenting skills, developing broader roles in the workforce and enhancing the role of childcare, pre-school and school in family learning.

The review of processes and reduction in overlap and unnecessary bureaucracy being promoted through Getting it Right for Every Child also has the potential to support the proposed transfer of resources, by supporting the above process. A second priority should therefore be to use the learning from the Getting it Right for Every Child Highland Pathfinder to streamline processes and resources.

The Scottish Government must play its part too. Any additional spending pressures will form part of discussions on the overall local government finance settlement as part of the next spending review.

Meeting the challenge in partnership

While some progress can be achieved through alignment of resources, the resource shift needed to achieve the ambitions of this framework will need a concerted and long-term effort. It should not simply be a case of the Scottish Government handing the challenge to local partners to sink or swim. The Scottish Government is committed to supporting and working alongside local partners as they start to address this challenge, and will work with COSLA and local authorities to define the form of support that local partners would find most useful.

Back to top