What makes a place a good place to live and prosper in? This discussion document from the Community Links Early Action Task Force highlights the importance of recognising and valuing social infrastructure and making sure that it is as preventative as possible.
Section 1 defines the three dimensions of social infrastructure – buildings, facilities and the built environment; services and organisations; and strong and healthy communities – and lists essential ingredients and examples. Britain has a proud history of creating a rich social infrastructure, compared to many other countries. But recently there has been significant disinvestment in the physical assets and preventative services that are an important part of social infrastructure, potentially leading to a further downward spiral. Although the existence of universal public services helps to iron out disparities between communities, some communities are more deprived in terms of social infrastructure than others. But this remains insufficiently recognised and recorded by the current ONS measure of deprivation.
Section 2 looks at the role of social infrastructure in early action. Much of social infrastructure supports prevention and early action, helping to create the resourcefulness and resilience that prevent problems in the first place and providing support networks, services and activities that stop any problems from getting worse.
It’s important to think of early action in the round: too often, it is seen only in terms of services or specific interventions, ignoring the potential of other dimensions of social infrastructure to make a difference. Regeneration initiatives, conversely, tend to focus too narrowly on capital projects. Community based initiatives add value but would be more effective if all dimensions of social infrastructure are deployed and aligned, including public services.
At the same time, efforts should be made to ensure social infrastructure is as geared toward early action as possible: it will rightly always contain some acute services, but it can also become more preventative – for example, health services can do more to promote public health. Like other forms of early action, social infrastructure can be better supported by adopting long term planning, being more transparent about the future costs and benefits of changes, and taking steps to break down silos. Greater investment in social infrastructure in deprived areas is required alongside investment in jobs, skills physical infrastructure and existing capital funds should be used for this purpose. This should be seen as a complementary way to increase well-being and prosperity, bringing economic and social benefits and saving money downstream.
Finally, section 3 looks at what works in developing preventative social infrastructure locally, based on lessons learnt from place-based initiatives, giving a potential checklist for practitioners to use and discuss, with examples. This includes mapping existing social infrastructure and making better use of the resources that already exist, developing strong collaborative partnerships with shared goals, empowering communities to determine priorities and take more control of assets and developing pooled budgets.