Policy Briefing 12 September 2011
(30th August - 12 September 2011)
The future of planning regulation has been the subject of intense debate over the past two weeks. This follows the government’s plan to condense the National Planning Policy Framework down from over 1,000 pages to a slender 52 pages, including a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’. The debate largely hinges on the correct balance between use of land to support economic growth and the need to protect the natural environment. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles recently declared that “no one should underestimate our determination to win this battle” in the face of opposition from influential bodies such as the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England. The Department for Communities and Local Government have also published a ‘myth-buster’ guide to counteract some of the arguments against proposed reforms.
In other news, the Health & Social Care Bill finally passed through the House of Commons; new guidance was published for local authorities setting out ‘reasonable expectations’ on funding decisions relating to voluntary and community groups; and the Office for Civil Society announced £10m in funding for ideas with the potential to encourage increased levels of charitable giving.
Skills & Workforce
The Independent Inquiry into Adult Literacy has published its recommendations following a year-long inquiry process. The inquiry, supported by the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), urges central and local government to work together to help break the cycle of intergenerational difficulties through family literacy and learning programmes. It also calls upon employers, trades unions and civil society organisations to explore the environments, opportunities and teaching styles with the potential to reach those currently under-represented in learning provision.
A total of £2.25m has been distributed by the Skills Funding Agency to 59 organisations which offer informal adult and community learning opportunities in England. The funding allocations were administered by NIACE and will deliver learning to a broad range of beneficiaries, including sign language users, hospital patients, non-unionised workforces, and ex-offenders.
Big businesses that contract directly with the Government to train apprentices will benefit from simplified payment, reporting and assessment requirements. The new measures include a pilot for large employers to trial ‘payment by outcomes’; an online plain-English toolkit; streamlined contracting arrangements; a commitment to no in year changes to contracting arrangements; and the greater use of electronic information. These proposals follow the recommendations of a new report commissioned by BIS on behalf of the Employer Reference Group
A series of new skills pledges have been developed on a regional and sector specific basis to encourage greater employer investment in skills development. So far, six skills pledges have been developed following the recommendations of the government’s last skills strategy, Skills for Sustainable Growth.
The Confederation of British Industry has published a report detailing the benefits of skills investment in terms of economic growth. Although primarily focused on the private sector, the report shows that employers are investing a significant amount of time and resource in developing the skills of their staff, even if much of the learning activity is informal.
Over 860,000 adults have accessed Next Step, the adult careers and skills advice service, since it launched in September 2010. This includes both face-to-face advice available in local areas and the telephone helpline. From September 2011, the service will also provide advice to those aged under-19, replacing previous face-to-face Connexions services.
A pilot programme is being launched by BIS and DWP that will increase the number of careers advisers providing services in Jobcentres and help shape the new National Careers Service, which opens in April 2012. The pilot programme will give claimants full-time access to careers advice and provide more flexible support to help jobseekers gain skills, aligning more closely with the needs of the local labour market.
New research published by DWP shows that younger workers are almost four times less likely to be signed up to employer pension schemes. Only 15% of employees aged 16-24 participate in a workplace pension scheme, compared to 58% of those aged 45-54 and 50% for those aged 55-64. From October 2012 employers will be required to automatically enrol employees over the age of 21 into a workplace pension scheme.
The Health & Social Care Bill 2011 returned to Parliament, subject to a series of amendments. These amendments cover the future accountability of the NHS; clinical advice and leadership; public accountability and patient involvement; choice and competition; and the proposed timetable for change. The Bill successfully passed through the House of Commons by 316 votes to 251 and was accompanied by a revised impact assessment. It is expected to receive its second reading in the House of Lords later this month.
The 363-page final report of the Independent Commission on Banking has been published, detailing the reforms needed to ensure the future resilience of UK banks. The Commission, chaired by Sir John Vickers (former Chief Economist of the Bank of England) makes a series of recommendations, including the introduction of a ring-fence around retail banking, a requirement for banks to hold enough capital to withstand losses, and a ‘depositor preference’ to ensure that bank creditors are subject to losses before the taxpayer. Some of the reforms are expected to be included in the new Financial Services Bill.
New guidance has been issued to local authorities to help protect voluntary organisations and small businesses from disproportionate funding cuts. The single page Best Value Guidance replaces the previous 56-page document and states that local authorities should ‘seek to avoid’ passing on larger reductions to the voluntary sector than they take on themselves. It also states that local authorities should give at least 3 months’ notice on funding decisions; discuss their plans with organisations and service users as early as possible; and allow service users and the wider community to help reshape services. The guidance also urges local authorities to consider the ‘overall value’ of services, including social and environmental value, when procuring or commissioning goods and services.
A panel has been set up to launch a ’grass roots review’ of last month’s riots. This will explore how key public services engage with the affected localities, the motivations behind civic action to counter-act the riots, and how to build future community resilience. The panel will be chaired by Darra Singh, CEO of Job Centre Plus and ex-CEO of Ealing and Luton Councils. The panel will deliver early findings by November 2011, and present a final report to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition in March 2012.
New powers over neighbourhood planning, being introduced as part of the Localism Bill, will be tested in 36 localities. Neighbourhood planning will allow communities to grant planning permission for development without the need for separate applications from developers and introduce a requirement on local authorities to bring into force any plan which receives over 50% of votes in a local referendum. Each of the front runner councils will receive a £20,000 grant to support this work on neighbourhood planning and receive free advice from planning experts (including Locality and the Prince’s Foundation).
The National Communities Resource Centre, a charity based at Trafford Hall has been awarded a £535,000 contract to deliver training and support for social tenants to take on the management of social housing. The training is expected to enable at least 1,500 tenants to sit on tenant panels; course provision covering a range of subjects; grants for tenants to help spread learning with the local community; and opportunities to work towards accredited qualifications.
The Department for Education has announced that 24 Free Schools will open in September. Funded by Government but with more freedom that state schools, the Free Schools are predominantly primary level but also include five secondary schools, six faith schools, and two all age schools. Half of these are based in the 30% most deprived areas and overall they are expected to allow for 9,000 new places and cost around £130m in building costs. The schools will be allowed to prioritise those on free school meals in their admissions.
Over 1,000 academy schools have either opened or converted status during the past year according to the Department for Education. Forty-five sponsored academies are due to open in September, with a further forty-nine due to open during the academic year. In addition, 185 “good” schools will become academies this month to supplement the 796 who have already converted. This takes the overall total to 1,300 representing over a sixfold increase since the Coalition Government took power.
A £6m package of funding for foster carers and vulnerable families has been announced by Children’s Minister Chris Loughton. The funding will be shared by 37 local authorities to build upon their intensive intervention programmes, such as multi-systemic therapy and training for foster carers.
The Community Action Against Crime: Innovation Fund, announced in July by the Home Office, has now opened for applications. The grant fund is worth £5.5m and intends to encourage new and creative ways of working to tackle crime which involve the local community, especially from voluntary and community organisations. The deadline for applications is 1 December 2011.
The Treasury Select Committee debated the recently abandoned proposal from the Payment Council to abolish the use of cheques by 2018. This was scrapped on account of the level of distress caused to members of the public, especially among the elderly and charities that rely on cheque donations. The Committee suggested that the Council’s composition, which is dominated by retail banks, should “change significantly” to ensure greater public accountability.
The Voluntary Sector
The Office for Civil Society has announced details of a £10m fund aimed at supporting ideas to increase ‘the giving and exchange of time, assets, skills, resources and money’. The Innovation in Giving Fund (to be managed by NESTA) is expected to distribute individual awards of £50,000 to £150,000. Applicants will be required to submit video evidence to support their bids and applications may be accepted from for-profit organisations which prove that their proposals are of ‘identifiable public benefit’. Applications will be due by 31st October and the bidding criteria are available here.
The Big Lottery Fund has announced £12m of funding for Welsh projects which address issued relating to young parents and disabled people aged 14-25. Funds of between £200,000 and £1m will be available to organisations and the closing date for applications is 2 April 2012.
HMRC has reportedly told a meeting of the Charity Finance Directors’ Group that charities are unlikely to gain from a VAT exemption on shared services. HMRC and the Treasury are currently consulting on proposed rules that would allow VAT recovery of up to 15% on shared services by organisations that cannot normally recover the tax. The services which charities are most interested in gaining such an exemption on are payroll, HR and IT - all of which are not legally defined as “directly necessary”.
Organisations that work with or support volunteers have been invited to be part of the upcoming UK stage of the European Year of Volunteering 2011 tour event. The event intends to provide networking opportunities for organisations to share good practice, form partnerships and generate new ideas in relation to engaging and supporting volunteers. It will take place in London from 28 October to 3 November 2011.
Voluntary organisations must continue to pay VAT on the costs of temporary employees according to HMRC. This is despite the recent tribunal decision in the case of Reed Employment Ltd vs. Revenue & Customs which suggested that tax might be payable only on commissions paid to employment agencies and not on workers’ salaries (which could save the sector an estimated £20m per annum).
The Charity Commission has issued new guidance on equalities advising that charities will not be able to contravene the terms of the Equality Act in order to maintain funding distributed on a discriminatory basis. The new guidance also states that charities may restrict their benefits to certain groups of people that share the “protected characteristics” defined by the Act if they can show that this is in their governing documents and the affected group faces a particular disadvantage.
A group of experts has been convened by NCVO to lead an independent review of charity law. The Charity Law Review Advisory Group will develop proposals to feed into the government’s planned review of the Charities Act 2006. The group will be chaired by the cross-bench peer, Baroness Howe of Idlicote, and will focus on the effect of legislation on public trust in charities, and those areas of charity legislation which cause uncertainty or disproportionate regulatory burden.
New Philanthropy Capital have announced that Dan Corry, former head of the No. 10 Policy Unit and senior adviser to Gordon Brown, will become Chief Executive of the organisation from October 2011. Corry is set to replace Marin Brookes, who has left NPC to join the hedge fund Fulcrum Asset Management.
Think Tanks & Research
The Department for Communities & Local Government has issued new statistics on homelessness and temporary accommodation. The number of households declared eligible for housing assistance from their local authority was 11,820 over the past 3 months, with a rise of 17% among the “unintentionally homeless” over the past 12 months. Meanwhile the number of households in temporary accommodation was 48,330, a fall of 4% since last year.
Large charities have been worst hit by the recession according to new analysis of the Charities Aids Foundation’s ‘Charity Trends’ data. The analysis, based upon annual returns submitted to the Charity Commission, reveals that the voluntary income of large charities fell by nearly 11% (£855m) between 2007 and 2009. Meanwhile, medium-sized charities with an income saw their voluntary donations actually increase by 2.2% over the same period.
Staff turnover in charities fell from 20% in March 2010 to 16% in March 2011, although it remains higher than the reported UK average turnover of just 13%. This is according to a survey of 73 organisations conducted by the HR firm, Agenda Consulting. The survey also found that 71% of charity employees were female, compared with just 46% across the UK workforce.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published a review of its research over the past twenty years in order to help comprehend August’s inner-city riots. Amongst other things, the review concluded that poor neighbourhoods share common values of fairness, hard work and responsibility; there are difficulties in developing leadership and winning effective political influence with the outside world; and that the efforts of community groups working with challenging young people need greater support and recognition.