Policy briefing: 14 February 2011
(1 February – 14 February 2011)
The skills world has been busy celebrating National Apprenticeship week (7th – 11th February) which has featured over 500 events throughout the country. In a speech to launch the week, BIS Minister John Hayes proclaimed that “Apprenticeships are the Big Society” and that they should be conferred the same social status as other academic qualifications. This will be a key area of investment over the coming years as Train to Gain comes to an end and the government aims to create 50,000 extra apprenticeships in this year alone. Information on what has been happening to support apprenticeships in the voluntary sector can be found here.
Meanwhile, “Big Society” has remained a serious point of contention over the past couple of weeks as Liverpool City Council announced their withdrawal from the Big Society vanguard project and Lord Nat Wei, announced that he could no longer afford to contribute so much time to his (unpaid) role as Government adviser on Big Society. Liverpool City Council declared their withdrawal from the vanguard project due to the high level of cuts imposed on them by the local government finance settlement. In a letter to the PM, the leader of the council, Joe Anderson, expressed dismay at the number of job losses and decline in grant income to local charities directly resulting from centrally-driven cuts. In other news, the national level of voluntary sector employment has finally started to fall following a sustained period of growth. The number of programmes due to reach completion at the end of March also suggests that this may be part of a longer trend.
Skills and workforce
Apprenticeship frameworks are to be rebranded following an announcement during National Apprenticeship Week. Level 2 (GCSE level equivalent) apprenticeships will now be known as Intermediate Level Apprenticeships. Level 3 (A level equivalent) apprenticeships will become Advanced Level Apprenticeships and Higher Apprenticeships will remain unchanged. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills is also working to develop more Higher Apprenticeships (Level 4) frameworks.
The Apprenticeships & Skills (Public Procurement Contracts) Bill has passed its second reading in the House of Commons. The Bill, proposed by Labour MP Catherine McKinell, will require certain public procurement contracts to include a commitment by the contractor to provide apprenticeships and accredited skills training.
The Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) has announced the total funding available for universities and colleges in 2011-12. A total of £6,507 million will be available to cover teaching, capital, research and other activities. Including other special funding programmes coming to an end this represents a reduction of £940m on 2010-11 levels.
The Government has announced details of the National Scholarship Programme to help disadvantaged students cope with increased tuition fees. The programme will provide scholarships worth at least £3,000 for individual students in tuition discounts and other benefits. The Government will initially invest £50m in the programme in 2012/13 but will increase its contribution to £150m per year from 2014/15. Universities participating in the programme will be expected to contribute match funding.
The details of loans for part-time students have now been published. The loans will be available from the 2012-13 academic year and will have interest rates equivalent to what is available for full-time students. Repayments will only begin once earnings reach £21,000 and students will be eligible if 25-75% of their course falls in a single academic year.
The Learning & Skills Improvement Service has launched a fund to support further education and training providers to promote collaboration and adapt to a more restricted funding environment. Funds of up to £100k will be available per project and applications are due to close on 25 February.
The Employability Matrix, the framework by which learning providers approve generic employability skills is currently under revision. This covers topics such as communication, time management and team working and will be open to feedback until 28 February 2011.
A National Skills Academy for Environmental Technology has been established. The purpose of the academy will be to enable electricians, engineers, plumbers and other professionals to gain accredited training in low-carbon and renewable technologies. It will receive £2.5m in match-funding over three years and will be approved by Summit Skills, the Sector Skills Council for building services.
The Department for Work and Pensions have launched a consultation on occupational and personal pensions. The consultation will seek to smooth out the regulatory differences in preparation for the automatic-enrolment to be introduced in 2012. The call for evidence closes on 18 April.
The recently-published Protection of Freedoms Bill will herald important changes for the voluntary sector. If passed, only those in sensitive posts or who have intensive contact with children or vulnerable adults will need to undergo criminal record checks and it will enable checks to be transferred between jobs. The Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safeguarding Authority will also be merged to form a single streamlined body. The Bill, partly based on a review of the Vetting & Barring Scheme, will also see an extension of the Freedom of Information Act and will strengthen public rights to data.
The Department for Communities and Local Government have launched two new consultations - one on the “right to buy” and one on the “right to challenge” powers to be given to communities. The former will allow local groups to compile a “most wanted list” of local assets to bid for and the latter will oblige councils to respond to requests to run services from communities. Both consultations close on 3 May 2011.
A Mutuals Taskforce has been established by the Cabinet Office to drive the transfer of more public services into mutuals under the Government’s “right to provide” policy. The taskforce will be led by Julian Le Grand, a former adviser to Tony Blair, and will receive support from A4e, the Co-operative College and a range of other expert mentors.
A range of measures have been announced to open up more public contracts to small businesses and voluntary organisations. Government are seeking to eliminate all Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) for central government procurements under £100,000 and will create a slimmed down PQQ, allowing firms to submit their prequalification data once for all procurements.
A collection of high-street banks have pledged support to small businesses and the voluntary sector under the terms of “Project Merlin”. The banks have agreed to a series of measures - to increase lending to SMEs by 15%; to be more transparent over large bonuses; to provide £200m additional capital to the Big Society Bank; and £1bn for the Business Growth Fund for SMEs with high potential. Announcing the measures, the Chancellor stated that Britain must “move from retribution to recovery” where bankers are concerned.
The Government has published a White Paper on Trade and Investment, providing greater detail on the UK’s plan for economic growth. The Government promises to focus on newly-emerging markets, improve support for businesses who want to export, and reduce business regulation. The paper also seeks to closer align government policy on trade and international aid.
All councils have been asked to publish their spending on small businesses and the voluntary sector in a letter from Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark. The minister has requested that they publish details on all payments, grants, contracts and tenders to small businesses and voluntary organisations in order to open up information that could potentially create more diverse provision of local services.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling has announced the launch of “Enterprise Clubs” and the “New Enterprise Allowance” for the unemployed. Enterprise Clubs will enable unemployed people to access professional advice and guidance on setting up small businesses whilst the New Enterprise Allowance will provide financial support. The aim is to establish 40,000 new small businesses over the next two years.
Progress updates have been published on each government department’s plans for reform. The Cabinet Office update reports on delays to the Public Service Reform White Paper, the review of voluntary sector regulation and the announcement of a partner to manage the Community Organiser programme. Meanwhile, the BIS update reports delays in publishing new measures on flexible working.
A cross-government strategy on mental health has been published with £400m of funding for psychological therapies. The strategy will focus on measuring outcomes, early intervention, and the take-up of personalised services. It intends to enable one million people to recover from their condition by 2014 and create over £700 million of savings in healthcare, tax and welfare gains, although there is controversy as to where this money will be coming from.
The Department of Health has announced £1.39m in support for carers via the “Reaching Out to Carers” fund. The money will support 79 local projects which provide advice and support to carers through hospitals, GP surgeries, the workplace, supermarkets, places of worship and other community settings.
The Home Office has launched a consultation on their new approach to anti-social behaviour. The proposals include new and less burdensome ways of reporting ASB incidents, greater information for the public and new dispersal powers for the police. The consultation closes on 3 May 2011.
Jobcentre Plus have entered into a partnership with the Prince’s Trust whereby advisers from the charity and local volunteer centres will be hosted in Jobcentres throughout the country. Advisers will be tasked with signposting volunteering opportunities to jobseekers in order to gain the skills necessary to enter paid work.
The voluntary sector
The Office for Civil Society’s Strategic Partners Programme is due to end in 2014 according to a letter from Nick Hurd to existing partners. The programme, which awarded £12.2m to 42 organisations this year, will be slowly phased out by 2015. Existing partners are being asked to re-apply for this year but will only be able to receive a maximum of £500k in funding.
The Big Society Bank is set to receive £200m over the next two years from high street banks as part of “Project Merlin”. This is in addition to the money reclaimed from dormant bank accounts, which is expected to amount to between £60m and £100m in the first year of operation and more than £400m over the next few years, according to the Co-operative Bank, which will be responsible for reclaiming the money.
Charities are paying between £2.7bn and £3.7bn in tax each year according to a recent survey from the Charity Tax Group. Charities are currently subject to 18 separate taxes, the largest of which are National Insurance and VAT. This comes alongside the news that HMRC intends to move more charity tax payments online to drive down costs.
Communities and Local Government Minister Greg Clark has announced that his department will abolish the “clawback clause” by which voluntary organisations are unable to sell or change buildings that they purchased with public funding. The move has been welcome by the voluntary sector and will affect assets bought through the Single Regeneration Budget, the Urban Programme, City Challenge and Inner Area Grants.
The Refugee Council is facing nearly 62% cuts to its frontline services. The organisations currently receives the majority of its funding from the UK Border Agency and the cuts means that it will have to cut a third of staff as well as close two out of their seven day centres.
A high court judge has ruled against London Council’s attempt to cut £16.5m from their voluntary grants programme because it jeopardises their equalities duty. The London Councils body was told that it must now re-run the consultation process with full equality impact assessments.
Rounds of selection events are to be held to assess potential volunteers for the 2012 Olympics. Sebastian Coe, head of the planning committee, revealed that the 100,000 people best suited to the 70,000 roles on offer will be invited to take part in an interview and offers will be made to successful applicants from late 2011 onwards, with training set to begin next year.
Think tanks and research
Voluntary sector employment has finally started to show a decline according to analysis of the latest figures from the Labour Force Survey. Employment in the sector currently stands at 793,000, a decline of 2%. This compares to a 2% increase in private sector employment and largely unchanged figures for public sector employment. These estimates might be one of the first signs that levels of activity are reducing in the face of budget cuts.
New research from the Third Sector Research Centre on the estimated 600,000 “below the radar” voluntary organisations suggests that policies to engage people in community action need to be informed by a more sophisticated understanding of how and why community organisations operate. The research found that many people offer their time and effort for very personal reasons rather than through a sense of civic duty. TSRC also suggest that there needs to be grater reflection on the power relations underpinning Big Society initiatives.
A survey of 2,000 employees by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has revealed that one in three workers across all sectors say their standard of living has fallen in the past six months. The findings also illustrate how inflation is eroding the real value of wages and that more than half of employees report their organisation has either frozen pay (46%) or cut pay (7%).
The Institute of Fiscal Studies have published their “Green Budget” for 2011. This is a lengthy document which assesses the Government’s current fiscal policy, including the distributional impact of tax and spending cuts, and likely effects of changes in benefit entitlement.
Nearly 90% of UK employers see apprenticeships as key to the success of their business according to a survey of around 500 employers conducted by City & Guilds. The findings also reveal that 52% of those companies who already recruit apprentices believe that they offer greater value than university graduates.
The National Endowment for Science Technology and Arts (NESTA) have published a report on the development of social ventures. The report covers a range of available support, including social venture funds; providers of technical assistance; service designers; impact monitoring agencies; specialist recruitment agencies; skills and training organisations; and providers of networks.