Policy Briefing 14 September 2010
(31 August - 14 September 2010)
Parliament finally returned to session on 6th September following the summer recess. Much of the first week back has been spent embroiled in controversy - whether it be the possible involvement of government communications director Andy Coulson in the News of the World phone hacking saga; the miscalculation of tax payments by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs; or the estimated £20m in taxpayer costs of the Pope’s visit to Britain. The miscalculation of tax in particular may prove to have a lingering effect on the charity workforce in the coming months as 1.4 million people will be told that they owe an average of £1,400 because of errors in the calculation of the pay as you earn tax system over the past two years.
More prosaic concerns in the realm of policy have been focused on Academy Schools and Local Enterprise Partnerships. Education Secretary Michael Gove announced that 142 schools have been granted Academy status. This significantly adds to the 203 Academy Schools currently in existence but falls some way short of the target of converting 10% of all schools into Academies which would amount to around 2,000 schools. Meanwhile, a report by the National Audit Office has questioned the viability of the model when applied beyond failing schools and deprived neighbourhoods.
In terms of Local Enterprise Partnerships, Vince Cable and Eric Pickles jointly announced that 56 proposals had been submitted. These encompass a range of different territories and will reformulate the boundaries formerly used by the RDAs. However, as the Local Government Chronicle reports, many of the proposals have proven controversial, creating conflicts of interest or involving several bids over the same geographical area. Mr Pickles and Mr Cable will have the unenviable task of choosing the successful bids over the coming month. CLG minister Greg Clark has also said that the third sector would be “welcome” in such partnerships but it is yet to be seen what form such involvement is likely to take.
The full list of colleges set to benefit from the Government’s £50m Renewal Grant has been announced by the Skills Funding Agency. The 149 successful colleges will each receive up to £225,000, with some successful bidders winning extra Government funds of up to £1 million. The grants were allocated according to the condition of a college and its facilities; the likely benefits to learners; and their contribution to community regeneration. The grants have been made through funds reallocated from Train to Gain and are expected to be matched by considerable private investment.
David Willetts outlined the government’s priorities for higher education during a speech at Cranfield University. Universities were told that they must work harder to cut overhead costs, including greater outsourcing of non-core functions and sharing of back-office activities. Willetts also announced that a greater focus would be placed upon teaching, with the introduction of new institutions entirely devoted to teaching. In terms of research, the minister warned that there would be greater selectivity of public funding, focusing on certain core areas where institutions can make the most difference. The minister also announced that a range of issues including the position of non-publicly funded providers; the boundary between FE and HE; and the role and powers of the Higher Education Funding Council will be explored in a forthcoming White Paper leading up to a Higher Education Bill in Autumn 2011.
The Learning & Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) has announced the launch of a consultation on a strategic framework for community development for the learning and skills sector. The consultation aims to develop a strategic approach to support learning providers identify and develop key partnerships in order to help drive community development in their locality.
The Skills Funding Agency and LSIS have joined forces to deliver a fund for learning providers who work in the areas of equality and diversity. Individual colleges and training organisations are invited to bid for up to £25,000 each to undertake projects between November 2010 and 30 April 2011.
“Transforming Lives”, a summary report published by NIACE of the government’s £20 million Transformation Fund, illustrates how informal and community learning may be sustained over the coming years. The report shows how relatively small injections of funding can help galvanise voluntary organisations and local education providers to work in partnership to make learning available more widely. It also details the benefits of cross-sector partnerships in producing value for money and learner outcomes.
Deputy PM Nick Clegg used a speech to the Committee on Standards in Public Life to reiterate the coalition government’s plans for constitutional reform. Plans include a referendum on changes to the the voting system; the implementation of equal constituency boundaries and fixed-term parliaments; and reform of the House of Lords. Clegg also used the opportunity to criticise the nature in which party funding is overly-influenced by wealthy individuals and vested interests, announcing that the Committee will investigate the issue.
A “Nudge Unit” has been set up within the Cabinet Office to explore how the use of behavioural economics and market signals could help influence citizen behaviour. The unit, led by David Halpern (former adviser in Tony Blair’s strategy unit), seeks to utilise the lessons of “nudge” theory - the idea that environments can be designed to make it easier for people to choose what is best for themselves and society. The unit has a two-year lifespan and initial work will be focused on public health.
The Government has announced that three ideas for cutting the deficit submitted to the Spending Challenge website by members of the public will be implemented. The three ideas being introduced are: a reduction in thenumber of CRB checks for Junior Doctors; the distribution of National Insurance numbers to people with a letter rather than a plastic card; and an increase in the selling of surplus/second hand Government equipment via an online auction site.
The Government has made public the full list of proposed Local Enterprise Partnerships. There were a total of 56 LEP bids prior to the 6 September deadline, with proposals which cover a variety of different scales. Ministers will consider the proposals prior to the publication of the White Paper on sub-national economic growth and the introduction of the Localism Bill in the autumn.
A total of 142 schools have accepted the Government’s offer to become an academy since the Academies Act was passed, including the first 7 primary schools. Such increases will significantly increase the 203 Academy Schools currently in existence. A full list of new Academies may be found here.
Education Secretary Michael Gove announced the first 16 Free School proposals via a written ministerial statement. The proposals contain a mixture of community, parent, and teacher-led projects. The 16 proposals will each receive support from an official within the Department for Education and will have to prepare a viable business case in order to be up and running in time for September 2011.
A new programme on children’s homes run by the Department for Education will bring responsibility for their improvement back into government. Instead of reinvesting in an external contract with Tribal, ministers have decided that the most effective and cost-effective way of achieving change is to work in partnership with children’s homes to review good practice.
A review of 14-19 vocational education is to be conducted by Alison Wolf of King’s College London. The review will consider the appropriate target audience for vocational education; what principles should underpin its content, structure and teaching methods; and how progression routes can be improved. The review will begin in September 2010 with a call for evidence and will conclude with the publication of a report in early 2011.
Children’s Minister Sarah Teather has called on parents, charities, teachers and local authorities to contribute to the Government’s consultation on special educational needs (SEN). A Green Paper is to be published in the autumn with recommendations on how to improve the entire special education system, covering school choice, early identification and assessment, funding and post-16 support.
The first Social Impact Bond scheme has been launched by the Ministry of Justice at Peterborough prison. The scheme has attracted new funding from non-government investors who will be paid on the basis of the scheme’s contribution to reducing recidivism rates. The six-year pilot scheme will work with around 3,000 short term prisoners to prevent reoffending. If re-offending decreases by over 7.5% within six years then investors will receive a payment representing a proportion of the costs of re-offending. The services will be delivered through third sector providers such as St Giles Trust and the YMCA.
The Department for International Development has called for charities, think tanks and academics to join an online discussion to inform the implementation of the UKaid Transparency Guarantee. The Guarantee seeks to improve the transparency of aid flows in order to improve value for money, promote greater accountability to citizens in donor and developing countries, and reduce opportunities for corruption and waste.
Up to 50 MPs are anticipated to put their name forward for the Labour Shadow Cabinet. It is expected that a collection of new faces will appear as figures such as Jack Straw and Alistair Darling return to the backbenches. The nominations are due to start next week and the results will be announced after a new leader has been elected.
Labour Leadership candidate Diane Abbott launched a response to the government’s “Big Society” agenda, claiming that the left should be reframing the issues of family and community. Abbott asked whether the agenda was “doomed to join Tony Blair’s Third Way in the graveyard for spurious pseudo-philosophical ideas promoted by conniving politicians”. Abbott also implored the Labour party to reclaim mutuals, co-ops and self-help as part of Labour’s heritage. Key policies include a proper social wage; a drive for full employment; and investment in housing.
The voluntary sector
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations have co-ordinated a voluntary sector response to the Government’s forthcoming Spending Review. The response urges all government departments to assess and mitigate the net effects of any changes on the voluntary sector. The response also suggests that all Equality Impact Assessments should be made public and the Compact should be adhered to in all decisions on cuts. It also argues that moves towards payment by results should be managed carefully to ensure that it does not reduce the sector’s capacity to innovate or cause effective providers to fail.
The second phase of the national survey of charities and social enterprises has been launched by the Cabinet Office. The survey aims to build an accurate picture of the current voluntary sector landscape and assess the progress made since the first wave of the survey in 2008. Over 110,000 organisations of varying size have been selected to take part. Invited organisations have until the 11 October to respond.
The world’s largest ever survey of charitable donations, the World Giving Index, has found that the UK is the 8th most charitable nation in the world. The survey, run by the Charities Aid Foundation, also found that over the past month, a fifth of the world’s population had volunteered, almost a third had given money to charity, and 45% had been “good Samaritans” by helping a stranger.
Social Finance, the consultancy that created the social impact bond, is likely to be oversubscribed by investors in its pilot scheme. The consultancy planned to sell bonds worth £4.9m to social investors for the pilot of the bond, which is being piloted on a reoffending prevention programme in Peterborough.
ACEVO have called for the abolition of current pension regulation that prevents many charities bidding for public sector contracts. Treasury “Fair Deal” guidance states that any public sector staff taken on as part of a contract must continue to receive the same level of pension provision as before. Public sector pensions often come with substantial deficits, meaning that transferred staff may carry an unknown level of financial risk for charity employers.
The Communities and Local Government minister Greg Clark has said that the government would welcome the involvement of voluntary organisations in negotiations to establish Local Enterprise Partnerships. This announcement comes following pressure from the sector, in particular NAVCA.
Think tank and research
One out of every five UK households currently lacks an active working member according to new figures published by the Office for National Statistics. The latest work and worklessness figures reveal that there are 3.9 million UK households where no adults work, an increase of 148,000 on last year, with 1.9 million children living in workless households. The figures vary by region, with the North East having the highest percentage of workless households (24.3%) and the South East having the least (14.2%).
The National Audit Office has published a report on the progress of Academy Schools so far. The report argues that although many of the academies established so far are performing impressively, it cannot be assumed that academies’ performance to date is an accurate predictor of how the model will perform in general. This is because existing academies have focused on school improvement in deprived areas, while new academies will include many schools previously in more affluent areas as well as schools rated “outstanding”.
A report by the think tank Respublica published on behalf of the Charities Aid Foundation has argued that a reform of the Gift Aid system would reduce the £750m of unclaimed money each year. The report, “Digital Giving: Modernising Gift Aid; Taking civil society into the digital age”, argues that better use of technology could help streamline all charities’ Gift Aid claims and deliver cost savings to charities.
IPPR has published a paper featuring four tests for Local Enterprise Partnerships. The four tests include whether the new arrangements will deliver empowerment at a local level; whether they will further social justice; if they effectively cover a “functional economic area”; and whether they will be democratically accountable.