Policy Briefing 15 August 2011
(2 August - 15 August 2011)
The momentous events of the past two weeks led to the recall of Parliament on Thursday 11th August to discuss the outbreak of public disorder in several British cities and the increasing turbulence being felt in global financial markets. On the latter issue, the Chancellor of the Exchequer decreed it to be the “most dangerous time for the global economy since 2008”, conceding that the “the recovery will take longer and be harder than we had hoped”.
In terms of the recent disturbances, the Prime Minister’s statement promised a period of “inquiry, investigation, listening and learning” so that a more detailed understanding may emerge as to why this happened.Families and parenting will form the centre of the Coalition’s response, with the Prime Minister urging that political progress be judged against how well their policies improve the lives of the nation’s 120,000 troubled families. Aside from the adoption of more robust policing methods, the Government have also promised a review of gangs and the possibility of benefit sanctions for those involved.
The voluntary sector has also begun to gather its thoughts on the events. An online discussion platform, “Review and Renew”, has been launched via which organisations can share their experiences and insight. Meanwhile Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd has promised to meet leading voluntary organisations and local infrastructure organisations to discuss the sector’s response to the events.
Skills & Workforce
A new report published by Ofsted contends that local authorities are giving ‘insufficient consideration’ to the voluntary sector when commissioning services for young people. The report, “An evaluation of approaches to commissioning young people’s services”, was based on an in-depth survey of 12 local authorities and challenges them to review their provision of support for young people following the discovery of ‘poorly informed views’ about the potential of external competitors to provide an improved service.
Further Education Minister John Hayes has announced that colleges and training providers will have greater discretion over whether to provide subsidised courses for people on “inactive” benefits - provided the training is to help them enter employment. Although, as a recently penned TES editorial points out, this entails no new funding and providers will need to deliver any planned fee remissions out of their existing budgets for 2011/12.
A new consultation has been launched on the Regulatory Framework for Higher Education. This covers the introduction of an independent lead regulator (HEFCE); a single regulatory framework for student support and teaching grants; the adoption of a single gateway for entry to the higher education sector; and reforms to degree awarding powers/the criteria needed for the title ‘university’. The consultation runs until 27 October 2011. This consultation was also launched alongside news of two education colleges being granted the right to award foundation degrees.
‘Career changers and experienced professionals’ are being sought to sign-up for CWDC’s Step up to Social Work programme. This provides public funding for professionals with either a first, or 2:1 degree, with experience of working with children and families, who wish to train as social workers to undertake training culminating in an MA in social work. The deadline for this scheme is 29 August 2011.
A recent evaluation has praised the Progress workforce development project run in partnership between NYCVYS and CWDC. “Progress” took place over 2010/11 and delivered over 27,500 accredited training places to over 8,000 volunteers and paid staff in the voluntary and community youth sector’s workforce. The assessment, produced by independent research firm Ecorys, used interviews with over 500 project recipients and found that it had resulted in enhanced capacity across the workforce.
The new CEO of the UK Commission for Employment & Skills, Michael Davies laid out the Commission’s 4 priorities in a recent interview. These are as follows: making and winning the economic argument for greater employer investment in skills; enhancing the value and accessibility of vocational and technical training, particularly Apprenticeships; galvanising industry sectors to improve the skills and productivity of their workforce; and maximising the number of jobs available for unemployed people, particularly those who are young, or furthest from securing employment.
The latest update on the Qualifications and Credit Framework shows that there are now over 8,000 qualifications available for delivery. Over half (53%) of these qualifications have been confirmed for funding for the new Single Adult Skills Budget, a list of which has been published on the Skills Funding Agency website. The next update is expected on 1 September 2011, with monthly updates planned thereafter.
Businesses affected by recent events may be entitled to a share of the recently-announced £20m High Street Support Scheme. This is intended for councils to distribute in order to finance short term costs (including building repairs, temporary accommodation, and reduced business rates). A £10m recovery fund has also been announced to help councils with the immediate costs of repairs to the public realm. Meanwhile, HMRC have promised to delay tax payments for businesses needing help through the Time to Pay policy.
The Government has launched a new consultation on the role of open data in public services. This covers how a new “right to data” will be introduced across public service provision, including decisions over which datasets should be made open; whether the costs to publish or release data represent value for money; the range of organisations which it should apply to; and what the appropriate mechanisms might be to ensure publication of data by public service providers. The consultation will close on 27 October 2011.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps has announced plans to introduce a new “mandatory power for possession” to speed up and reduce the costs of evicting tenants in social housing. This is currently up for consultation and covers housing-related offences, anti-social behaviour, and closure orders. The consultation will close on 27 October 2011.
A summary of responses to the recent consultation on the community “right to challenge” proposed under the Localism Bill has been published by CLG. Over two-hundred responses were received, 20% of which were from the VCS. The summary covers opinions on services which should be exempted (such as fire services and those for vulnerable people); the time period for expressions of interest (60% of respondents wanted a period of 3 months or more); the skills and support needed by relevant bodies; and the necessary central guidance (covering issues such as TUPE and Freedom of Information requests).
A parallel summary of responses to the recent consultation on the community “right to buy” (also proposed under the Localism Bill) has been published by CLG. A total of 256 responses were received, almost a quarter of which were from the VCS. The summary covers how local authorities define a community asset (based on ‘community benefit’); the ways in which they can be nominated or listed for sale (by incorporated groups with ‘a local connection’); the right of appeal for landowners (including an oral hearing and the ability to appeal to a tribunal); and the available support and guidance (including technical support and financial assistance).
Councils and other public bodies have been urged by the Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles to publish a comprehensive list of their assets. Such asset maps are intended to encourage the public sector to consider the scope for savings beyond frontline services, with an estimated £35bn of savings to be made over the next ten years via better property management.
Proposals to reform council tax benefit and deliver an annual reduction of £480m have been put up for consultation by the Department for Communities & Local Government. It is being suggested that responsibility for all aspects of council tax benefit be brought to a local level in order to ensure more locally-tailored responses to unemployment. The consultation is open until 14 October 2011.
Ten projects will receive £4m in funding to promote innovation and reduce long-term costs in the delivery of housing benefit. These projects are to be delivered in conjunction with voluntary organisations and include the provision of free financial advice to landlords and tenants and the creation of a digital service to match landlords with tenants.
The Department of Health has announced 75 Local Healthwatch Pathfinders to champion patients’ views and experiences, promote the integration of services, and improve patient choice. The pathfinders will also provide advice to Clinical Commissioning Groups on the operation of local services. A list of all the pathfinders is available here.
A report on the future of English public libraries has been jointly-published by the Local Government Group, and the Museums, Archives and Libraries Council. “Future Libraries” puts forward four ideas to ensure future survival of the service, including partnership arrangements with the private sector or charities; greater integration with other community facilities; sharing back office functions with neighbouring local authorities; and giving library users the ability to play a more active role in running library services themselves. It also includes the details of several pilot projects on how these reforms may be introduced.
The Department for International Development has published a report detailing how it intends to work with the World Bank. This covers the re-focus on achieving results and efficiency; improved performance in fragile states; progress on climate change; increased emphasis on the part of the World Bank that lends directly to the private sector (the International Finance Corporation); and the stalled progression on the Millennium Development Goals.
The Voluntary Sector
Newly-published research from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations estimates that the sector stands to lose £2.8bn in public funding between 2011 and 2016. Based on the Government’s projected spending plans, the sector will lose £911m per year by 2015-16. This figure assumes that spending cuts are passed on proportionately, although the research also states that Freedom of Information requests have shown local authorities making disproportionate cuts to the voluntary sector at a local level. The research was also aligned with a call for Government to collect and publish robust analysis of its spending on the voluntary sector with an impact assessment of proposed funding cuts.
The Big Lottery Fund has announced details of the consortia responsible for delivering its £25m Realising Ambition programme. This will focus on providing support for young people at risk of offending and will be led by Catch 22 in partnership with the Young Foundation, Dartington Social Research Unit, Rathbone, and Substance. Grants of up to £3 million will be available for individual projects over three to five years with an emphasis on how successful projects might be more broadly replicated.
The Social Enterprise Investment Fund (SEIF) has announced £12 million of grants and loans for social enterprises working in health or social care under its “Capital Growth Fund”. Grants of between £50,000 and £150,000 will be available to organisations whilst loans will be offered to those who can demonstrate their ability to repay. The fund is being managed by the Social Investment Business and the deadline for applications closes on16 September 2011. In related news, the Social Investment Business recently announced Jonathan Jenkins as its new Chief Executive.
The Big Lottery Fund has announced a new £5m funding package for rural areas. The “Village SOS” programme intends to bring together support, information and expert advice on how to develop community enterprises, with grants of between £10,000 and £30,000 available for new community enterprises in rural communities with a population of less than 3,000. This will also involve a range of learning events across the country and a new national advice line for community enterprise to be run by the Plunkett Foundation.
The Social Enterprise Coalition has renamed itself as “Social Enterprises UK”. The name change intends to better reflect the organisation’s remit as a body which not only lobbies for political change but also provides support services for its members. The new name has already drawn criticism from representative bodies in Wales and Scotland, however, claiming that the organisation is not sufficiently UK-focused.
Social Enterprises UK has published “Fightback Britain”, a new report mapping the activity of social enterprises in Britain. Among it’s findings are that 39% of social enterprises operate in Britain’s most deprived areas, compared with just 12% of SMEs; 58% of social enterprises reported growth in the previous year, compared with just 28% of SMEs; their main source of income is in trading with the general public; and that there are currently an estimated 62,000 social enterprises operating in the UK.
NAVCa have published an evaluation of their Tender Support project. The project, which ran from June 2009 to March 2011 and was part of the National Programme for Third Sector Commissioning, used £70,000 in funding to help 148 organisations win contracts worth £1.6m. It had three main objectives: increasing awareness of the benefits of commissioning from the voluntary sector; more voluntary sector involvement throughout the commissioning cycle; and improving bidding practice of voluntary organisations.
Volunteering England have received £1.9m from the Big Lottery Fund to help fund the growth of volunteering in deprived areas. This will be delivered in partnership with 15 local volunteer centres and will explore how to use volunteering to engage those furthest from the job market, to assist them in utilising their skills and talents to help their local communities.
Think Tanks & Research
A new research paper has been produced by the Third Sector Research Centre which charts the geographical distribution of voluntary organisations and presents the notion of a “civic core” upon which Big Society will depend. TSRC’s research found that there are over 2.5 times as many organisations who say they work at the neighbourhood scale in the most prosperous neighbourhoods in the country compared to those in the most disadvantaged areas. It also found that just 31% of the population provides 87% of volunteer hours, 79% of charitable giving, and 72% of civic participation.
Healthcare think tank the King’s Fund have published new research on the development of social enterprises within public healthcare provision. Based on a series of interviews with directors of social enterprises and chief executives of acute and mental health foundation trusts, the research suggests that the move to become a social enterprise was often a defensive measure; new organisational structures on their own do not automatically generate greater staff engagement; and leaders of social enterprises will need support and training to gain the business expertise needed.
A new report has been published on further education by the Royal Society of Arts. “Not Enough Capital” explores why, despite over half a million young people from low-income backgrounds currently studying in further education colleges, there are still intractable problems in terms of entry to the “predominantly middle-class worlds” of higher education and the professions. The publication’s author also argues that further education has been afflicted by“comparative under-funding, lack of policy attention and low status” compared with schools and universities.