Policy Briefing 15 November 2010
(2 November - 15 November 2010)
The weeks following the Spending Review have brought greater clarity to the government’s ambitious plans for political reform. In line with the Coalition’s focus on accountability and transparency, all of the Whitehall departments have unveiled detailed plans for policy reform. These plans set specific timescales for reform and ministers will be expected to report back to the Cabinet Office and Treasury if they fail to meet their milestones. Note the interesting change in language used by the Coalition as Labour’s talk of “targets” has disappeared from the political lexicon.
Stormy reactions to the higher education reforms proposed in the wake of the Browne report have inevitably dominated headlines recently. The focus of public debate so far has largely been on higher tuition fees rather than the broad cuts to Educational Maintenance Allowance which will have a significant impact on 16-18 year old learners from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education. Formal plans on this topic are due to be released via a higher education White Paper this winter.
Welfare reform is another subject which will surely attract much comment in the coming months. A recently released White Paper has detailed how the “complicated and inefficient patchwork of existing support” (Working Tax Credits, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance etc.) will be replaced by the Universal Credit, a single calculated payment which will better align benefits with tax . The Department for Work and Pensions expects these reforms to lift 350,000 children and 500,000 adults out of poverty. Unsurprisingly these proposals have already been the subject of debate and criticism from a range of figures, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Skills and workforce
The Government has outlined its stance on the future of Higher Education following last month’s independent review on funding. The fundamental message purveyed is that there will be an increase in the tuition fee threshold to £6,000 a year (or £9,000 subject to a university meeting conditions on widening participation and fair access).
Nick Clegg has responded to the outcome of the Browne review on higher education, saying that it has been “one of the most difficult decisions” of the Coalition Government so far. The Deputy PM pointed to the announcement of the £150m Scholarship Scheme as a way in which the proposals would continue to advance social mobility and ensure that universities that charge more for courses also widen their student intake.
The Department for Business Innovation & Skills will launch a new careers service for all people aged over 13 from September 2011. The new service intends to build upon previous schemes (Next Step and Connexions) to offer joined-up support to both young and old, with a particular focus on lifelong learning. The service will be delivered in various ways – via the internet, telephone and within local communities.
A Fundraising Academy has been launched by the Institute of Fundraising to enhance professional development opportunities for fundraisers. This will consist of 4 course levels – the Introductory Certificate; the Certificate; the Diploma; and the Advanced Diploma.
Alan Tuckett, the Chief Executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) is set to retire in 2011. In a statement, Alan Tuckett said that adult education looks well-placed in relation to the cuts and expressed confidence that NIACE would continueto play a vital role in advocacy and policy development, curriculum and staff development, and equality and diversity.
The 157 Group, a consortium of colleges has published a report which describes the importance of further education providers to the government’s plans for higher education. Colleges represent a vital means for widening participation by allowing people to access higher education without having to leave their jobs or community.
Detailed plans have been published by all Government departments, setting out their work over the next four years. The plans, published in the interests of accountability and transparency, include financial information and departmental priorities. Each department will also be required to make public the amount of money they spend on the voluntary sector. The Cabinet Office plan may be found here and the Business, Innovation and Skills plan may be found here.
The Public Accounts Committee, the group of MPs who decide on key matters of public spending, has cast doubt on the government’s ability to deliver the £81bn cuts specified in the Spending Review. A report on the last spending review, which took place in 2007, details the failure of various government departments to produce even a 3% cut in addition to the fact that out of £35 billion of savings only £15 billion had been produced by 2010.
The Cabinet Office has promised to produce two White Papers in early 2011. One will outline how commissioning might be reformed to the greater benefit of the voluntary sector and the other will explore how to diversify the sector’s funding, including increased use of philanthropy and social investment.
The government has released a White Paper which outlines plans to withdraw benefits from those who repeatedly refuse opportunities to work. As part of a radical shake up, jobseekers will have to undertake full-time Mandatory Work Activity for 30 hours a week for up to four weeks. This Work Activity placement will be unpaid and still require the recipient to look for work.
A Private Members’ Bill entitled “Public Services (Social Enterprise and Social Value)” will be put before Parliament on 19 November. The bill has been put forward by Conservative MP Chris White and will require all public bodies to consider the well-being of communities in the exercise of their functions.
SERCO, the large public service outsourcing company, was forced to withdraw a letter to its suppliers asking for a 2.5% cash rebate in order to meet government requests for efficiency savings. Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude demanded an explanation after the company had previously stated that savings would not fall on smaller supply chain partners. SERCO were forced to retract the letter and suffered a 6% fall in share prices as a result of the incident.
The Department for Work and Pensions have received an award by the Commission for the Compact. DWP won the award for their development of the Merlin Standard, a code of conduct for private contractors and the voluntary sector delivering welfare-to-work programmes on behalf of the government.
Plans to reform the Post Office with £1.34bn of funding over four years have been announced. BIS minister Ed Davey intends for the service to be reformulated into a mutual structure that might be able to work closely with credit unions to offer new services within local communities.
Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has written to local authorities asking them to identify underperforming schools which would benefit from converting to Academy status. This will include those schools judged eligible via Ofsted and where there is a record of low attainment over time, especially in comparison with other similar schools.
The voluntary sector
Rolande Anderson, current head of the Office for Civil Society, is due to be replaced by Gareth Davies, the director of the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit. The new boss will work in particular with the behavioural insights team to develop new ways of encouraging volunteering and philanthropy based on the principles of “Nudge” theory.
The Office for Civil Society is to continue funding the National Programme for Third Sector Commissioning. The programme is run by Local Government Improvement and Development (formerly IDeA) and aims to train 1,000 public sector commissioners by March 2011.
The £100m Transition Fund, announced during the spending review, will be open for applications from the end of November and will be administered by the Big Lottery Fund. The fund will help those organisations most vulnerable to short-term reductions in public spending with incomes of between £50,000 and £10m.
The pilots for the National Citizen Service have now been announced. The list includes a range of local and national organisations as well as consortia. The Service will be a will be a seven/eight week programme including both residential and community-based elements.
Chief Executives body ACEVO suggest that the sector may stand to benefit from a £2bn increase in income by 2014-15. Estimates are based on the spending review’s commitment to set proportions of services to be delivered by the independent sector. This includes the areas of offender management, youth services, adult social care, early years services, public and community healthcare.
NAVCA and OCS have jointly-produced a document which outlines how local public bodies and the voluntary and community sector might work together to successfully manage the impact of public spending cuts. The report provides examples of where local authorities and the sector have forged a strategic and collaborative approach to cuts.
Research by the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) suggests that despite women constituting 68% of the third sector workforce, they only make up around 50% of higher status positions in the sector. The research also shows that women are underrepresented among the social enterprise workforce. The gender pay gap, however, does compare favourably to the private and public sectors.
The infrastructure organisations, BASSAC and the Development Trust Association have decided to merge after holding a ballot among their members. This will lead to the creation of a new national network of settlements, development trusts, social action centres and community enterprises to be operational by April 2011.
The voluntary sector experienced the lowest pay rise over the past year, according to an annual review of pay trends. The review looked at pay awards across 12 industrial sectors from September 2009 to August 2010. The highest median basic pay award by sector was recorded in the general manufacturing and food, drink and tobacco sectors. The charity sector recorded a median pay rise of only 1%.
Think tanks and research
Research by the Chartered Institute for Professional Development (CIPD) suggests that the impact of the spending cuts and the imminent VAT rise will be worse than feared. CIPD estimates that 900,000 jobs from the private sector and 725,000 jobs from the public sector will be lost. This would entail the private sector creating 320,000 jobs a year to offset job losses.
A report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) argues that deficit reduction will make the policy aims of “Big Society” impossible. NEF is concerned that spending cuts will mean many more unemployed people dealing with an increasingly punitive benefits system and drastically pared-down public services, undermining the social cohesion necessary for Big Society.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission have published a report in partnership with the Fawcett Society, UNISON and Trades Union Congress to explore ways to tackle the 16.4% gender pay gap. The report explores four key aspects of tackling the gender pay gap: making the business case for equal pay; how the structure and organisation of the workplace plays a part in the equal pay debate; the adequacy or inadequacy of the legislative framework underpinning equal pay; and attitudes and culture surrounding equal pay.
A poll run by the High Pay Commission (a joint-project run by Compass and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) shows that the public consistently under-estimates how much top bosses actually earn. In light of the fact that most workers have seen their pay frozen or cut during the past year, top bosses have enjoyed a 55% pay increase. Meanwhile bosses have relaxed the targets for achieving their bonuses because of the downturn.
New research undertaken by Ipsos Mori suggests that three in five (59%) of the public believe that charities and voluntary organisations should not taken on a bigger role in public service delivery.