Policy Briefing 1 August 2011
(19 July – 1 August 2011)
The slow pace of economic growth has been the key talking point in recent weeks as the latest estimates heralded an increase in GDP of just 0.2% over the past three months. Such slow growth has been ascribed to several possible ‘special events’ including the Japanese Tsunami, the Royal Wedding, warm weather, and the first phase of Olympic ticket sales. Further reading does not provide much optimism either as the largest contributor to growth was in the area of business services and finance, not in the sustainable production that has been the objective of the Coalition’s plans for growth.
In particular, these figures will place an extra onus on the ability of the UK skills system to meet employer demand and supply the skills needed to drive growth in new areas of the economy. So far much attention has been focused on apprenticeships, with the details of a further £25m in funding to support the expansion of apprenticeships announced only two weeks ago. We can expect further reform to skills to emerge in the coming months as a result of the Wolf Report and the ‘Open Public Services’ White Paper. Either way, politicians will certainly have a large amount to discuss when they return from Parliamentary recess in early September.
Skills & Workforce
New analysis conducted by the University & College Union has revealed the extent of the education inequalities that exist in contemporary Britain. According to their analyses (based on the ONS annual population survey), 11.3% of the British population have no qualifications at all. The analysis also ranks the 632 parliamentary constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales according to the percentage of working age people without qualifications, finding even starker contrasts at a local level.
The details of the £25m Higher Apprenticeship Fund to support the growth of degree-level apprenticeship qualifications have materialized. Industry representatives are being invited to bid to the fund, which will be delivered via the National Apprenticeship Service and is open to employers, SSCs, professional bodies, National Skills Academies, employer groups, and learning providers. New Higher Apprenticeships are expected to commence from October 2011 and a full prospectus is available here.
Lib Dem Minister Simon Hughes has submitted his report on ensuring fairer access to higher education. This follows six months of visits to educational establishments and puts forth a series of recommendations, including more careers activities to take place in primary schools; a designated member of staff at colleges and schools to co-ordinate careers advice; and the reclassification of access courses in FE colleges so that students over the age of 24 are eligible for funding.
An equality impact assessment has been published on the proposed reduction of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision. This follows a total of 1,236 individual letters on ESOL being received by the Government since January 2011 and relates to plans to restrict full funding for ESOL courses to those on employment-related benefits. The Association of Colleges has also been asked to provide policy advice on developing an effective methodology for targeting funds at settled communities in which language barriers ‘inhibit individual opportunity and community cohesion’. This will also be supported by new funding from CLG, details of which will be announced shortly.
Initial details of successful bids to the Department for Business Innovation & Skills’ £50m Growth & Innovation Fund (GIF) have begun to surface. So far it has been announced that this will provide funding for proposals to create a National Skills Academy for Health and an Institute for Employability Professionals. Other announcements on the full set of GIF projects will be available in the coming months, along with information about the second round of applications to follow later this year.
A best practice code for high-quality internships has been published by the Gateway to the Professions Forum chaired by Universities Minister, David Willetts. This provides guidance for employers who wish to run internship programmes (including national minimum wage requirements) and describes the core elements required in order to obtain maximum benefit from internships for both interns and employers.
The future of informal adult and community learning is the subject of a new consultation recently launched by NIACE (on behalf of the government). Responses to the consultation will help influence the distribution of funding to support such learning. The consultation will run until 31 October 2011.
A series of new appointments have been made to the UK Commission for Employment & Skills, including 9 new commissioners. Among these is Seyi Obakin, Chief Executive of the homelessness charity Centrepoint. They join an existing team of 16 Commissioners, led by Charlie Mayfield, Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership. Michael Davis has also been appointed as the permanent CEO of UKCES following an interim period in charge.
UK GDP increased by 0.2% in the second quarter of 2011 according to preliminary estimates from the Office for National Statistics. The figures detail a fall in the production industries of 1.4% alongside a growth in service industries of 0.5%. The largest overall contribution to growth was in business services and finance, which increased by 0.7%. Productivity in Government and other services failed to grow following a 1.1% growth in the last quarter. Growth of at least 0.8% will be needed in the next six months to maintain budgetary forecasts.
The Cabinet Office has published a three-page “open letter” to the voluntary sector in response to the Modernising Commissioning consultation launched last December. This promises to conduct an “active listening exercise” to explore issues such as accessing open markets, reducing barriers, and improving the commissioning process for voluntary organisations. This was also accompanied by the announcement of a new £10m Investment and Contract Readiness fund aimed at frontline organisations which intends to provide improved access to new markets and social finance.
HM Treasury has undertaken a set of consultations on proposals to increase the contributions made by civil servants, teachers, and NHS staff to their pensions. This intends to meet the £1.2bn annual savings target for 2012/13, rising to £2.3bn in 2013/4, and £2.8bn by 2014/15. It will involve an overall increase of 3.2% in member contributions. There will be no increase, however, for employees earning under £15,000, whilst those earning under £21,000 will only be subject to a 1.5% increase.
Local government finance is the subject of a new consultation by CLG. Under new plans, local authorities will be allowed to retain the money raised through business rates rather than have them centrally redistributed. The intention behind this is to provide a financial incentive for councils to promote local growth and to reduce dependency upon central Government grants. Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles has promised that no area will see less funding than they would have got under the old grant system. The consultation will be open until 24 October 2011.
Two new funds have been announced by the Home Office for voluntary sector projects which address local crime. The £10m ‘Community Action Against Crime: Innovation Fund’ will bring together active citizens and encourage new ways of working within communities to tackle crime, and the £4m ‘Choices Fund’ will support the development of innovative local solutions to reduce substance misuse and offending by young people.
New figures on the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) have been released by DWP. WCA was recently introduced to assess the fitness for work of new claimants of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The figures show that 39% of claimants were found fit for work; 36% closed their claim before the assessment was complete; 17% moved into work-related activities; 7% were put into the support group; and 1% were still awaiting the assessment outcome. Investigation of the full statistics show that 39% of the people judged “fit for work” appealed successfully against DWP’s decision, however. This was also accompanied by qualitative research which found evidence of inconsistent paperwork and an absence of Healthcare Professionals’ input into the assessment process.
The re-assessment process for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants has prompted stress and anxiety among vulnerable people according to the recent findings of the Work & Pensions Select Committee. The Committee concluded that “the assessment process, as it is designed at the moment, does not accurately assess claimants’ employability and needs in the workplace”. Ministers also expressed concern over the details of the Department’s contract with the private healthcare firm Atos responsible for making the assessments.
Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley has announced 8 new areas of the National Health Service to be opened up to new providers from April 2012. This is set to include adult hearing services in the community; wheelchair services for children; and primary care psychological therapies for adults. Any potential providers will need to be registered with the Care Quality Commission (where appropriate), licensed by Monitor, and work within NHS prices. This news was also accompanied by the Government’s response to the recent consultation on “Any Qualified Provider” in health services.
Applications are being invited by the Department of Health to the 2012-13 ‘Innovation, Excellence and Strategic Development’ Fund. This supports the voluntary sector to develop innovative services across health and social care, and last year distributed almost £3.5m to 57 different projects. More information on how to apply is available here.
A Framework for Personal Assistants has been published by the Department for Health. This provides support for both people with care needs and their Personal Assistants, covering the impacts of the personalisation agenda and the need for an exponential increase in the number of personal assistants. The framework includes job descriptions and interviewing; common induction standards; contract templates; and information reference checking.
The Education Secretary Michael Gove has made a series of announcements to the reform of school funding. Key announcements include £500m for local authorities to provide extra school places; a forthcoming consultation on how to prevent the “double funding” of Academies and local authorities; a new privately-financed school re-building programme targeted at those in the worst physical conditions; and a consultation on a simpler and more transparent funding system.
A report has been published containing the total amount of charitable giving received by institutions funded by the Department of Culture Media and Sport. The report, which covers 2009/10, found that the institutions collectively raised £234.9m. This accounts for just 10% of their income and represents an annual decrease of £68m (although excluding the amount of donated objects in 2008/9 it is an increase of over £14m). A breakdown by individual institution is also available here.
The Voluntary Sector
Public donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s (DEC) appeal to help those suffering from food shortages in East Africa have now reached over £30m. DEC is co-ordinating activity to provide famine relief in the region which also includes the work of development groups such as CARE, Concern Worldwide, British Red Cross, Merlin, Save the Children, and Islamic Relief.
The Big Society Bank will be known as the “Big Society Capital Group” according to the latest Cabinet Office announcement. Details have also appeared relating to its organisational structure, which will bedivided into Big Society Capital Ltd, to provide management; the Big Society Trust, to provide oversight; and the Big Society Foundation, to accept donations. It will be chaired by venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen, Nick O’Donohoe, formerly of JP Morgan, will act as CEO, whilst the board will include a mixture of representatives from financial services and senior voluntary sector figures. The Big Society Capital Group will have around £600m of money to distribute following state aid approval from the European Commission and authorisation from the Financial Services Authority.
Third Sector magazine has reported that the Office for Civil Society’s spending budget will fall by 61% over the next three years. Taking figures from the Cabinet Office’s annual report and accounts they show that whilst spending is currently around £192m, it is forecast to fall to £146m in 2012/13, £82m in 2013/14 and £74m in 2014/15.
It has been announced that the infrastructure organisations NCVO and Know-How Non-Profit are to merge. Know-How Non-Profit, which was set up with funding from the Big Lottery Fund and currently resides at City University London, will merge with the NCVO Communications team with the intention of engaging in a web project to consolidate learning from across the sector, ensuring that national online resources are sustained.
Kevin Curley, Chief Executive of NAVCA has announced that he will retire in March 2012. Curley joined NAVCA in 2003 following leadership of Headway and several local Councils for Voluntary Service. Announcing his plans, Curley said that he still intends to “play a part at national level in defending the independence of the local voluntary sector”.
A new fund has been launched to support the economic and social development of coastal communities. The ‘Coastal Communities Fund’ will be funded by the Crown Estate and worth £23.7m in 2012-13. The fund will be open to bids and discussions are ongoing with the Big Lottery Fund about the details for bidding.
Think Tanks & Research
The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development have published their latest quarterly analysis on the outlook of employees. This surveyed over 2,000 UK employees and shows that voluntary sector employees have the highest levels of satisfaction (although it has fallen on the previous quarter’s figure). Voluntary sector employees also report being the most engaged with their work. More worryingly, however, 28% of employees in the sector thought it likely that they could lose their job in the next 12 months, and 67% felt it would be difficult to find other employment.
Demos have published a report which makes a robust case for extending flexible working practices to all employees. The report argues that flexible working has been essential to maintaining employment during the recession and is part of an inclusive labour market. Research found that 91% of employers offer at least one form of flexible working arrangement to their employees and that 82% of requests are accepted. It also includes case studies on BT, John Lewis Partnership, and Women Like Us. According to Demos the issue of flexible working should be seen less as an issue of burdensome regulation but rather as a socio-demographic necessity.
The UK has become a more neighbourly country over the last year according to new research from Co-operatives UK. The average UK adult now knows 8 of their neighbours by name (an increase from 7 a year ago) and an estimated 26 million conversations between neighbours take place each day (an increase from 21 million). However, such increased contact has also led to a rise in disputes, with the number of people reporting problems with their neighbours rising to 50%.