Policy briefing 21 June 2011
(7 June – 21 June 2011)
Health reform has been the prevalent issue of late as the much-debated NHS “listening exercise” finally came to a close following 250 meetings with national stakeholders and over 25,000 online responses. The exercise culminated in the publication of 4 reports by the NHS Future Forum and 16 recommendations for reform, meaning a host of amendments to be made to the Health & Social Care Bill. This includes revision to the pace of reforms, clearer regulation of competition, and better integration between health and social care. In the main report, the GP leading the process, Professor Steve Field, wrote of the “lacklustre support” and “open hostility” received for the initial proposals among staff groups and the press. The Bill is expected to return to the House of Commons this September.
In other news, the latest round of labour market statistics depict a steadily improving labour market, with growth in total employment and an annual increase in average pay. Much of this growth can be attributed to the swelling numbers employed in the private sector as public sector employment contracted by 24,000. Employment still has some distance to travel yet before it reaches the pre-recession peak of 29.57 million recorded in May 2008.
Skills & Workforce
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics have recorded a growth in employment of 80,000 over the last quarter to 70.6% of the adult population. Alongside this, unemployment fell by 88,000 down to 7.7%, with a particularly significant decrease (39,000) occurring among the 16-24 age group. The number of people employed in the public sector fell by 24,000 over the quarter but the number of people employed in the private sector increased by 104,000. Average pay (excluding bonuses) has also risen by 2% over the last year up to £432 per week.
The education and training needs of the NHS workforce was one subject recently under consideration by the NHS Future Forum. A report compiled by Julie Moore, CEO of University Hospitals Birmingham Foundations Trust, proposed a “multi-disciplinary and inter-professional system” driven by employers. Such a system will have to cope with the rapid pace of change and potential upheaval caused by the abolition of Strategic Health Authorities, however, meaning an urgent need for responsive training arrangements to maintain quality. The report also draws upon the Government’s recent consultation Developing the Healthcare Workforce which closed in March 2011.
A new Leadership & Management Advisory Service is now open to employers of between 2 and 249 full-time staff. This service, which offers a partial replacement for the previous Train to Gain scheme, will provide free skills diagnosis and match-funded training grants of up to £1,000 for organisations with high growth potential.
Details of the £180m scheme for disadvantaged 16-19 year old learners have been released by the Young People’s Learning Agency. The scheme, which replaces the Educational Maintenance Allowance, will be divided into two parts – a £1200 annual bursary for the most vulnerable and a discretionary fund for schools and colleges to distribute as they see fit. Guidance to the new scheme is available here.
Social tenants will benefit from a £535,000 training programme which aims to improve representation on tenant’s panels. Charities are currently being invited to bid to deliver the training which will involve eight different training courses covering a range of subjects (including tenant panels, influencing landlords, and sharing information), as well as opportunities to work towards accredited qualifications.
BIS has published a study on the capability of Jobcentre advisers in identifying the skills needs of welfare claimants. The study found that although the advisers rarely used the language of skills, preferring the term “barriers to work”, they covered various skills categories. It also found formal skills assessments were less common than informal screening techniques and that a range of approaches were taken to training referrals.
A research report has been published by BIS on the integration of Jobcentre Plus and the Next Step careers service. The report found that a good understanding between Next Step staff and Jobcentre advisers was crucial to high quality skills referrals, however there was often a lack of shared information between the two organisations. It also found a difference in approach whereby Jobcentre Plus advisers were particularly instructive whilst Next Step advisers tended to explore options with the user.
Disabled people should be supported to work in the sector of their choosing rather than being forced into segregated employment according to a review by the Chief Executive of RADAR, Liz Sayce. The review also recommends doubling the number of people using the Access to Work programme which provides financial help and practical support for disabled people in the workplace. In terms of social return on investment, this programme was found to deliver £1.48 of value for every £1 of spending.
An independent taskforce has been assembled by BIS to help communicate with the public over changes to student finance being introduced in 2012. The taskforce will be jointly-chaired by Martin Lewis of the website Money Saving Expert, and former NUS president Wes Steering.
The Sector Skills Council for transport, Go First, will merge with People 1st, the SSC for travel and tourism. The proposal is to have two members’ councils working within the one SSC, one focused on passenger transport, travel and tourism, and the other focused on hospitality and leisure. This is due to take place on 1 July 2011.
Government has written to the Low Pay Commission, outlining their remit for 2011-2012. This will include work on youth employment, especially in relation to apprenticeships and internships; how to make the minimum wage easier to administer; and how to give greater clarity to employers. The Commission will report back to BIS in February 2012.
The NHS Future Forum have published four reports on proposed health reforms. Individually these cover choice and competition; clinical advice and leadership; patient involvement and public accountability; and education and training. Among the recommendations made by the reports are for protection of the principles enshrined in the NHS Constitution, “multi-professional involvement” in the design and commissioning of services, a duty for Monitor to regulate rather than promote competition, and closer integration of health and social care. The Department of Health’s official response is available here.
The Government’s new five-year payment-by-results welfare programme has been launched. The Work Programme replaces much of the employment support currently on offer, aiming to offer more tailored support services for the unemployed which will be financed by anticipated savings on long-term claimants. A total of 508 voluntary sector groups will be involved in its delivery (with only two as prime contractors). For a list of the organisations involved, click here.
The crisis being experienced by social care provider Southern Cross continues as it seeks to renegotiate the rental costs of its 750 care homes. The private provider has fallen into financial disrepair as operating costs increase and local authority funding decreases. This has led to a loss of 3,000 jobs based with the company, a matter which the GMB union are currently campaigning about.
The National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers have voted to strike over pension reforms. Following the recommendations of the Hutton Report on public sector pensions, it is proposed that the retirement age for public sector workers rises to 66 and that pension schemes be based on career average rather than final salary. The strike is set to take place on 30 June and is likely to be joined by other trade unions. The Department for Education have released a response, warning of the potential damage caused to children’s learning by industrial action.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced further plans to raise standards and tackle underperformance in schools. The 200 weakest schools will become academies by 2012/13 and minimum standards will increase from 35% of pupils getting five A to Cs at GCSE to 50% of pupils. This was announced amidst controversy over the amount of funding received by several Academy schools from the Department for Education.
A White Paper on the natural environment has been published by DEFRA. This includes several new policy proposals, such as “Local Nature Partnerships” to strengthen joined-up action across local organisations, “Green Area Designation” to allow local communities to give protection to areas of their choosing, and the “Muck 4 Life” volunteering initiative.
A statement has been released defining the Government’s new “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. This forms part of broader changes to the planning framework to ensure that planning supports economic growth, protects the natural environment, and meets community need.
The second phase of the Growth Review has now been launched by Government. This intends to explore barriers to economic growth in several areas, including infrastructure, education and skills, medium-sized business, the rural economy, and open data. It will involve an intensive process of consultation with employers over the coming months.
The Government’s approach to Localism has been “marked by inconsistency and incoherence” according to the findings of a recent Select Committee. A report compiled by the Committee argues that individual departments have adopted definitions of localism to suit their policy aims rather than in consultation with stakeholders. It also found that organisations representing vulnerable groups were reliant on forms of protection that cannot be provided by the current mechanisms of local democracy.
Figures on statutory homelessness show that 44,160 people were accepted as homeless during the 2010/11 financial year. This represents an increase of 10%, the first recorded increase in six years. The figures also show a slowing of the downward trend of households in temporary accommodation. This coincides with new plans to make better use of private sector landlords in providing temporary accommodation for the homeless.
Revised guidance has been issued by the Department for Communities & Local Government calling for local authorities to consider requests from community groups to compulsorily purchase a community asset that is under threat. Under the new guidance, officials will have to respond formally to “right to buy” requests, outlining the reasons behind their decisions.
A new £46m strategy to prevent terrorism has been drawn up by the Home Office. This intends to mark a new approach whereby funding and support is withdrawn from groups that do not support “mainstream British values” and action takes place to prevent the spread of terrorist ideology at institutions such as colleges or prisons. The Charity Commission has also been called upon to investigate allegations of support for terrorist activity or funding links among voluntary organisations.
Britain will spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas aid by 2015 following a pledge made by David Cameron. This was declared at a conference of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) convened by the Bill Gates Foundation. The Government has also pledged £814m in new funding to support GAVI over the next four years.
The Voluntary Sector
A comprehensive file of written evidence supplied to the Public Administration Select Committee on Big Society has been published. This includes the views of 52 separate organisations from the voluntary sector spread over 297 pages. The committee continues to gather evidence on the practical implications of Big Society, especially in terms of its potential impact on the accountability and equity of service provision.
a total of £81m has been distributed to 727 voluntary organisations in the third wave of the Transition Fund. The fund, which is distributed by the Big Lottery Fund, was established to support voluntary organisations dependent on public funding. A full list of recipients may be read here.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, posed several questions for the Coalition Government in a recent editorial for the New Statesmen. Williams called for greater clarity in relation to the Big Society agenda, in particular the issues of how to guarantee “nationwide standards, parity and continuity” in services, how to ensure long-term investment in social problems, and what was “too important to be left to even the most resourceful localism”.
ACEVO, NAVCA, and NCVO have issued a joint response to the Government’s new statutory guidance on “best value” for local authorities. The response calls for councils to avoid disproportionate cuts to the sector, give appropriate notice to organisations they intend to cut, and give those organisations the opportunity to suggest alternative ways forward. It also calls for the definition of “best value” to go beyond financial return or savings.
The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) has changed its name to Action on Hearing Loss. This coincides with the charity’s centenary year and intends to reflect the work it does on all levels of hearing loss as well as to help distinguish it from the RNIB.
The Charity Commission has published revised versions of its model Articles of Association, Constitution and Trust Deed. Among other things, these allow for a trustee to be remunerated by a charity (subject to the Commission’s authority), and encourage charity members to resolve internal disputes themselves before resorting to litigation.
Think Tanks & Research
The role of pay as a reward or recognition for different kinds of work, skills and outcomes is the subject explored in a recent publication by the thinktank IPPR. Drawing on polling and qualitative research, it suggests that the relationship between pay and issues of performance, effort and responsibility has deteriorated in light of the financial crisis. It also found that many participants has misplaced faith in the notion that pay is set through a fair market process without power dynamics.
Only 7% of employers have volunteered during employment hours according to a recent piece of research conducted by IFF Research. The research, based on a survey of 460 employees, also found that 27% of employees had volunteered in general, 14% of employers encouraged voluntary activity during work time and 13% actively discouraged it.
The implications of health reforms for the voluntary and community sector have been explored in a new report published by NCVO and the King’s Fund thinktank. It points to the sector’s vital role in helping to tackle inequalities and providing intelligence to commissioners, planners and funders. However, the report warns that larger providers could end up dominating the market and that the sector will need support in making the transition to a competitive provider market.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have published the findings of a study on the impact of Coalition Government policy on six low-income neighbourhoods. This unearthed several difficulties, such as the strong sense of belonging in deprived neighbourhoods, the importance of social housing in coping with an unstable labour market, and the insufficiency of Localism in light of weak housing and labour markets.
Coinciding with the Government’s White Paper on the natural environment, the thinktank Respublica and the Woodland Trust have published a report on the importance of woodland spaces. The report explores how to capitalise upon the estimated £2bn in value produced by the country’s forests. It calls for widened public access, a larger role for civil society organisations in the maintenance of green spaces, and the inclusion of ecological measurements in the Government’s forthcoming wellbeing index.