Policy briefing 23 May 2011
(10 May – 23 May 2011)
The Coalition Government have now been in place for over a year, prompting reflection upon their activities to date. An official document charting their achievements can be read here. According to a meeting of the Cabinet Office, out of the 355 commitments enshrined in the Coalition Agreement, 26% are complete, 64% are still in progress and 10% have not yet begun. Meanwhile, the polling firm IPSOS MORI have produced an interesting briefing showing the shifts in public opinion towards the Coalition.
In skills news, the Government has swiftly published it’s response to the far-reaching Wolf Review of vocational education released in March. The acceptance of all 27 of the report’s recommendations can be expected to set off a flurry of consultations, reviews and policy developments in the coming months. Meanwhile, following last month’s publication of the Sunday Times Rich List, the Independent on Sunday have published their own “Happy List” of campaigners, charity founders and other figures noted for their contribution to civil society in Britain - perhaps proving that money does not equal happiness after all.
Skills & Workforce
UK employment has risen to 29.24m (or 70.7%) according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. This represents an increase of 118,000 people over the past three months. Unemployment has also fallen over this period by 36,000 to 2.45m people. Meanwhile, the number of JSA claimants has risen by 12,400, although much of this is accounted for by changes in the assessment of Incapacity Benefit. Also, the number of redundancies has fallen by 24,000 and 469,000 unfilled job vacancies were reported.
The Government has published its response to the Wolf Review of vocational education. Education Secretary Michael Gove has accepted all 27 of the report’s recommendations. This includes four which will be implemented immediately - allowing qualified further education lecturers to teach in school classrooms; clarifying the rules on allowing industry professionals to teach in schools; allowing any vocational qualification offered by a regulated awarding body to be taken by 14- to 19-year-olds; and allowing high-quality vocational qualifications that have not been accredited to be offered from September 2011. Professor Wolf has also been handed a formal role within Government in pursuing these reforms.
The Government has announced a series of measures to prioritise youth employment alongside £60m of funding. NePolicyw measures will support early access to Work Programme places for vulnerable 18‑year‑olds; increase the capacity of Jobcentres to support the 5,000 most disadvantaged 16–17‑year‑olds claimants; and £10 million a year for an Innovation Fund (based on social investment) aimed at service providers from the voluntary sector.
Three areas of employment law will come under review by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills. This includes a proposed reduction to the amount paid in compensation for discrimination cases, the shortening of collective redundancy consultation periods (currently a minimum of 90 days), and reform of the TUPE regulations. Announcing the reforms, Chancellor George Osborne called for businesses to “get stuck into the argument” against unions and interest group opposition.
A consultation has been launched on proposed changes to employment law aimed at encouraging greater flexibility. The consultation, “Modern Workplaces”, seeks views on a new system of flexible parental leave allowing parents to divide their leave allowance between them over a single continuous time period; how to extend the right to flexible working to all employees who have been with their employers for over 26 weeks; changes to the Working Time Regulations over the interaction of annual leave and sick leave; and on tackling unequal pay through requiring employers who lose an Employment Tribunal case on equal pay to carry out a pay audit.
NIACE and the Campaign for Learning have co-ordinated a week of events to encourage and celebrate adult education. The two groups intend to build upon last year’s success during which an estimated 100,000 adults took part in more than 4,000 learning events. Launching the week, skills minister John Hayes announced that a formal consultation on adult learning is due to place in summer 2011.
An annual survey of adult participation in learning conducted by NIACE has shown a 4% fall since 2007. The least skilled and those outside the labour market are participating in learning at the lowest reported total over 20 years at 23% and, whilst participation in learning has increased among 17-24 year olds, it has decreased across all other age groups.
Each Government department has now published its business plans for 2011, including expenditure on the voluntary sector. This reveals that the Cabinet Office spent £7.7m plus £372.1m in grants; CLG spent £78.2m plus £73.2m in grants; the Department for Education spent £39.7m plus £177.5m in grants; DWP spent £305m plus £82m in grants; and the Department for International Development spent £630m on UK and international NGOs.
Proposals for the reform of the House of Lords have been released in a Parliamentary Bill and accompanying White Paper by the Deputy PM, Nick Clegg. If successfully passed, this will create a smaller chamber with 80% elected members. Such elections would take place alongside those for General Elections and would use the Single-Transferable Vote.
Proposals for the reform of offender learning have been outlined in a new Government report. Making Prisons Work: Skills for Rehabilitationlays out plans to increase the range and relevance of learning; support more work opportunities; improve links with employers, link learning to local labour market needs; and trial the use of payment-by-results.
A collection of figures released by the Ministry of Justice show that offenders jailed for between two and four years have lower reoffending rates than those given shorter sentences. They also show that offenders on community orders have lower reoffending rates than those given custodial sentences of less than a year.
The Department for Education has published a review of safeguarding practice. The review, conducted by Professor Eileen Munro, recommends that the level of central prescription be cut down and practitioners be given greater freedom to exercise their professional judgement. It also imposes a duty on all local services to coordinate an early offer of help to families who do not meet the criteria for social care services, to address problems before they escalate to child protection issues. There are also several recommendations on the professional development of social workers.
The Law Commission have published a report on adult social care. This proposes a rationalisation of previous law governing social care. Such streamlined guidance would place a duty on councils to investigate abuse and neglect of adults; allow direct payments to be used to fund residential care; and enable smoother transferral of entitlement to care and support services if people move between local authority areas. Many of the report’s proposals are expected to be incorporated in a government White Paper on care and support due for publication in December 2011.
Jobseekers may now be referred to four-week unpaid work placements by Jobcentre Plus following the introduction of the Mandatory Work Activity scheme. This intends to instil “the habits and routines of working life” into jobseekers and may involve up to 30 hours work per week. The scheme will be delivered by organisations from all sectors.
An evaluation of participants’ experience of the Future Jobs Fund has been published by DWP. This found a high quality of supervision, a significant increase in skills (especially transferable skills), an increase in self-confidence and perceived sense of employability, and a positive impact on long-term aspiration. The scheme was controversially abandoned in March 2011.
A “material deprivation” indicator has been introduced by Government to capture the quality of life of the nation’s elderly population. This is based on a set of goods, services and experiences intended to capture low standards of living and designed to complement existing income-based measures.
An additional £3m in funding is being made available by DWP for user-led disability organisations. Organisations will be invited to bid for the funding from July 2011 once a lead partner for the project has been announced.
A new £2.5bn fund has been launched by BIS to help businesses with an annual turnover of between £10m - £100m. The Business Growth Fund will be supported by five of the UK’s main banking groups - Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS, and Standard Chartered. It will seek to invest up to £10m per business in exchange for a 10% equity stake and a place on the board of directors.
A new £5m Start-up Fund has been announced to support the initial development of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP). This money will be distributed on a competitive basis and is expected to cover the costs of office rent and equipment, training, and engaging with the wider business community. This money is in addition to the £1m that each LEP will receive as part of the Capacity Fund.
The first eight authorities to develop joint business-led neighbourhood plans have been announced. This will give power to local businesses in shaping the future redevelopment of the area, controlling key parts of building use. It is hoped that such “Business Neighbourhood Frontrunners” will work to the benefit of the entire community.
A new single streamlined website for Government services and departments is currently being trialled. The website, alpha.gov.uk, was created following a recent review of Government’s online operations by Martha Lane Fox.
A new online map of local authority spending per resident has been launched by the Department for Communities and Local Government. The overall figures for revenue spending power per resident for the current year (2011-12) show that 19% of councils receive over £1,050 per resident, 62% receive between £830 and £1,050 and only 19% receive below £830.
The Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010 was renewed in the House of Commons. This legislation prevents creditors, including so-called “Vulture Funds”, from using the UK courts to extract harsh and inequitable payments from poor countries for unpaid debts. This is expected to save £145m for poor countries over six years.
The Voluntary Sector
The Big Society Bank’s proposals have received official approval from Francis Maude at the Cabinet Office. The bank will primarily be concerned with the provision of equity and loan finance to social enterprise funds and intermediaries as well as underwriting the development of new financial products. The proposals, which were drawn up by the venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen and investment banker Nick O’Donohoe, require further development work on organisational design, contributions from high-street banks. They also await approval from the Financial Services Authority and the European Commission.
The Government still needs to “fill in the blanks” on Big Society according to a report compiled by an influential selection of charity leaders. The Commission’s report, “Powerful People, Responsible Society”, found that 78% of adults thought the Government had failed to give a clear vision of what the concept was and only 8% of voluntary sector leaders felt that the Government understood the sector. It also calls for more robust measures of accountability for the Big Society agenda.
The Red Tape Taskforce’s report on voluntary sector regulation has now been published. “Unshackling Good Neighbours” was compiled by Lord Hodgson and makes several important recommendations, including an attitudinal shift towards “reasonableness” rather than risk aversion. The Taskforce also recommends grater legal clarity around the liability of trustees; less regulatory duplication between Companies House and the Charity Commission; and more clarity over the relationship between volunteering and out-of-work benefits.
The Charity Tribunal recently commenced a hearing on the application of the public benefit requirement among fee-charging independent schools. Debating the matter, the Independent Schools Council have argued that the current guidance is legally erroneous and does not clearly specify what needs to be done to meet the criteria. NCVO will also be intervening in the tribunal. The case is scheduled to end on 27 May 2011.
Former Conservative MP Peter Ainsworth has been appointed as the new Chair of the Big Lottery Fund. Peter Ainsworth was MP for East Surrey between 1992 and 2010 and is currently chairman of two national charities, Plantlife International, and the Elgar Foundation. He will take on the role for four years commencing 1 June 2011.
Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Tessa Jowell launched a stern rebuke of the Big Society agenda during a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society. Jowell told the audience that the idea represented an attempt to “try to steal Labour’s language of solidarity and community”. Labour are currently conducting their own review of voluntary sector policy, with proposals expected to be published in September.
Co-operatives UK have produced a report for Government on how the Post Office will be restructured as a mutual operating for public benefit. For this to happen, Government would need to ensure that there are clear safeguards in its constitution, protecting the interests of the Post Office and requiring further legislation for demutualisation. In addition, the Postal Services Bill has recently passed through the House of Lords and will go before the Commons.
Think Tanks & Research
Influential right-wing think tank, the Centre for Social Justice has published a report card on the Coalition Government’s progress so far. In particular, CSJ argue that the Government have failed to act on family breakdown due to a series of compromises with the Liberal Democrats. To tackle this they call for the reinstatement of marriage on government forms and the introduction of a transferrable tax allowance.
New research published by Carers UK estimates that the UK’s 6.4 million informal carers save the economy around £119bn per year. The figure, produced in collaboration with researchers at the University of Leeds, shows the growth in the population’s caring responsibilities. This is a rise of 40% from the last estimates in 2007 and has been aligned with calls for an increase in the Carer’s Allowance.
A research report published by DWP has unearthed some interesting findings on volunteering among the elderly. The report, “Aspirations for Later Life”, found that 53% of those aged 60 years or more were interested in formal volunteering, whilst a further 33% were interested in informal volunteering. This drops off dramatically post-65, however, with 61% of respondents declaring no interest in formal or informal volunteering activity.