Policy briefing 24 May 2010
(8 May - 24 May 2010)
It has been an eventful couple of weeks in politics generally and for the third sector especially. For starters, the new Government has replaced all references to the “third sector” with “civil society” and has made the creation of Big Society a central early policy initiative.
The coalition agreement, meanwhile, has seen the Liberal Democrats compromise on plans to delay cuts, with £6.2billion of cuts set to fall on consultancy, travel costs, IT, procurement contracts and a reduction in the number of quangos. The topic of quangos will be of great importance over the coming weeks, with a number of learning and skills bodies unsure of their future existence.
The full coalition agreement outlining the joint programme for government between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems has now been published. The agreement promises to hasten the reduction of the deficit through cuts to public spending; increase the involvement of the voluntary sector in public service delivery; offer 25% of Government contracts to small and medium-sized organisations; create a statutory register of lobbyists to regulate lobbying; and offer a “radical devolution of power” to local government and community groups.
The new Cabinet has been unveiled, giving a clear indication of who will be the most important Ministers over the forthcoming Parliament. Francis Maude is to take control of the Cabinet Office, with Nick Hurd serving as Minister for Civil Society and Oliver Letwin providing policy advice to the PM. Meanwhile, at Business Innovation and Skills, David Willetts has been named Minister for Higher Education and John Hayes will serve as Minister for Further Education.
The new Government has removed all reference to the “third sector” from the Cabinet Office. The relevant Government Minister, Nick Hurd, has been named Minister for Civil Society and Nat Wei of Teach First has also been appointed as Government Adviser on Civil Society. Nick Hurd has already declared his key priorities to be making it easier to run a voluntary organisation, getting more resources into the sector, and making it easier to work with the state. The formal creation of the Office for Civil Society within the Cabinet Office is expected shortly.
Following a high-profile event at Whitehall with voluntary sector representatives, the new Government has launched a full policy programme on “building the big society”. The document covers key areas of agreement such as the creation of a new generation of community organisers; the launch of Big Society Day and a National Citizenship Service; the creation of a Big Society Bank; a restoration of power to local councils; and support for charities, co-operatives and social enterprises to run public services.
The Chancellor, George Osborne and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws have set out details of how the Government will make £6.2billion savings during this financial year through cutting waste and low value Government programmes. The majority of the savings made will be used to reduce the deficit except £500million which will be reinvested in targeted support for further education, apprenticeships and social housing. Around £1billion is to be saved through reduced grants to Local Authorities and an estimated £600million is to be saved from cutting the cost of quangos.
The emergency budget of the coalition Government is to be delivered on 22 June 2010. The Chancellor, George Osborne has promised that 80% of cuts are to be delivered through public spending restraint and the remaining 20% from new tax measures. The Government is seeking to cut £6billion from a public budget deficit of £153billion. An Office for Budget Responsibility is also to be created to oversee public spending.
DCSF has been rebranded as the “Department for Education” under the new Conservative education secretary, Michael Gove. Whilst the Department maintains the same remit for state schools, education up to the age of 19 and children’s services, there is some concern that it could lead to the decline of multi-agency working and children’s services. The new Department for Education has also called for a halt on the work of all government quangos in the children and young people’s sector - including the Children’s Workforce Development Council, Ofsted, and the Young People’s Learning Agency – until they have decided on their key priorities.
The new ministerial roles within the Department of Health have been announced. Andrew Lansley is to serve as Secretary for Health, Simon Burns is to serve as Minister for Health, and Paul Burstow is to be Minister for Care Services. Announcing the changes, Andrew Lansley spoke of the need for a more integrated public health service at the heart of healthcare policy.
IDeA has published a guide to help people in the culture and sport sector to better understand and engage with the process of strategic commissioning in public services. The guide aims to provide culture and sport organisations with greater understanding of strategic commissioning, the opportunities and challenges, and some tools to operate more effectively in the context of modern public service delivery.
Six candidates have so far put their name forward for the Labour leadership race, including David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, John McDonnell, Andy Burnham, and Dianne Abbott. The Shadow Cabinet line-up has also been announced. Interestingly, Lord Mandelson has been left out of the Shadow Cabinet in favour of Pat McFadden (former Minister of State at BIS) and Harriet Harman is to serve as Acting Leader of the Opposition.
Former Olympics Minister, Tessa Jowell has been appointed as Labour spokesperson for the voluntary sector after the previous incumbent, Angela Smith, lost her seat. The Labour Party look set to retain the same cabinet members until a new leader is announced next month.
A total of £80 million in savings are expected to be made by the Government from cuts to education quangos. The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) has already been deemed non-essential and it is understood that the Qualifications and Curriculum Develpment Agency will be expected to provide £8 million in savings; the Children’s Workforce Development Council £15 million; the National College for Leadership of Schools and Colleges £16 million; and £30 million from the Training and Development Agency for Schools. The future of the Young People’s Learning Agency remains uncertain.
The Council for Administration has been announced as the UK’s leading authority for six key pan sector areas, covering Business, Administration and Governance, Management, Leadership and Enterprise (including HR), Marketing and Sales, Customer Service, Languages, and Industrial Relations. CfA will work with various partners, including the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development; the Institute of Leadership & Management, the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative; and the Trades Union Congress.
UKCES has announced the organisations which have successfully bid to help take forward their work to reform standards, qualifications and apprenticeship work. The successful organisations are the newly-formed Council for Administration, Skills for Security, and Skills for Justice.
The social entrepreneur Sharon Allen has been appointed as the new Chief Executive Officer of Skills For Care. Sharon Allen is currently Chief Executive of St Anne’s Community Services that offers not-for-profit social care and supported housing across Yorkshire and the North East.
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education’s (NIACE) annual survey, “A Change for the Better”, has discovered that there has been a large increase in the number of adults who are in learning or thinking about learning in the future. The proportion of adults actively learning over the last three years has risen by from 39% in 2009 to 43% in 2010, its highest level for 10 years. Furthermore, 60% of full-time workers also plan to take up learning - a rise of 13% since 2009.
John Hayes, the new Minister for Further Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills delivered his first speech to the NIACE conference. Hayes assured members that the absence of adult learning from the coalition agreement was due to the fact that both parties agreed upon it. Hayes also described Vince Cable as a “kindred spirit” and outlined the importance of community learning to both Civil Society and employment.
Think Tank & Research Activities
Lifelong learning brings significant benefits for men and women in terms of earnings and socio-economic advantage according to a study by the London School of Economics. The evidence, taken from the British Household Panel Survey, suggests that women experience positive returns to lifelong learning sooner after attaining a qualification than men. The study also suggests that returns to earnings differ depending on the level of NVQ-equivalent qualification acquired.
The vogue Conservative think tank, Respublica has produced a blueprint for Civil Society in their paper, The Venture Society. The paper mainly focuses on social enterprises, calling for a new structure to support social entrepreneurs by developing a network of “community lablets” to act as an incubator for new social enterprises by providing the basic infrastructure, advice and funding to boost the number of start-up enterprises. These “lablets” would be supported by established social enterprises and organisations who would develop a set of “specialised hubs” to drive and support innovation.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers have published a report which compares various approaches to designing educational systems throughout the world. In “Testing Times,” PWC argue that designing a successful education system depends upon finding the right balance between central oversight and local freedom; that programmes are tailored to cultural context; that frontline staff clearly see the benefit of any changes; that the general public are aware of the impact; and that all interested parties are involved throughout the design process.
Interviews conducted by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the Royal Society of Art’s “Public Services Trust” have uncovered scepticism surrounding proposed public service reforms. The Trust’s initial findings have uncovered a reality gap between political rhetoric and public expectations. Above all, people were seen to value the security of service provision and felt that new forms of delivery would work best if initially applied to non-core services (such as leisure services rather than healthcare).
The Voluntary Sector
NAVCA have opened talks with NCVO, Action with Communities in Rural England, the Urban Forum and Volunteering England regarding potential collaborations in the face of impending cuts to public spending. The inevitable pressures on funding and the divisive impact of competitive tendering, NAVCA argue, should prompt more organisations to examine the benefits of collaborations and mergers. Any collaboration would occur in the 2010/11 financial year and would mainly involve sharing back-office functions.
NCVO has produced two useful briefings on the implications of a hung parliament for the voluntary sector. In their post-election briefing, NCVO argue that the key priorities for the new government in relation to the sector are to properly refine the vision of a “Big Society”; to ensure appropriate funding through both grants and contracts; ensure that any devolution to local government is matched by support for the local voluntary sector; and ensure that the sector is able to achieve a lasting transformation in public services. NCVO have also produced a briefing which describes the practicalities of a hung parliament for the voluntary sector.
Over 250 members of the membership body ACEVO have signed a letter to the new Prime minister outlining their “Big Offer”. The letter calls for collaboration between the new Government and the third sector, helping to transform public services, achieve better outcomes and save public money. Practical suggestions offered in the letter include a third sector leader on every departmental board; an Advisory Council of Third Sector Leaders; a Commission on the future of Government-Third Sector relationships; and a Taskforce with the Treasury on transforming public services.
NAVCA has published the third in its “Strong Independent Roots” series outlining the organisation’s outlook on key policy areas. This latest edition is focused on supporting local voluntary action, calling for social objectives to be integrated into public sector commissioning processes to help enable greater involvement of the local voluntary sector. NAVCA warn against competitive tendering processes crowding out the local voluntary sector and argue that reporting arrangements should be proportionate to funding. It also warns that, if badly managed, the shift towards personalisation could only result in benefits for the most empowered consumers.
New Philanthropy Capital have expressed a pessimistic stance on the prospects for the voluntary sector under a Liberal-Conservative government. NPC’s Head of Strategy, Tris Lumley, warned of the “grim reality” that the needs that the work that charities address is going to be magnified, the people they’re there to help are going to be worse off, and a lot of the progress on injustice and inequality is likely to be undone. All this will occur, NPC argue, in addition to huge forthcoming cuts to public services and welfare spending.
New Philanthropy Capital have published the results of a survey of charities and local authority commissioners that investigated how charities communicate key information and how it is used by commissioners. Around half the charities that responded said that the effort required to meet commissioners’ reporting requirements is typically disproportionate to the funding available. More than half of the charities also said that they never receive funding specifically for their monitoring and evaluation work
Trade union Unite has asked Will Hutton, head of the new public sector pay inquiry, to investigate pay differentials in the voluntary sector. Unite, which has 60,000 voluntary sector members, wants state-funded charities to be included in the review so that they cannot pay their highest-paid members twenty times that of their lowest.
A recent study by the Third Sector Research Centre has suggested that despite promotion of the third sector’s involvement in the criminal justice system in national policy, there are considerable gaps in reality. These include the quality and availability of regional commissioning, and the long-term plans for criminal justice system reform. Respondents also suggested that partnerships tend to be seen in competitive rather than collaborative terms.