Policy Briefing 24 October 2011
(11 October – 24 October 2011)
Events in the policy world certainly did their bit to sustain the busy cycle of news that we have recently witnessed. Mid-October brought a raft of significant figures, legislation, and consultations to mull over. Perhaps most importantly we saw the announcement that UK unemployment had officially reached a seventeen year high of 2.57 million and that the number of unemployed young people was again lurching perilously close to the 1 million mark. Meanwhile, the inflation rate also increased to the highest level for over two decades, rising to 5.2% due to upwards pressure from high energy costs.
Such a context means that the future success of the Government’s flagship welfare-to-work scheme the Work Programme has never seemed so significant. However, the past couple of weeks have also brought forth evidence of broad discontent in the voluntary sector over the capacity of the Work Programme to deliver the support necessary to reach the most vulnerable as well as an all-too-familiar litany of complaints about the nature of relationships between prime providers and sub-contractors.
Skills & Workforce
Total UK unemployment has reached 2.57 million according to the latest figures from ONS. This is equivalent to 8.1% of the population and represents a rise of 114,000 over the last 3 months. In addition to this, youth unemployment has risen to 991,000, equivalent to 21.3% of the 16 to 24 age group. There are currently 29.1 million adults in employment (a rate of 70.4%) following a quarterly fall of 178,000, nearly all of which was due to a loss in part-time employment. Around 150,000 people were made redundant in the 3 months to August 2011, with a corresponding increase in job vacancies of only 1,000. Meanwhile, regular pay (excluding bonuses) rose by 1.8% over the year to reach £435 per week, falling significantly short of rising inflation rates.
Sector-based work academies have been formally launched by Employment Minister Chris Grayling as a means to tackle high unemployment. These academies, which will be based on local labour market demand, will combine training, work experience, and ‘a guaranteed job interview’ to 50,000 individuals over two years. Employers are being invited to get in touch with their local Jobcentre Plus Employer Engagement Manager if they have vacancies to fill or if they wish to offer work experience placements.
The new all-ages National Careers Service will be underpinned by an ‘upgraded and improved quality standard. The Matrix Standard will promote effective delivery of information, advice and guidance from April 2012 when the new service is launched. Providers of the National Careers Service will be assessed against a range of criteria including service delivery, quality improvement, provision of resources, and leadership and management. All providers are expected to be accredited to the new standard by April 2013.
Preliminary figures from the UCAS admissions service suggest there has been a 12% fall in domestic university applicants for 2012 on last year’s level. The figures indicate that around 7,000 fewer students have applied at this point compared with last year, with the largest falls occurring among mature and female applicants. Universities Minister David Willetts has responded with the claim that it is “too early in the applications cycle for data to reveal underlying trends”.
The enrolment of 16–19 year olds in further education has fallen in almost half (49%) of the colleges recently surveyed by the Association of Colleges. In cases where colleges have reported a drop in numbers, this was believed to be the result of unaffordable transport, combined with the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance and increased competition for student numbers among school and college sixth forms. The survey was based on 185 respondents and full results may be viewed here. The Department for Education has issued a response, claiming that the survey is not “particularly robust”.
A Parliamentary Bill intended to strengthen social enterprise and make the concept of ‘social value’ more relevant and important in the placement and provision of public services is currently going through the House of Commons. The Public Services (Social Enterprise and Social Value) Bill was first proposed by Chris White MP. It places a duty on the Secretary of State to publish a ‘national social enterprise strategy’ and requires local authorities, when entering into public procurement contracts, to give greater consideration to economic, social or environmental wellbeing during the pre-procurement stage.
The much-debated Health & Social Care Bill has now passed a second reading in the House of Lords. Two suggested amendments, one which would have sent part of the Bill to be examined by a special select committee and one which would have stopped the Bill completely failed, were both defeated. The Bill will now go to committee stage on 25 October, followed by report stage and a third reading, before heading back to the Commons.
The Pensions Bill currently going through Parliament is to be amended so that women who would have seen a two year increase to their state pension age will now have their wait reduced to 18 months. The Pensions Bill intends to address the growing costs of pensions caused by increased life expectancy and demographic change.
A monitoring report has been published charting six months of progress in the Government’s objective of increasing the number of women on corporate boards. The report found that 61 of the FTSE 100 companies have acknowledged that gender diversity is an issue, with 33 setting themselves targets for the percentage of women they aim to have on their boards. The report also shows that over the period only 21 women have been appointed to board positions out of a possible 93, falling short of the 33% target set by Government.
Findings of a survey on the implementation of choice of care have been published by the Department of Health. This explores proposals which will enable patients to freely choose the consultant team best placed to meet their individual needs, irrespective of geographical boundaries (excluding services in A&E, cancer, maternity, or mental health). The survey showed that 85% of respondents want more choice in where they are treated in the NHS and 82% of respondents want more choice in how they are treated in the NHS.
Funding has been unveiled to support volunteering in health and social care by Care Minister Paul Burstow. Up to £2.6 million will be available over 2012 and will be distributed to projects that meet one of four key themes: improving health and social care; delivering better health outcomes; improving public health; and a patient-led NHS. Further details on applications are available here.
The Department for Work and Pensions has launched a consultation on plans to transfer the functions of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission into the department and back under direct Ministerial control. The current Child Support Agency schemes are set to close to new users from next year and Government reforms will be implemented to support parents to make their own, family-based child maintenance arrangements. The consultation will run until 3 January 2012.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has announced plans to reduce the £8 billion spent annually by local agencies on addressing the needs of 120,000 troubled families. Instead of the traditional approach (which costs local services up to £330,000 per family a year), ministers want to see more cost effective and integrated intervention. This will involve work undertaken by the newly-created ‘Trouble Families Team’ within the department (led by the former Victims’ Commissioner, Louise Casey).
A Community Budgets prospectus has been published, inviting local areas to apply to be a pilot case of how to better design local services. Two areas will be invited to design and run a public service budget programme controlled at ‘neighbourhood level’ and a further two areas will design and run a ‘whole place’ programme to test how services can be integrated and managed as a single budget. Each area will receive support for proposals to be up and running by April 2013. The deadline for expressions of interest is 5 November 2011.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps has announced that an extra £5m will be allocated to the Homelessness Change Programme. The programme has recently distributed £37.5m of funding to help 37 homelessness projects improve their facilities for rough sleepers and provide almost 1,200 extra bed spaces, as well as helping people find employment. The funding is available to councils, charities and housing associations and is to be administered by the Homes and Communities Agency. More details are available here.
Proposals to allow neighbourhoods the power to decide the types of development that can be granted automatic planning permission have been put out to consultation by the Department for Communities and Local Government. The regulations being consulted upon make clear how a neighbourhood area will be defined, how to set up the forums that will propose plans, and the requirements for establishing a Neighbourhood Development Order. The consultation is open until 5 January 2012. A guide to neighbourhood planning is also available for download from the department.
Figures released by the Department for Education indicate that GCSE results in academy schools have improved by more than twice the level found in maintained schools. Over 2011, the percentage of pupils achieving 5 or more GCSEs in Academies rose from 40.6% to 45.9%, an increase of 5.3%. Meanwhile, in all maintained schools the percentage of pupils achieving 5 or more GCSEs rose from 55.2% to 57.8%, an increase of 2.6%. Further provisional statistics on GCSE and A level results are available on the DfE website.
The Home Office has published an official analysis of the recorded crimes and arrests resulting from disorder events witnessed in August 2011. The analysis covers where and when the events took place; the types of crime recorded; and the characteristics of the offenders. It reports on 5,175 recorded crimes and 4,105 arrests across 19 police forces. It shows that the London Met recorded the highest proportion of crimes (68%), followed by Greater Manchester Police (11%). The most common crimes involved burglary, robbery, and theft (50%), or criminal damage (36%). The vast majority of arrestees were male (89%); almost half (46%) were aged 18-24; 64% lived in the most deprived areas of the country; and only 13% were affiliated to a gang.
The Government has published a Green Paper calling for views on Justice and Security reforms. The proposals seek to better equip courts to pass judgment in cases involving sensitive information; to protect UK national security by preventing damaging disclosure of genuinely national security sensitive material; and to modernise judicial, independent and parliamentary scrutiny of the security and intelligence agencies to improve public confidence that executive power is held fully to account. Consultation on the proposals will run until 6 January 2012.
Sir Gus O’ Donnell has announced that he will retire from his role as Cabinet Secretary (the PM’s most senior policy adviser) this December. Jeremy Heyward, the Downing Street Permanent Secretary will be his replacement, with the role of Head of the Civil Service to be separated out from the Cabinet Secretary role. O’Donnell, who has been recommended for a life peerage, has been in the position since 2005 and played a vital role in discussions to form a Coalition Government. He is also the author of a recent report into the conduct of the former Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox.
The Voluntary Sector
The Upper Tribunal has declared that parts of the Charity Commission’s guidance on public benefit need amending. This comes in response to the outcome of a judicial review brough by the Independent Schools Council which suggested that the Charity Commission should not seek to interfere in how individual charitable independent schools decide to meet the public benefit requirement. It ruled that trustees should have the ultimate responsibility in deciding how their charity provides for the poor in a way which is “more than minimal or tokenistic”. The Charity Commission welcomed the decision, saying that it “agrees with our interpretation of the law on the key issues” and has accepted that “some parts of our guidance do not explain the law clearly enough”.
The Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd has sent an open letter to the voluntary sector in which he sets out the strategic framework for the programmes and work of the Office of Civil Society. The letter, which runs to seven pages, also serves to reiterate the Government commitment to the Big Society vision, defined as the belief that ‘the country will be stronger if we as citizens have more power and responsibility to improve our own lives, the communities we share and the public services we use.’
A new consultation has been launched seeking the sector’s views on a general set of principles for impact reporting in charities and social enterprises. The principles were developed through a partnership of infrastructure organisations (including New Philanthropy Capital, CFDG and ACEVO). The consultation revolves around two questions – how should charities communicate their impact and what should charities communicate about impact?
Charity Chief Executives body ACEVO have recently published the results of a survey of members indicating the significant risks being faced by providers from the voluntary sector. It found that only 8% of subcontractors were confident that the Work Programme would meet its targets; only 9% felt the payment system was adequate to help those furthest from the labour market; only 38% had signed contracts for their provision; and 37% had not yet agreed pricing levels with prime contractors. Full results of the survey may be viewed here.
A special interest group of NCVO members involved in the Government’s new welfare-to-work initiative have published a paper outlining concerns over its implementation. Among the concerns reported are the size and complexity of contracts; overly bureaucratic procurement processes adopted by prime providers; insufficient upfront fees to support niche or specialist provision; and a lack of referrals or contracts from prime providers. Official performance data on the programme will not be released until March 2012.
An academic report commissioned by the Institute of Fundraising has set out a series of recommendations on how to grow philanthropy in the UK. This includes suggestions to take tougher sanctions against those found to be in breach of the Codes of Fundraising Practice; action to toughen the Code of Fundraising Practice for Accountability and Transparency; and to continue to develop an educational framework to support the fundraising profession.
Think Tanks & Research
The Royal Society of the Arts’ has published a progress report on the work of the Commission on Public Services. The commission, which operated between 2008 and 2010, sought to address a range of future challenges to public services such as spending cuts, future demand, and effective citizen engagement. It has found that the Coalition Government has proven to be capable of decisive action on the economy; it has put issues such as pensions, retirement, and social care on the political agenda; the emergent localism agenda leaves key questions unanswered; and the Big Society agenda has been limited by a consumerist model of public services.
Left-of-centre think tank Demos has published a new report setting out plans for the greater roll out of personalised services in social care. The report, entitledTailor Made, argues that debates over personalisation are too frequently based on those with personal budgets. Instead the report urges us to consider the importance of co-production and democratic structures which collectively empower residents of care homes and improve staff culture.
The UK research base is the most productive in the world according to a new report published by the Universities and Science Minister David Willetts. The International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base 2011 shows that UK research attracts more citations per pound spent than any other country. It also found the UK research base to be highly mobile and diverse (with particular strengths in health and medical sciences, social sciences, business and humanities).