Policy Briefing 26 September 2011
(13 September 2011 - 26 September 2011)
Conference season is finally upon us, with the Liberal Democrats being the first of the three main parties to assemble. The Lib Dem conference began in Birmingham against the backdrop of some gloomy opinion polls - support for the party has fallen to just 9% (compared to the 24% achieved in last year’s general election), 57% of the population say that the coalition partners are not working together well, and 66% think that Nick Clegg has performed badly as the party’s leader.
During his conference speech, the Deputy PM addressed the party’s loss of support and of being “vilified” in Westminster. On the policy reversal over higher education, Clegg put this down to the transition from “the easy promises of opposition to the invidious choices of Government“. He claimed victory, however, in policies relating to the NHS and human rights. Clegg described the recent riots as “outbursts of nihilism and greed”, announcing plans for a two-week summer school backed by £50m in funding to help disadvantaged children to improve their Maths and English in the transition to Secondary School. Other points of interest arising from the conference included Business Secretary, Vince Cable’s speech on “responsible capitalism” and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander’s announcement of an additional £500m in unallocated funds from Whitehall to be used to encourage economic growth via the “Growing Places Fund”
Outside of the world of conference centres, the British economy took three sizable hits in the form of growing unemployment, record public spending, and revised growth estimates. In its bi-annual World Economic Outlook report, the IMF estimated that the UK economy would grow by just 1.1% over 2011 rather than the 1.5% previously predicted. Public sector spending hit a record £15.9bn for the month of August (up from £14bn last year and far short of the average £1.7bn per month cut needed to reduce the deficit). Finally, the latest employment data announced an 80,000 increase in unemployment, with a significant rise among those aged 18-24.
Skills & Workforce
The latest labour market statistics released by ONS have shown an 80,000 increase in the number of unemployed people over the past 3 months, taking unemployment up to 2.51m (7.9% of the population). The figures also show a significant rise in youth unemployment (up to 793,000) and female unemployment (up to 1.06 million - the highest level in over two decades). Public sector employment decreased by 111,000, whilst private sector employment increased by just 41,000 over the period. Meanwhile, regular pay rose by 2.1% over the last 12 months, significantly below the current rate of inflation.
New National Minimum Wage (NMW) guidance has been published by Business Link and DirectGov. New hourly NMW rates will come into force from 1 October 2011, increasing the adult rate to £6.08, the rate for 18-20 year olds to £4.98, the rate for 16-17 year olds to £3.68, and the rate for apprentices to £2.60. The guidance also covers work experience staff and interns - clarifying under what conditions a person is entitled to payment. BIS have also published detailed evidence on NMW for consideration by the Low Pay Commission which is due to report in early 2012.
Business Minister Vince Cable has announced a series of policy proposals to create greater transparency in executive pay and company reporting. The proposals, which are covered in two discussion papers, will seek to simplify the reporting requirements for companies and provide clearer information to investors on the relationship between performance and pay. The two discussion papers are seeking all views to be submitted by 25 November 2011.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has published a series of briefing papers which explore skills related challenges, needs and opportunities for individuals who are disadvantaged in the labour market. The papers cover five themes – older people; low skills and social disadvantage; gender; disability; and spatial inequality. The papers take stock of the impact of the recession, economic development and foresight, and current and emerging implications for skills needs and development for each area.
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) has produced three new papers which apply the principles of social return on investment (SROI) to adult learning. The papers cover adult learning for community empowerment, adult social care, and children and young people’s services. NIACE is also using the model with Adult and Community Learning Fund projects in order to draw together a common set of outcomes to feed into the Government’s current review of Informal Adult and Community Learning.
Members of the Trades Union Congress have voted for a national day of action to take place on 30 November in protest against proposed pension reforms for public sector workers. Expressing his disappointment at the announcement, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude declared that “unions need to commit to genuine engagement and make constructive proposals.” Meanwhile, Labour Leader Ed Miliband called for “meaningful negotiation” in his speech at the TUC conference.
General Elections will now take place every five years following the passing of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. The Bill makes provisions for elections to be called early under only two exceptional circumstances - if at least two thirds of MPs vote for dissolution and if a Government is unable to secure the confidence of the House of Commons within 14 days of a no-confidence vote. The next General Election is scheduled to take place on 7 May, 2015.
A review is underway which intends to rebalance MPs constituencies in order to create a more equal balance of political representation according to population distribution. The proposals being considered by the Boundary Commission for England will bring the total number of MPs down by 50 and according to YouGov will be of most electoral benefit to the Conservative Party. Public views are being sought on the matter by 5 December 2011.
The Department of Health has asked key figures from the care and support community to help it to lead discussions on the future of social care. Six broad themes are up for discussion – quality, personalisation, shaping local services, prevention, integration, and the role of financial services. The discussions are also hoping to draw upon the views of the public and will bring forward a series of next steps this autumn in preparation for the Government’s White Paper on social care in spring 2012.
David Cameron used a meeting at A4E’s offices in Brixton to promote the idea of Skills Conditionality in the new Work Programme. Under the new welfare-to-work programme, jobseekers will be required to attend training courses or face withdrawal of benefits. Targeting English skills in particular, the PM said: “We’re saying that if there’s something you need to help you get a job, for instance being able to speak English and learn English properly, it should be a requirement that you take that course, do that study in order for you to receive your benefits.” Accompanying the PM, the Work and Pensions Minister, Iain Duncan Smith also announced that benefit claimants will receive their money in monthly payments under Universal Credit, to help prepare them for the working environment.
The DWP has published a new report charting claimants’ routes into the Employment and Support Allowance. Key findings include the following – half of the people claiming ESA were in paid work immediately before their claim; the majority of claimants had multiple health conditions (66%) or fluctuating conditions (53%); and relatively few claimants had entered work a year to 18 months after their initial claim, regardless of their employment origins.
The Cabinet Office has called for public service mutuals to be exempt from normal procurement rules in order to enable them the development time necessary to compete for services. This is according to the Cabinet Office’s response to a European Commission consultation launched in early 2011. The consultation covered issues such as how the business environment could be improved for SMEs, how to enshrine greener public procurement practices, and how to better enable businesses to innovate.
Central Surrey Health, the social enterprise described by Cabinet Office Secretary Francis Maude as “his poster people” in the drive to create public sector mutuals, recently lost a bid to run health services. Assura Medical (75% owned by Virgin) was named as the preferred bidder for a five- year contract worth about £90m a year for community health services in north and west Surrey. Central Surrey Health’s own contract is due for renewal next year.
A consultation has been launched on proposals to transform the Post Office from public ownership into a mutual business model (consisting of membership, a representative body, and a board of directors). The proposals, covered in “Building a Mutual Post Office”, set out a range of different options for allowing the service to effectively balance a commercial focus with community purpose. This would only affect Post Office Ltd, the national company and is likely to impact upon around 370 Post Office branches which are not managed privately. The consultation is open until 12 December 2011.
Payments by results will be trialled at children’s centres in an additional 18 local authorities. Following the first wave of trials announced this summer, 27 local authorities will now be exploring how to reward those who successfully reach the most vulnerable families, improve family health and wellbeing, and raise the attainment of children at age five. The Government also intends to consult on planned reforms to Sure Start statutory guidance and possible new governance arrangements for children’s centres later in the year.
Proposed reforms to special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities will be tested out in 20 pathfinders, covering 31 local authorities and their Primary Care Trust partners. Among other measures, the pathfinders will test the viability of a single education, health and care plan from birth to 25 years old; personal budgets for parents of disabled children and those with SEN; stronger partnership arrangements between all local services and agencies; improved commissioning practices; and the role of voluntary and community sector organisations and parents in a new system.
The first-ever centrally-published register of qualified restorative justice practitioners has been released by the Ministry of Justice. The practice of restorative justice enables willing victims to meet offenders to discuss the impact of their crime. The register intends to provide professional recognition for practitioners using these skills; give employers confidence that their staff are working to national standards, delivering a safe and effective process; and provide quality assurance for the public.
The Ministry of Justice has launched a new consultation on how complaints against Police and Crime Commissioner’s are handled. Directly-elected commissioners are central to the Coalition Government’s plans for policing, intending to increase its democratic accountability. The consultation will run until 21 October 2011.
The Government’s ‘Behavioural Insights Team’ has published its annual report, detailing the ways in which behaviour may be changed without the need for additional law and regulation. The team work’s across government departments and has devised a range of recommendations that cover organ donation, healthier food, consumer empowerment, tax, and the environment. This was published alongside a response to the recent scathing report by the Government’s own Science and Technology Select Committee on the use of behavioural science in public policy.
The Voluntary Sector
The Charity Commission’s latest compliance report has shown a near doubling in the numbers of serious incidents being reported to the regulator by charities. ‘Charities Back on Track 2010-11’, shows an increase in the number of reported serious incidents from 451 in 2009/10 to 849 in 2010/11. Out of these incidents, the largest proportion concerned fraud and theft, followed by issues relating to vulnerable beneficiaries. The Commission also held its annual public meeting recently, during which it announced 4 priorities for the future –sector deregulation; accountability and compliance; use of technology; and improved efficiency. The Commission’s budget is due to reduce by £8m over 2011-2015.
The providers selected to run the National Citizen Service (NCS) pilots have been announced. A total of 19 providers will deliver the pilots over the summer of 2012 and have been selected to cover a range of regions. The NCS, which ran for the first time this summer, is a voluntary programme for 16-year-olds and will be delivered to around 30,000 young people in 2012. A total of £37m has been allocated to the scheme for next year.
Third Sector magazine has reported that the Scottish government will reduce its budget for the sector down from £27m in 2011 to £24.5m in each of the next three financial years. The Scottish Government recently published its spending review, detailing how it will adjust to a 12.3% reduction in its grant from Parliament. The spending review does, however, announce £500m of funding available for preventative services in the areas of early years, older people’s services, and reduced reoffending.
“Team V” is looking to recruit young leaders to run three flagship volunteering projects across England. The programme - which is being jointly co-ordinated by V, NIACE, the Charities Aid Foundation and the Rank Foundation - will offer training to equip young leaders with the skills to coordinate local projects and manage volunteers (including a potential £1,000 development bursary upon completion). Team V leaders will manage a small budget, alongside a range of toolkits and resources to help them turn nationally coordinated projects into positive action. The deadline for applications is 13 October 2011.
The next 11 areas have been chosen to host Community Organisers by Locality. Each Community Organiser will be recruited and hosted by a local organization, undergoing a 12-month training programme prior to becoming self-financing. New local host organisations will be recruited in groups of 10-15 for every three months leading up to 2015.
Chief Executives’ body ACEVO has produced a new series of reports, guides and toolkits to help third sector leaders to develop learning organisations (i.e. those that learn from their practice in order to improve their work and influence policy-makers). The main publication, entitled “Learning to Succeed” covers key techniques and approaches to organisational learning, return on investment in learning, how to negotiate potential difficulties, plus a range of organisational case studies.
Think Tanks & Research
The results of the final Citizenship Survey have been released by the Department for Communities and Local Government. The survey, which covers April 2010 – March 2011, gathers data on four areas - community action; community spirit; harassment and discrimination; and attitudes to violent extremism. It shows that in 2010-11, 39% of adults volunteered formally at least once in the past 12 months (a smaller proportion than in all years between 2003 and 2008) and that 25% of adults volunteered formally at least once a month (a lower level than all years between 2001 and 2008). This is the last edition of the survey, which has been running since 2001, and will be discontinued ‘in order to make substantial cost savings’.
New Philanthropy Capital have published a new report which considers whether taking an economic approach to charitable giving could help to maximise its impact. It analyses interventions according to their potential to prevent problems that are costly to society, focusing on three particular issues - chaotic families; children with conduct problems; and adults out of work due to mental health problems.
A new report has been published which explores the various ways in which people are involved in active citizenship. The “Pathways through Participation” project lasted three years and was jointly-produced by NCVO, IVR, and Involve. The Pathways report makes a number of recommendations on how to improve and develop participation. These include targeting those who may be excluded because of their circumstances or lack of resources and providing more flexible opportunities that align with people’s motivations and needs.