Policy briefing 2 August 2010
(20 July - 2 August 2010)
It has been a noteworthy couple of weeks for both skills policy and the voluntary sector. Last week saw the Government enter consultation to produce a new Skills Strategy. The consultation is in two parts – policy and funding – and will run until 14 October 2010.
The policy priorities are for a credible vocational training offer; incentives to support the unemployed; quality information for learners and employers to see the benefits of co-investment; greater freedom for providers to respond to learner demand; joint-work with employers; the empowerment of communities through informal learning; and a reconsideration of prioritised funding for particular learners.
The funding priorities are for better information about availability, cost and quality of learning; greater flexibility in budgets and management structures; a greater focus on outcomes (i.e. delivering jobs for learners rather than teaching hours); creation of a low-cost and effective system with minimal government intervention; and the introduction of £1m minimum contract levels and greater use of sub-contracting in further education.
There has also been plenty of political action to further outline the “Big Society” agenda, however this has occurred alongside £11m of cuts to Office for Civil Society spending.
The Skills Funding Agency have launched a consultation on the Single Equality Scheme. They hope that this scheme will ensure that all adult learners have the opportunity to achieve their full potential and contribute to a more productive and skilled economy, promoting equality across the learning sector. The consultation runs till 6 September 2010.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has published an assessment on progress towards creating a highly-skilled UK workforce by 2020. The report suggests that the proportion of employers providing training continues to increase, despite the recession. It also states that 7% of adult skills development is currently funded by the voluntary sector, as opposed to the public sector (47%), private sector (30%) and individuals (17%).
The Learning and Skills Improvement Service recently held a seminar with BIS minister John Hayes to discuss a research project on young people and adults outside of employment, education and training. Key messages from the seminar included the need for the curriculum to be responsive to the personal interests of young people and for multi-agency responses to better engage people. It also highlighted the importance of informal learning opportunities as a means of engaging adults and supporting their progression to more formal opportunities.
The National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) has been commissioned to produce guidance to support a diverse range of organisations to open their spaces for informal adult learning. The guidance will aim to address the lack of access to convenient space for learning through underused sites such as corporate meeting rooms, empty retail space, and sports halls.
The Connexions guidance service for young people is facing unexpectedly severe cuts as a result of reductions to local authority Area-based Grants. The cuts are said to range between 11-45% and are likely to have a negative impact on the 18-24 year-old NEET population who rely upon the service.
The Institute for Public Policy Research and social enterprise, Internocracy, have published a joint-report which argues that many internships breach the Minimum Wage Act.. The report also argues that a standard definition of what constitutes and internship would allow for more robust data on current numbers of interns.
David Cameron further outlined the Big Society agenda during a speech in Liverpool. Big Society consists of three strands: Social Action (fostering a new culture of voluntarism and philanthropy); Public Service Reform (opening up public services to charities, social enterprises and private companies) and Community Empowerment (creating communities “in charge of their own destiny”). The three main methods for achieving this are to be decentralisation, greater transparency, and new means of providing finance (such as payment by results and the Big Society Bank).
The Office for Civil Society has been asked to deliver £11m in savings. This will come from unallocated budget (£2m); the “V” volunteering scheme (£7m); Capacitybuilders, especially the “ChangeUp” programme (£1.3m); the Commission for the Compact (£0.4m); and other a range of programmes to support social enterprise.
Cabinet Office ministers Francis Maude and Nick Hurd have written an open letter to charities and social enterprises asking them for ideas on how to reduce the deficit. The intention is for organisations to share their frontline experience of what works as well as innovative ideas for reform.
The first meeting of the Ministerial Group on Big Society was held to look at each department’s contribution as well as how the Compact could be made more effective. The group is co-chaired by Francis Maude and CLG secretary Eric Pickles in order to reflect the importance of localism to the agenda.
Plans have been announced for pilots of the National Citizenship Service in Summer 2011. The pilots will involve 10,000 people and last for seven to eight weeks. Activities are expected to include an outdoor challenge, a set of structured tasks involving visiting and helping the local community and developing skills and designing a social action task. The Government is inviting potential providers to submit bids.
BIS have launched a new strategy for sustainable economic growth. The strategy outlines three key priorities - promoting free and open markets; promoting business and innovation through entrepreneurialism; and smarter public and private investment, including the creation of a highly-skilled workforce. A cross-government White Paper will follow later this year to clarify overall economic priorities.
HM Treasury and BIS have launched a joint consultation on how to encourage a private sector-led recovery through new ways for businesses access to finance. The consultation paper sets out the range of finance options, focusing especially on how SMEs might access bonds or equity finance rather than loans.
A consultation has been launched on how the proposed £1bn Regional Growth Fund should be spent. The fund has been set up to provide support for projects offering potential economic growth and new private sector employment to areas currently reliant on public sector employment. It is expected that the majority of bids will be around £1m and will be proposed by Local Enterprise Partnerships.
BIS Minister Mark Prisk and CLG Minister Greg Clark met with business groups, local authorities and think tanks to discuss the forthcoming creation of local enterprise partnerships. Representatives discussed issues in relation to potential size, scope and geography. The meeting was organised to give attendees a further chance to help shape future policy ahead of the 6 September deadline for proposals.
John Hayes, Minister for Further Education and Skills has announced a wide-ranging review of learning for offenders in prisons and in the community. The review will involve all those within government who are involved in offender learning, as well as charity and voluntary organisations.
The eight remaining Government Offices for the Regions across England are to be cut. In a written statement, Eric Pickles denounced the Government Offices as an “arbritrary” tier of administration without democratic legitimacy.
The latest quarterly results of the
Survey 2009-10, a face to face household survey of over 16,000 people, have
been published. The results found that 40% of people had volunteered over the
previous year; 76% of people felt that they “belonged strongly” to their
neighbourhood, and that 855 of people thought that their community was
BIS Skills minister, John Hayes has been given additional responsibility as Minister of State at the Department for Education with responsibility for 16-18 apprenticeships and careers advice.
The Department for Education has launched a consultation on school funding in 2011/12. The school funding consultation is seeking views on ending the policy of funding a minimum of 90% of a local authority’s three-year-old population; a proposal to allow local authorities to apply for additional funding where they have schools serving service children; and an intention to have a Minimum Funding Guarantee. It will also consult on how best to operate the Pupil Premium for disadvantaged children.
The Department of Health has just launched three consultations – Commissioning for Patients; Local Democratic Legitimacy in Health; and Liberating the NHS. The first consultation will cover how to put GP consortia in charge of commissioning services as supported by an independent NHS Commissioning Board. The second consultation will explore proposals on how patients, locally elected councilors, local authorities, public health experts and others will work with GP consortia to make health services meet the needs of local areas and improve health outcomes. The third consultation will seek to reform the regulation surrounding healthcare providers.
Fifteen additional projects have been announced as part of the “Right to Request” scheme. The scheme gives all Primary Care Trust staff the ability to run their services on a social enterprise model. The new projects span two thirds of Strategic Health Authorities and include cities like London, Bristol, Leeds and Birmingham. Projects include a wide range of services like increasing access to psychological therapies, improving end of life care and a wider range of children services. Other interested PCTs are asked to contact the NHS’ Social Enterprise Unit.
A review of arms-length bodies has outlined changes that will reduce the number of health bodies from 18 down to around 8 and deliver savings of over £180m by 2014/15. The review looks at whether their work could be carried out by a different body. Bodies affected include the General Social Care Council, which will be transferred into the Health Professions Council; the Health Protection Agency, which will be abolished and its functions transferred to a newly-created Public Health Service; and the Care Quality Commission, which will lose its function in assessing NHS commissioning. Health sector leaders are shocked by the lack of consultation over such cuts, especially the abolition of the GSCC.
Iain Duncan Smith has proposed measures to combine housing benefit and income support with the tax credit system to form a single benefits sytem in order to reduce costs. They will also be exploring proposals to supplement monthly household earnings through credit payments reflecting current circumstances, including children, housing and disability. The savings could be used to increase work incentives by reducing punitive tax and benefit withdrawal rates.
The Department for International Development has launched a consultation on a £40m fund for third sector organisations that work with the world’s poorest people. The fund will offer ‘innovation grants’ of up to £250,000 to organisations with annual turnovers of less than £500,000 that want to develop new ideas and grants of up to £2m will be available for larger programmes.
A collection of Labour MPs met to discuss policy on the voluntary sector. The meeting included shadow minister for the cabinet Paul Goggins, and Alun Michael, the first minister to be given responsibility for the voluntary sector under New Labour. They discussed the need for a coherent definition of “Big society” and the possible effect of spending cuts on the sector.
The Voluntary Sector
A report published by Capacitybuilders shows that the majority of public service commissioners would like to see greater collaboration and mergers between the infrastructure organisations that provide support and advice to voluntary organisations. The benefits of such efforts would be simpler funding arrangements and easier means of engagement.
Voluntary sector infrastructure bodies, NCVO and NAVCA have expressed disappointment over the exclusion of the sector from the new Local Enterprise Partnerships due to replace the RDAs. A letter sent to council chiefs from the business secretary Vince Cable and the communities secretary Eric Pickles said the government was keen to encourage local businesses and councils to work together to develop proposals for LEPs but did not extend the invitation to voluntary sector organisations.
A report jointly-published by ACEVO and the Social investment Business recommends that funds from Futurebuilders, Communitybuilders and the Social Enterprise Investment Fund be transferred to a new, independent retail bank.
The Big Lottery Fund has announced the 50 areas where community groups will be able to apply for a new £200m funding scheme – Big Local. The areas will be given at least £1m each from an independent charitable trust set up to distribute the money. The BLF are currently seeking a partner to distribute the fund.
The London Development Agency has slashed a £4m fund, the Incubator Fund, which had the purpose of helping voluntary and community organisations collaborate on developing and winning bids for public service delivery contracts and manage cash flow.
Third sector providers of unemployment services are developing plans for large consortia to become prime contractors for the Government’s Single Work Programme. The rrogramme, which will replace welfare-to-work schemes such as Pathways to Work and the Flexible New Deal, will be run through large regional contracts worth up to £50m a year. Intereste4d organisations include 3SC, Groundwork and the national Housing Federation.
A new research report by New Philanthropy Capital suggests that two things stand in the way of the voluntary sector building a Big Society: (i) an inability to provide evidence of their impact (ii) and the challenge of identifying proven, cost-effective approaches and organisations that can be scaled up to meet the challenge. The paper features examples of charities that have direct evidence of effectiveness and could be scaled up successfully.
Trusteeship 2010, a report by New Philanthropy Capital presents the views on what has changed for charity trustees in the UK over the last year. The report points to the launch of new recruitment services and resources for trustees, and greater collaboration between charities and professional associations as positive developments but argues that huge challenges lie ahead in the wake of public spending cuts.
The Third Sector Research Centre has claimed that there is little independent evidence to suggest that public services commissioned from voluntary sector organisations are better for users. The review, which examined 48 pieces of research published between 2004 and 2010, says that evidence on the impact of third sector service delivery is scarce and commissioners continue to have doubts about the capacity of third sector organisations to take on contracts.