Policy Briefing: 31 January 2011
(18 January – 31 January 2011)
Various matters of importance arose over the previous two weeks, including the publication of the greatly anticipated Health and Social Care Bill. The Bill lays out the details of proposed NHS reforms along the lines of greater choice, competition and diversity. The planned move towards a regulated market of healthcare has already raised concerns in various corners - the Royal College of Nurses have expressed concern that the planned reforms are “too much too soon” and the Financial Times described it as no less than “the wholesale gutting and reconstruction of a national institution”.
Economic growth also rose to the top of the agenda as official figures showed that GDP shrank by 0.5% in the last quarter. Responding to criticism from Sir Richard Lambert (outgoing director of the CBI), the Chancellor was forced to reiterate the Government’s proposals for economic growth. Osborne spoke of the previous regime’s “illusion of growth” and his vision of an “enterprising Britain” based on competitive business taxes. Meanwhile, the Labour Party appointed Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor following the resignation of Alan Johnson.
The debate over banking still refused to subside as Nick Clegg called for the financial service industry to support social investment projects as a way to prove their contribution to society. NCVO Chief Executive Sir Stuart Etherington also pledged his support to the bankers’ bonuses campaign, calling on bankers to “set an example by donating money to help the people and the communities who have been hit hardest by the recession.”
Skills and workforce
UKCES has released the results of a survey on employer engagement and satisfaction with Government support for workforce development. The majority of employers (56%) were found to have used some form of government support in the areas of general business support, employment and skills over the last 12 months. Meanwhile, a third of establishments (34%) covered by a Sector Skills Council have heard of their particular SSC.
The Government are consulting on how workplace disputes are resolved. The planned reforms aim to ensure that employment legislation doesn’t act as a barrier to growth, in particular through the high costs of employment tribunals. The consultation closes on 20 April 2011.
The British Association of Social Work (BASW) and the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) are engaged in a dispute over how to support the social work profession. SCIE is due to launch a college in 2012 with £5m public funding following an official inquiry into the profession whilst BASW also has plans to open its own college.
The Specification of Apprenticeships Standards for England (SASE) have now been published. These ensure that all apprenticeships deliver qualifications relevant to employers, achieve a good standard of literacy and numeracy, and provide at least 280 hours of guided learning per year. Apprenticeship programmes must comply with SASE requirements by law from April 2011.
The Learning and Skills Improvement Service has published a research report on citizen engagement policy from 1997 onwards. The report found that whilst the learning and skills sector was well-placed to play an active part, the term “citizen engagement” requires clarification and there is a need for more evidence-based policy.
The Skills Funding Agency has published a list of qualifications on the Qualifications Credit Framework which have been confirmed for public funding. The list contains both qualifications delivered within the workplace as well as broader vocational qualifications. The QCF allows learners to build up their learning bit-by-bit whilst fulfilling employer needs.
Unemployed people aged 18-21 will now be allowed to undertake unpaid work experience for up to 8 weeks without losing benefits under a scheme recently announced. Under the new initiative young people will be matched by Jobcentre Plus with employers looking for people to do work experience.
A new non-profit skills exchange scheme will second council staff threatened with redundancy to the private sector. The scheme, StaffShare, aims to pick up on public sector workers with specific skills such as project management of logistics and deploy them to firms with skills gaps. Participating employers will also be charged a small membership fee to be reinvested in Apprenticeships.
The John Lewis Partnership and Waitrose are offering charities the chance to take on their staff for secondments. The scheme, funded by the employer, allows staff the chance of working at a charity of their choice for up to six months. Since it began ten years ago, the scheme has contributed over 200,000 hours of work to charities.
The Children’s Workforce Development Council is delivering a new project to build the capacity of the children’s workforce. The project, named “Progress”, will offer 25,000 accredited training opportunities for volunteers and paid staff working with children and young people in sports and recreation.
The Health and Social Care bill has now been published, outlining the proposed reforms of the NHS and healthcare commissioning. The Bill includes provisions to abolish 152 Primary Care Trusts and 10 Strategic Health Authorities. These will be replaced by a new NHS Commissioning Board to oversee the running of the NHS and GP consortia to purchase patient care. Responsibility for public health will be given to local authorities and the new Public Health England body. All hospitals are also set to effectively become semi-independent by 2014 according to the Bill.
The Localism Bill has passed a second reading of Parliament, despite opposition from Labour MPs. The Bill - described by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles as “one of the most radical pieces of legislation to be debated in this chambers for decades” - was criticised as being a “smokescreen” for cuts and that targeting back-office functions and executive pay would still impact frontline services.
The Government recently published their Education Bill. This outlines measures to give the Secretary of State more power over underperforming schools, streamline the inspection process, and give a greater emphasis on discipline. It also includes measures to abolish the General Teaching Council, Young People’s Learning Agency and Qualification & Curriculum Development Agency.
A report published by the Health Select Committee has pledged support for the Government’s objective of creating a more efficient health service but argues that the chosen approach doesn’t represent the most efficient way of doing so. The report also states that GPs should not be seen as “the ultimate arbiters of all commissioning decisions” and that the proposed reforms hadn’t been sufficiently explained beforehand.
Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove has launched a review of the school curriculum to address the decline in England’s international standing in terms of educational achievement. The review will explore what subjects should be compulsory and the content of those subjects. The call for evidence closes on 14 April 2011.
Parliament has voted to abolish the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for 16-18 year olds. Instead of an EMA payment of up to £30 per week, disadvantaged pupils will now be directed towards the Discretionary Support Fund. The criteria and amount of this is managed by individual schools and colleges, meaning that it will differ between institutions.
Ed Balls has become the new Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer following the resignation of Alan Johnson. This has been followed by a range of other changes such as Yvette Cooper taking on the role of Shadow Home Secretary, Liam Byrne becoming Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions and Tessa Jowell becoming Shadow Minister for the Cabient Office.
The Department for Transport has announced £560m of funding for local authorities to support sustainable transport projects, including those delivered by voluntary organisations. The funding was announced in a recent White Paper on transport.
An independent policy report on early intervention has been released by the Cabinet Office. “Early Intervention: the next steps”, sets out the case for a cross-party programme of support for children in recognition of the potential savings in adult life. This includes the development of policy on issues such as school readiness, parenting and emotional security.
Crispin Blunt, the MP responsible for prisons and probations, has declared his intention for England to become “a global market leader” in payment by results and outcome-based commissioning. In a speech Blunt spoke of the need for prisoners and those engaged in Community Payback schemes to focus on hard work rather than “enforced idleness”, he also urged for the increased involvement of voluntary sector organisations.
The Ministry of Justice has announced £30m of funding spread over three years to support vulnerable victims and witnesses of crime, including victims of hate crime. This funding also contains £3.5m of ring-fenced funding for rape crisis centres.
The Government is currently consulting on plans to transfer large amounts of land from the Forestry Commission. The plans will see forests with public benefit transferred to charitable organisations whilst commercially valuable forests will be leased to commercial operators. A consultation on the proposals will run until 21 April 2011.
The voluntary sector
Key infrastructure bodies including ACEVO, NAVCA, NCVO and the Regional Voices network have joined forces to produce a website to map government spending cuts. The site, Voluntary Sector Cuts, features a spreadsheet and an online map to which organisations can submit information.
The Public Administration Committee recently hosted a debate on the condition of the voluntary sector, with evidence supplied by the CEOs of Marie Curie and NCVO. During the debate Conservative MPs were severely critical of those charities which focused on advertising and campaigning rather than delivering services. ACEVO have led calls for a follow-up meeting with ministers to “set the record straight”.
The long-awaited Big Society Bank will be running in the “not-too-distant future” according to Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin. Several obstacles must still be overcome before the bank can be established, including the creation of a reclaim fund and ongoing negotiations between high street banks. The departmental reform plans previously stated that funds would be available from April 2011.
Volunteering England have warned that 30 volunteer centres are faced with closure due to cuts to local authority funding. Their CEO, Justin Davis Smith, also stated that the newly-announced £42.5m fund for volunteering infrastructure would come too late to be of use for those under threat. In the past year, demand for the services of local Volunteer Centres increased dramatically - in 2009-10 the mean number of enquiries to a Volunteer Centre was 1,574, representing a 26% increase from 2008-09.
Trusts and foundations have spoken of a significant increase in the number of funding applications received over the last year. The Lloyds TSB Foundation for England & Wales reported a 24% increase in the number of eligible applications it received in 2010. This meant a total of 2,529 eligible applications for only 900 grants.
The Equality & Human Rights Commission have lambasted the decision to prevent a volunteer from using anti-discrimination employment legislation. The EHRC were responding to the case of a woman who lost an employment tribunal claiming that she had been prevented from volunteering at West Sussex CAB on account of a disability.
All five Citizens’ Advice Bureau in Birmingham are set to close and a further 900 debt advisers are to be made redundant due to the end of a public funding stream for debt advisory services. More cuts to CABs are also expected to follow when local authorities finalise their budgets. This follows a recent review that showed CAB services actually contribute long-term savings to the exchequer.
The two youth charities Prince’s Trust and Fairbridge will merge on 1 April 2011. It is hoped that the decision will create a single more efficient organisation focused on the rising problem of youth unemployment and disengagement.
Think tanks and research
New employment figures published by the Office for National Statistics have shown that the number of people in employment fell by 69,000 to 29 million. Meanwhile, the number of people working part-time because they could not find a full-time job has increased by 26,000 to reach 1.16 million, the highest level since records began. The total number of unemployed people has also increased by 49,000 to reach 2.5 million.
Influential Conservative think tank the Centre for Social Justice has published a report on how government spending can be improved through a focus on outcomes. CSJ warn that the current £81 billion of cuts risk leaving wasteful programmes in place while cutting other services valued by the public. The report calls on Ministers to create a new body the Office of Spending Effectiveness to scrutinise the spending plans of government departments for before they are approved.
The consultancy firm Deloitte has published a report which explores the practical difficulties of implementing the Coalition Government’s localism agenda. Deloitte argue that there is no consensus as to how localism, decentralisation and the Big Society will work in a systematic way. The report also criticises current initiatives as being too ad hoc and experimental.
A survey published by BIS and the Higher Education Careers Service Unit has shown how highly employers value qualifications gained whilst in work. Part-time study is shown to lead to positive contributions to productivity and efficiency, increased staff retention and improved staff attitudes. The study also revealed 40% of part time students reported that their employers paid all of their course fees and 8% received partial fee support.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have released a research report on sustainable organisational performance. The report is based on a series of case studies and recommends that organisations focus on a range of areas, including organisational purpose, knowledge management and workforce planning.
A new poll conducted by the University and College Union has found that 70% of 16-18 year old students would drop out of their course should EMA be withdrawn. This contrasts to the figure used to justify the cut which is that 90% of students would carry on their studies without the funding. This is allied to new record-breaking figures on youth unemployment.