Policy Briefing 3 December 2010
(30 November – 13 December 2010)
An eventful November was followed by an equally busy December as governmental reform continues to gather pace in the run up to the festive period.
The Office for Civil Society is currently consulting on how to reform commissioning to allow the voluntary sector to deliver a greater proportion of public services. A Green Paper, entitled Modernising Commissioning, has been released which asks a range of questions focused around the commissioning process. In particular it is seeking views on how to open up new areas of public service to civil society organisations; how service contracts may be made more accessible; how measures of environmental and social value may influence funding decisions; and how citizens and communities can play a greater role in the commissioning process.
The short nature of the consultation period, which finishes on 5 January 2011 and encompasses the Christmas holidays, has already evoked the wrath of the sector. Compact Voice has branded the period “regrettably short” whilst NCVO/CDFG have warned that the Government may be accused of “paying lip service” to the sector. Indeed the short timescale contravenes the three-month minimum consultation period specified within the Compact. It also coincides with ongoing consultations on the Charity Commission and voluntary sector infrastructure.
The parliamentary vote on higher education reform was staged on 9 December, occurring prior to the publication of the White Paper promised on the issue. The motion was passed by a majority of 21 MPs and will allow universities to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees from September 2012. In the Commons debate leading up to the vote, the Secretary of State responsible for the reforms, Vince Cable, said that without these measures the Coalition would have had to cut funding for further education, apprenticeships, or basic training.
Finally, the long-awaited Localism Bill and Local Government Settlement were released, detailing the funding allocations for local authorities over the next four years and various new rights for communities. We can expect much debate over the details of these in the coming weeks and months. A guide on the contents of the Localism Bill may be viewed here.
Skills and workforce
A few amendments were made to higher education funding reforms prior to the recent parliamentary vote. Loan support is to be available for all eligible part time undergraduate students studying for at least 25% of their time (compared with the 33% originally proposed). Also, the £15,000 earnings threshold for the repayment of student loans is to be changed annually in line with inflation.
A group has been set up to explore how the £150m National Scholarship Programme will help support children from disadvantaged backgrounds into higher education. The group will include high-level representation from the NUS, Universities UK, the Association of School and College Leaders and UCAS. Proposals for greater access include a fully subsidised final year and a preliminary scholarship year to attract students into areas such as law or medicine. The Scholarship fund is to be match-funded by those universities charging over £6,000 per year in tuition fees.
Lifelong Learning UK, the sector skills council for adult learning employers, has been told that it will not have its license renewed and will be closed on 31 March 2011. The decision follows a review undertaken by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) which found LLUK’s responsibilities to “not be compatible with the projected level of resources”. LLUK have expressed their disappointment at the decision and are in talks about alternative arrangements for their ongoing work.
The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) has launched a consultation on qualifications. Key criteria explored in the consultation are the standard and efficiency of qualifications, value for money and fairness for learners. The deadline for responses is 31 January 2011.
The Ofsted annual report has been published, covering early years and childcare, children’s social care, local authority services for children, and provision for education and skills in schools, colleges and adult learning. A strong theme within this years’ report is the present difficulty of many young people in leaving education to enter an increasingly competitive labour market. A key summary of the findings can be read here.
The Association of Colleges and National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) have launched a joint inquiry to examine the role of colleges within their local communities. The inquiry will pick out several key themes, including how colleges can work with local councils and strategic partners to support economic and community well-being; the role of colleges within Local Enterprise Partnerships; and how non-accredited learning can be supported.
The Learning and Skills Improvement Service, Association of Learning Providers, NIACE, and Third Sector National Learning Alliance will host a free ‘Speed Meet’ conference on Monday 20 December in Birmingham to support providers in response to the Skills Funding Agency’s launch of Minimum Contract Level arrangements for 2011/12.
The Learning and Skills Network has released a report on how employers may better contribute toward employee skill development in an era of economic austerity. It recommends the expansion of training levies, an increased number of Skills Academies operating on a local level, and tax breaks for training.
The Cabinet Office has launched a Green Paper on the reform of public service commissioning. This follows the commitment in the Coalition Agreement to develop new opportunities for civil society organisations within public service delivery and will feed into a White Paper on public service reform to be published in the New Year.
After numerous delays and inter-departmental disputes the Localism Bill has finally been published. The bill includes a host of measures, including a “general power of competence” to enable councils greater freedoms; new rights for citizens to take over services and assets; removal of regional planning systems and structures; directly elected mayors in 12 cities; and significant reforms to social housing. Published alongside this was the Local Government Finance Settlement which announced that no council will suffer more than an 8.9% per cent reduction in spending power in 2011-12, much lower than anticipated.
The Government has promised to create a new public health service with £4bn in funding following the publication of a recent white paper - Healthy Lives, Healthy People. The focus of Public Health England will be on intervention and will feature Directors of Public Health employed by local authorities championing the subject. A new health premium will finance these proposals and take into account health inequalities and reward progress on specific outcomes. There has also been an online consultation launched on the proposals.
An independent review on poverty and life chances written by Labour MP Frank Field has been published. The review focuses in particular on the long-term consequences of experiences in the pre-school years and the need to explore poverty beyond purely statistical income-based measures.
Benefit claimants who refuse to take up the offer of training are to have their benefits stopped according to a joint announcement by Employment Minister Chris Grayling and Skills Minister John Hayes. Under benefit reforms, jobseekers could be mandated onto training courses to improve their employability. They have promised to work with training providers to make the process “as streamlined as possible”
A consultation has been launched on reforming the Disability Living Allowance, the main form of benefit support for the disabled. The proposals include a new form of objective assessment to “enable disabled people to participate more fully in society”. This will follow a social rather than medical model and allow greater power for Jobcentre assessors. At the same time reforms to the Access to Work Programme were announced under which large employers will be asked to contribute more to the costs of workplace support.
The Department for Culture, Media & Sport have released a plan on how to encourage more private giving to the arts. This involves the launch of an £80bn match-fund scheme alongside Arts Council England to help small organisations build their fundraising capacity and regional organisations to identify potentially significant local donors. The plan also promises to offer improved support to fundraising professionals.
The first 52 GP groups set to take forward reforms to healthcare commissioning have been announced. The groups selected, known as pathfinders, will collaborate in the management of local budgets and will commission services for patients direct with other NHS colleagues and local authorities. The pathfinders include 1,860 GP practices in total which provide care to 12.8m people. A full list of the GP groups may be seen here.
A cross-government strategy on equality, Building a Fairer Britain, has been published. The strategy sets out a new approach “not built on bureaucracy but aimed at changing culture” which promises equality of treatment and opportunity. Under new plans, the Government Equalities Office will cease to be a separate department and brought into the Home Office from April 2011.
A review of pay in the public sector conducted by the political writer and journalist Will Hutton has released its interim findings. The Hutton Review of Fair Pay analyses recent trends and drivers of executive pay and its relationship to performance in both the private and public sectors. It also establishes the case for a fairness framework for senior public sector pay which may involve the operation of a maximum pay ratio.
The Ministry of Justice have released Breaking the Cycle, a Green Paper on reoffending which aims to help bring down the recidivism rates of short-term prisoners and cut the 85,000-strong UK prison population. Recommendations within the paper include allowing the private and voluntary sectors to run pilot community payback schemes on a payment-by-results basis and a planned extension of the social impact bond scheme currently being piloted at Peterborough prison.
An extra £1bn was charged by banks during the recession for projects under the Private Finance Initiative. The scheme, which was used to fund key new public infrastructure projects such as schools and hospitals, was subject to increased loan costs due to the poor availability of credit. The Treasury has recently come under criticism from the Public Accounts Committee for the poor value-for-money of the scheme.
The voluntary sector
Applications for the £100m Transition Fund are now open. The fund is being administered by the Big Lottery Fund and is open to voluntary organisations already delivering public services but who need to adapt to a more austere funding environment. ACEVO are playing an advisory role on how recipients might continue to deliver services and how the fund helps organisations to compete in new markets.
The NCVO Funding Commission recently published Funding the Future, a 10-year framework on the future of civil society. The framework, which was produced in partnership with Capacitybuilders and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, points to potential growth in the areas of individual giving, social investment, commercial sector donations and trading. To take advantage of these funding opportunities, however, the sector needs to increase its impact, develop its financial capability and create sustainable and effective infrastructure.
The Gift Aid Forum, a body set up to advise Government on the taxation of charitable donations has been wound-down and will be replaced by a new charity tax forum according to HM Revenue and Customs. Prior to this decision the Gift Aid forum produced a report which included various recommendations for its reform and how it might survive planned VAT rises. Key figures within the sector have already expressed disappointment at the outcome of the forum and a response from Treasury Minister Justine Greening outlining the decision may be read here.
Research by NCVO and the Charities Aid Foundation suggests continually high public donations despite economic austerity. The figures published in UK Giving 2010 show that the public gave £10.6bn to charity in 2009/10. Although this figure is significantly below pre-recession levels it represents an increase of £400m since last year.
The Chief Executives body ACEVO have established a committee of sector experts with the hope of turning some of the current rhetoric around Big Society into concrete social policy. The committee will be chaired by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard and will hold consultation events throughout the country in order to report back in spring 2011. The committee also includes various charity CEOs, including Jane Slowey (Foyer Federation); Claire Tickell (Action for Children); and Matt Hyde (NUS).
Nine out of ten voluntary organisations are interested in becoming part of the forthcoming Local Enterprise Partnerships, the council-business consortia set to replace Regional Development Agencies, according to research by Capacitybuilders. A survey of 360 voluntary organisations found that only 15% of voluntary organisations had been approached so far.
An independent/expert panel organised by the Community Development Foundation have published a report on how the government should support communities in need and the challenges facing the community development profession. The panel’s recommendations are that vulnerable communities are identified; a review is taken of the existing skills base; and that common aims form the basis of improved local partnerships.
The Social Business Trust, a coalition of six companies, is set to launch a £10m fund available for social enterprises. The fund will operate over five years and provide money and staff time from the management consultants, lawyers, investment bankers, accountants and the media. Several notable firms are already on board, including Credit Suisse, Ernst & Young, and Reuters.
A collection of leaders from the worlds of philanthropy, business, and the voluntary sector have begun an independent review on charitable giving. The review will explore how to affect a “structural shift in giving” to make up for loss in funding from public services. The review will be chaired by Thomas Hughes-Hallett, CEO of Marie Curie Cancer Care and is being supported by figures from New Philanthropy Capital, JP Morgan, the bill Gates Foundation and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.
Thinktanks and research
A study conducted by the Third Sector Research Centre outlines the influence of the voluntary sector on the general election and future social policy. The research paper argues that 2010 was “a watershed election for the sector” in that it was implicitly at the heart of all party agendas. The paper in particular picks up on the improvement of campaigning techniques among organisations.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ analysis of the higher education reforms indicates that they are a progressive measure. According to the economic think tank, the highest earning graduates would pay more on average than both the current system while lower earning graduates would pay back less. The complex system of student support and potential disincentives within the National Scholarship fund both came under criticism, however.