Policy briefing 9 May 2011
(26 April – 9 May 2011)
The past two weeks have witnessed a flurry of electoral activity throughout the UK as voters went to the polls for elections to the devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, councils in England, mayoral elections in a handful of towns, and a referendum on changing Westminster’s voting system. Beyond the polling stations, however, there were several stories of interest.
One such story was the BBC’s coverage of a leaked note on the Government’s plans for public service reform. The note, which originated from the Cabinet Office, stated that the Government ‘was not prepared to run the political risk of fully transferring services to the private sector’. This was also accompanied by news that Suffolk County Council’s proposals to outsource the majority of their public services have been put on hold. Such news adds further anticipation to the long-awaited White Paper on public service reform, publication of which has now been delayed until July.
Another policy paper currently on hold is the Giving White Paper (also due in July). The context behind this may well be affected by the latest figures on UK philanthropy, which fell by 33% over the previous year according to CAF/the Sunday Times. This has occurred despite a £60.2bn increase in the wealth of the top 1,000 individuals. A list of the top ten donors published in the newspaper includes the Conservative Party Treasurer, a developer of online gambling software, and Sir Elton John.
Skills & Workforce
A new £2.25m fund has been announced for organisations that offer imaginative opportunities in adult and community learning. The fund, set to be administered by NIACE and the Skills Funding Agency, will be available either in small grants of £10k - £25k or large grants of up to £75k (with contributions in-kind). The deadline for applications is Friday 10th June 2011 and an online prospectus is available on the NIACE website.
Abolition of the General Social Care Council, the regulator for the social care profession, has been suspended until July 2012. The planned handover of regulation duties to the Health Professions Council was originally planned for April 2012, as outlined in the health and social care bill, but the Department of Health has put the passage of the bill on hold as part of the “NHS listening exercise”. An official statement on the matter may be viewed here.
The Learning & Skills Improvement Service has declared its five priorities for future investment. These are as follows - improving teaching and learning; improving capacity for curriculum design and development; turning policy into practice; enhancing leadership, governance and management; and doing more with less money.
BIS have decided to withdraw funding for the Training Quality Standard. The standard exists to recognise and celebrate the best organisations delivering training to employers. Work is currently being undertaken to wind down accreditation and communicate with providers.
A joint-survey by the National Union of Teachers and the University & College Union has found that 74% of colleges face possible teacher redundancies and 55% are cutting back on the number of courses they offer. Other difficulties reported in the survey include increases in class sizes and decreases in the number of hours per course.
Employee absences cost the UK economy £32bn in annual income according to a recent survey by Pricewaterhouse Coopers. UK workers have an average of 10 days unscheduled absence, nearly double that of the US (5.5 days) and broadly comparable to the rest of Western Europe (9.7 days). Overall, sickness accounts for 80% of UK absenteeism.
The Government has published guidance to help employers prepare for the introduction of Agency Workers Regulations this October. This will help them to comply with a new EU directive stating that agency workers will be given the right to the same basic employment and working conditions as regular recruits following a 12 week qualifying period.
Public service reforms resulting in “wholesale outsourcing to the private sector” would be politically “unpalatable” according to a confidential note leaked to the BBC. The note was originally shared between Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and director of the CBI, John Cridland. It also suggests that the Government are keen to see more partnership arrangements between the private sector and newly mutualised public sector organisations.
Suffolk County Council have temporarily suspended their plans to outsource the majority of public services to non-state providers. This follows the resignation of Jeremy Pembroke as leader of the Conservative-run council in April. There will now be a “period of reflection” according to incoming leader, Mark Bee. The council were hoping these plans would deliver a 30% saving on their £1.1bn annual budget.
A new report has been published by the National Audit Office challenging the use of private finance in procurement. In addition to the increased debt costs incurred via Private Finance Initiatives, the report also suggests that there has been no systematic evaluation of value for money and a shortage of the skills necessary to deliver such large-scale projects.
The latest editions of the Government’s Structural Reform Plans have been released. These detail departmental progress against key policies. Several notable delays are present, including White Papers on Public Service Reform, Giving, and Higher Education. The Big Society Bank is also on hold until the money from dormant accounts becomes available.
A report advocating the central role of communities in crime reduction has been presented to Government by Baroness Newlove. Our Vision for Safe and Active Communitiescontains a range of suggestions, including financial incentives for communities to tackle crime; greater use of restorative justice initiatives; the pooling of local agency budgets; and the creation of a central hub of support for community activists. The report’s author has also just recently taken up a position at CLG to offer policy advice on community activism.
The Department for Work and Pensions have released new figures on the medical assessment of Employment & Support Allowance claimants.The figures, which cover claims over the period October 2008 to August 2010, show that 887,300 out of 1,175,700 applicants failed to qualify for any assistance. Of those, 458,500 (39%) were judged fit for work, 428,800 (36%) abandoned their claim, while a further 188,300 (16%) were placed in the “work-related activity group”.
The transition to a single welfare-to-work scheme will bring very high financial stakes for all parties according to the Work & Pensions Select Committee. Prime contractors may terminate their involvement if they cannot make a profit, sub-contractors will be concerned if they receive insufficient funding upfront, and the costs of Government intervention will be significant should any provider fail. A range of detailed submissions to the inquiry may be viewed here.
The Education Select Committee recently met to take evidence from Alison Wolf on her review of vocational education. Professor Wolf was quizzed on the role of the English Baccalaureate and proposals to remove statutory work experience for years 10 and 11. She also discussed the current qualification regulatory system and expressed views on Ofqual, regulation and the value of different qualifications on young people’s educational choices. The committee will meet again on 11 May to discuss 16–19 participation in education and training.
The NHS Future Forum recently established to consider the viability of health reforms will host over 119 listening exercise events with staff, patients and public representatives. Several events targeted at the third sector have been organised by the Regional Voices network, details of which may be found here.
The Department for Health “has not yet got a framework to deal with failure in the system” according to the Public Accounts Select Committee. Further to this, any NHS reforms will need strong, effective systems of governance and clear lines of assurance and accountability.
The Royal College of GPs have published a paper outlining the risks inherent to healthcare reforms. Central to this is concern over the potential impact on patients as the legislation and reform agenda fails to clarify proper protection for patients and services within a competitive health market. They also propose a range of recommendations to ensure comprehensive provision, accountability, and effective workforce development.
The Voluntary Sector
Donations from the top 100 UK philanthropists have fallen by £818m down to £1.67bn in the past year according to research undertaken by CAF for the Sunday Times. The data was released as part of the newspaper’s annual “Rich List” which asked questions about charitable giving for the first time. Respondents were also questioned on their motivations for giving, with 97% claiming that personal values were an influence. Interestingly, only 21% felt that Government or big businesses do enough for charity and only 7% said that they were influenced by social pressure to donate money.
The Charities Bill, which brings together a range of previous legislation into a single Bill, received its second reading in the House of Lords. During the reading MPs discussed a range of issues, including the future role of the Charity Commission, how to make charity law more accessible, the definition of “charitable purpose”, and the forthcoming charity tribunal on public benefit.
Mobile phone operator Vodaphone and online giving platform JustGiving have collaborated on the development of new software to enable free charity donations via text message. Donors will be able to donate up to £10 at a time under the scheme, which will be free for charities to sign up to and will redistribute 100% of the proceeds.
A hearing on voluntary sector funding was recently held by the Public Accounts Select Committee. MPs heard from several notable figures, including the CEO of New Philanthropy Capital, Martin Brookes, who claimed that there was “a dearth of quality fundraisers in the UK”. The committee also discussed the future role of the Big Society Bank, with the non-executive Director of RBS, Sir Sandy Crombie, stating that RBS expects to see a financial return from their investment.
The Institute of Fundraisers is calling on members to join its standards committee. This body exists to facilitate and approve the development, revision and maintenance of the Codes of
Fundraising Practice. Applications are required by the deadline of 21st July 2011.
The Office for Civil Society will shortly decide on which organisation will deliver the Community First fund, an £80m fund for deprived communities made up of grants and local endowments. The delivery body will be chosen from one of six “preferred providers” - the Big Lottery Fund, the Community Development Foundation, the Social Investment Business, V, PricewaterhouseCoopers or Tribal Education.
A new body, the Transition Institute, has been launched to support public servants seeking to “spin out” their services into social enterprises. The Transition Institute is a joint-venture formed by Social Enterprise London and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA). It will also work to gather evidence and generate debate around public service reform.
The infrastructure body NAVCA are calling for service delivery by voluntary organisations to be made exempt from EU procurement law. In response to an EU consultation, NAVCA have argued that services defined by EU law as “social services” (a category which includes advice and advocacy services, hospices and public health services) should not be commissioned under EU procurement rules.
Britain lacks the expertise necessary to transform public services into mutuals according to a recently published report by Co-operatives UK. The report compares the support existing in other European countries, pointing to the importance of specialist business support, legal models, taxation regimes, and procurement processes in enabling the mutualisation of services.
ACEVO and New Philanthropy Capital have been working together on a framework to measure the impact of voluntary sector infrastructure organisations. The framework will cover the provision of support to members, dissemination of information, and influence over Government policy.
The UK voluntary sector workforce is the most content out of all the sectors according to a recent survey by recruitment agency Reed. Asked how they felt about their jobs, 67% of voluntary sector workers said they were happy with their current work situation compared to the national average of 51%. Meanwhile 19% of workers admitted they would like a new job, this remains 5% below the national average.
Think Tanks & Research
The Big Society’s focus on charitable activity and philanthropy will simply exacerbate the north-south divide according to a report by the think tank IPPR. Exploring data on philanthropic donations, IPPR found such activity to be disproportionately focused on the capital. Furthermore, charities in the north of England were found to be overly reliant on public funding streams.
Research carried out by the Social Enterprise Coalition about attitudes to public service provision has uncovered wide public support for community businesses. When asked which type of organisation is best-placed to provide public services – 43% chose ‘a community business that reinvests its profits to improve services’; 36% chose ‘the government or public sector’; 4% chose ‘a business that makes profit for its owners and shareholders’; and only 3% chose ‘a charity’. The full report will be available later this year.
Conservative think tank Policy Exchange have published a paper examining the trends in sector pay and conditions during 2010. The research shows that public sector pay was both higher and grew faster than private sector pay. When contemplating prospects for the future, the report’s author proposes an end to national strike balloting, replacing the two-year pay freeze with a paybill freeze, and imposing an increased public sector pensions levy.
Government should empower communities to rebalance the UK’s economy according to the latest Respublica report. “Right to Retail” proposes a range of policies aimed at rebalancing the UK retail sector away from the largest supermarkets, instead shifting the locus of ownership and economic control back to communities.