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Posts Tagged ‘economy’

“Two peanuts of hope in the crackerjack box of despair”

Friday, March 10th, 2017

There wasn’t a lot to celebrate in the 2017 budget, indeed we might say there wasn’t a lot in the 2017 budget, full stop, but we have found “two peanuts of hope in the crackerjack box of despair” (Homer Simpson 2006).  We will start with them and then offer a quick Community Links perspective on the three issues which have dominated all the other  media commentary. 

First, the London Devolution Agreement

The Agreement was announced and published alongside the main budget statement. It included:

  • Co commissioning of criminal justice services with substantial potential for reducing offending and for improving services for victims and offenders. To be finalised in June
  • Devolution of a number of health care powers. Further details expected next week
  • Devolution of the adult education budget from 2019/20 and the promise of “greater influence” over careers services.
  • Transfer of the budget for the Work and Health programme and a further commitment to a “strategic dialogue” on employment support.
  • Powers to pilot a new Development Rights Auction model for funding future infrastructure projects. This model is likely to provide very significant new funding.

There is lots more detail expected in the coming weeks but the headlines are encouraging with more power and more resources invested closer to home. Now the responsibility passes to London’s leaders for ensuring that devolution does not stop there but that local communities are fully involved in designing, developing and delivering these important services

Second, the “next generation” passage from the Chancellor’s speech

“If you talk to people from any background and any part of the country about their hopes and their aspirations for the future, you’ll hear a recurring concern for the next generation. 

Will they have the qualifications to find a job?
Will they have the skills to re-train as that job changes, and changes again, over a working lifetime?
Will they be able to get on the housing ladder?
To save for a pension?

In short, the question that concerns so many people is “will our children enjoy the same opportunities that we did”?

Mr Deputy Speaker, Our job is to make sure that they do.

That’s why we are investing in education and skills to ensure that every young person, whatever their background and wherever they live, has the opportunity to succeed and prosper. The proportion of young people not in work or education is now the lowest since records began that’s a good base from which to build. But it is only by equipping them for the jobs of tomorrow that we ensure they will have real economic security.”

We are with you on all this Mr Hammond, now what can we do about it? A Bill of Rights for the Next Generation perhaps?

Finally our view on the three topics that have attracted most attention:

Business rates: The coverage has focused on the prosperous areas that are of most interest to Conservative MPs. In Southwold for instance a sausage roll will apparently soon cost £8.17 if the butcher raises prices in line with the rates increase. Business rates are in fact a problem for any area where property prices have gone up which, of course, they have in east London, and it is a particular issue in areas which have been undergoing regeneration like Canning Town and Stratford. We don’t yet know the likely impact of the measures that the Chancellor announced yesterday but this is seriously alarming and an issue to which we will return.

NI increase for self employed. Hammond hits white van man” screamed the Metro front page yesterday morning. “Hammond hits highly paid barristers and consultants” would have been more accurate. As the Resolution Foundation have pointed out this is a progressive measure. Low earning child minders and window cleaners in Newham will benefit. The messaging was dreadful but the change is good.

Social care: No amount of spin could make £2b over 3 years for social care and £450m for the NHS sound like anywhere near enough to turn around the crisis in health and social care. Most expert analysis suggests it will fill less than half the gap. Of course Conservative back benchers worried about “trolleys in corridor” stories in their local papers know this too. What will they do now?

What are you for Mr Hammond?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

8 Months after he picked up the keys to No11 it is difficult to discern any clear pattern or purpose to Philip Hammond’s Chancellorship.

His most decisive action to date has been to cancel the annual ritual of a spring budget. The one he presents to the House in two weeks’ time will be the last. In future the budget is to be rolled into the autumn statement and delivered before Christmas. It’s a sensible reform but scarcely spectacular. On all matters economic the Chancellor has ceded visibility, if not control, not only to the PM but also to other ministers, particularly Boris Johnson, even to David Davies. March the 8th will be his moment in the sun and a chance to answer the question “what is Philip Hammond for?”

On taking office last July the new Chancellor spoke about a “new phase” for the economy. Contrary to some of the reporting at the time and some of the comment that has filled the void since then, he didn’t say that austerity was over but that it was “right to review the pace at which the government balanced the books.”  Is that review now completed? And if so will he be challenging the conclusion of the IFS Green Budget which claimed last week that “The rate of reduction (in levels of day-to-day public service spending) is set to speed up after this year, with cuts of nearly 4% due between 2016–17 and 2019–20”?

This matters because it is these kinds of numbers that have led Lord Porter the chairman of the LGA, to warn this week that services supporting very vulnerable people are “at breaking point”.  Lord Porter, the Conservative leader of South Holland in Lincolnshire, subsequently said he was “hugely disappointed” by the funding settlement for councils which was set out by the Communities Secretary in a written statement  to parliament yesterday: “As we continue to bring the deficit down” wrote Sajid Javid “local government, must continue to play its part”.

Trolleys in corridors have become a familiar picture on the front pages this winter and such has been the level of disquiet on the government’s own benches that the Chancellor will surely have something in the budget for the NHS. Anything less will risk mutiny. But doctors and hospitals are part of an ecology of care that reaches out through domiciliary services, reduces need through strong public health programmes and builds resilience and wellbeing through a diverse range of community services.  So the question is not about whether Mr Hammond responds to the crisis but about whether he sticks a bandage on the creaking fabric of an acute sector that faces irreconcilable trajectories of demand and resource or  becomes the first chancellor to really grip the necessity for prevention and for a cross government “need reduction strategy” stretching beyond the NHS, into other arms of government, particularly local government, and on to the community sector where some of the most effective (and cost effective) work is already going on. Our own work on a community development approach to the early detection of cancer for instance has increased the take up of cancer screening appointments in east London by 15%.

Clinicians at the huge and ferociously overworked London Hospital just down the road from Community Links tell me that one in five beds are taken up by patients whose condition is caused by, or seriously exacerbated by, diabetes. We know that more than half of all Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by simple life style changes and the most basic early action. Ultimately it is only a sustained investment in this kind of preventative work that will enable our hospital, and the many others like it, to deliver the high quality acute services that they should be delivering.

The budget that the Chancellor is writing could buy enough new trolleys to placate his own side of the House for a few months more or it could set out the simple but ground breaking measures for the longer term transition to a preventative economy that I suggested in my address to the All Party Parliamentary Group last year  and that we have detailed in the various publications of the Early Action Task Force. It’s time to decide Mr Hammond. What are you for?

Doubling down on early action

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

One newspaper cartoon last week had 2 students discussing their plans. “I’m reading political history” said the first, “my period of study is from 2 am on Friday June 24th 2016 to 12 noon on June 30th.” An awful lot has happened in the last two weeks and the storm is not abating. The Brexit vote started the turmoil. One significant event hurtles after another. Political and financial uncertainty rattles everything and fear of further disruption becomes a disruptor in its own right.

I have now been involved in three conversations in 10 days with politicians or government officials who have variously described planning, forecasting or budgeting in the prevailing climate as a “very difficult“, “a fools game” and “just impossible”.

The temptation to batten down the hatches makes sense if we have some expectation that the storm will pass. As it is we cannot predict when the weather will change but we do know that it won’t be soon. We can’t wait, we have to adapt.

It may seem peculiarly obtuse to argue that this is the moment for long term thinking but actually it’s true. If escalating needs and diminishing resources were, pre-Brexit, already set on divergent and unsustainable trajectories then the pattern has been reinforced, the scale has been magnified and the speed intensified. More than ever now we need to break the constraints of short term thinking and siloed delivery, and now focus on sustainable, long term solutions.

This is not as impossible as it might seem. Five, seven or even ten year planning as recommended by the Early Action Task Force is not about setting the budgets in stone for the years ahead. It is about weighing up the costs and consequences of every spending choice over the longer term even if the funding is fixed for a much shorter period of time, possibly just one year. This approach to planning would lead to different kinds of decisions from the short term crisis management that already characterises many social spending programmes. We expand on it in “The Deciding Time” and other publications.

There are glimmers of hope. Some vestiges of the Life Chances strategy that the PM was expecting to announce on the day after the referendum seem likely to survive without him. The Life Chances Fund was unveiled on Monday with explicit reference to programmes that “support early action” and the pace setting practitioners in early action already recognise that , as I heard Sophie Howe – the Futures Commissioner in Wales – say in Cardiff on the same day, “this is a conversation that we must have now in public” and “We wont always get it right but it is the right thing to do.”

In other words there are risks in new things and there will be failures, but not thinking about the future at this time and not discussing it openly will inevitably lead to deeper, more expensive and more intractable problems in very short order. I had heard Martin Reeves, The Coventry City Council CEO, say something similar even before the current turbulence at the launch of the Coventry Ignite programme last year and Deputy Chief Constable Andy Rhodes in his Insights presentation on the ground breaking work of the Lancashire Constabulary.

Media coverage of the events of the last fortnight would have us believe that everything changed. Certainly a lot moved and is continuing to move but values are more constant. Trying to bequeath to our children the best that we can is not an option for us any more than it was for previous generations, it is a responsibility. Prevention and early action in the public realm have been difficult but recognisably good ideas since the public health reforms of the early Victorians. Now is not the time to back away, but the time to double down.

The second reading of the Welfare Reform Bill: conceived in a boom world?

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

House of Commons Chamber: Speaker's tableThe Welfare Reform Bill had its second reading Yesterday at Westminster. Newly in post as Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Theresa May‘s ability to succeed her predecessor and stand against James Purnell has been questioned by The Telegraph and by The Spectator. May raised concerns over lone parents and what exactly work related activity would consist of. She was joined by other MPs from all political backgrounds in highlighting the worry that sanctioning lone parents may dangerously increase the levels of child poverty.

 Steve Webb MP, Liberal Democrat questioned the strategic approach to the Bill describing it as not only skeletal but actually invertebrate. He too asked, “What happened after sanctions, would a child live in poverty as a result?”

There too was an overall consensus that benefits were too low. Last week Lynn Jones MP picked up on a letter submitted to the Guardian and quickly turned it into an Early Day Motion EDM543. John Mason MP worried that this would cause a disincentive to go back to work and called for “more conditional carrots such as increasing the minimum wage as part of a much needed joined up government approach” Despite tweaks to the current Bill there was little in the way of outright opposition. May described their policy as ‘progressive’ and supported the bill ‘on the condition that Purnell would not back track’ She went on to advise him that he ‘needed to stand firm’

Terry Rooney MP was one of only a few who got to the nitty gritty, the specifics of the reforms needed and in doing so illustrated his knowledge of the welfare system. He quite rightly drew attention to the dramatic reduction in money lost due to fraud in comparison to the continued levels of money lost due to error. Talking about the psychology of the recession Mr Rooney touched on creating a more flexible modern benefit system,  which is what we are campaigning for at Need NOT Greed, as a way to remove the reliance on cash-in-hand work. To maintain job retention he suggested a wage subsidy scheme and spoke of changes to the 16 hour rule, earning disregards and greater benefit take up. “We need to remove the barriers so providers can be more effective

Even Conservative Charles Walker MP praised the Bill but was “worried that it may have come at the wrong time” and echoed Mr Rooney that “the barriers need to be removed and the complexities of the benefits system resolved.” He finished with ” For the most excluded the benefits are a safely net, a leg out of poverty. Some will never escape the benefits system and they must not be ignored but a civilised society must provide a route out.”

Almost all too harmonious, or at least until Frank Field  MP stepped in voicing his opposition to the Bill. “The Bill was conceived in a boom world and by the time it occurs it will be largely irrelevant to our constituents.” He suggested pulling the plug on current schemes and spending the money more effectively. Direct intervention was more favourable to Mr Field; community programmes for Young people offered real jobs for young people to go into and VAT cuts would be better spent on Job Seekers Allowance.

By the end it was difficult to assess where each party stood regarding Welfare Reform. What struck me the most was the uncertainty in the House. In an era of economic gloom it seemed that no one had the answers, but there were a lot of ‘what ifs’, ‘is the Bill suitable?’ Yet attending the Need NOT Greed focus groups it is very clear that people with first-hand experience of poverty, unemployment and benefits do have the answer, there are too many barriers and not enough incentives. Watch ‘Working what’s the point?

On February 24thwe will be launching the Need NOT Greed campaign at Westminster. Chaired by Terry Rooney MP there will be a discussion between MPs and people struggling on benefits to create a better understanding of the systematic traps, the fear and the policy changes needed to end dependency on benefits. Welfare Reform was developed in the boom, making it all the more necessary for government  to consult the experts, the individual in an era of unknown gloom.