Another satisfied customer! How the Idox Information Service is keeping our members in the know

 

  • “Always very helpful – an invaluable service.”
  • “Such a great time saver. Responses are always quick and staff really helpful and friendly.”
  • “I am pleasantly shocked at how quickly my enquiry was dealt with.”

If customer satisfaction is an organisation’s best marketing tool, then the Idox Information Service could base a whole campaign on feedback from our members.

Over the past forty years, first as the Planning Exchange and more recently as the Idox Information Service, we’ve built up a strong reputation as a vital source of reliable information on public and social policy. One of our most popular services has been ‘Ask-a-Researcher’, which enables anyone working in an organisation subscribing to the Idox Information Service to submit requests for literature searches.

We’ve previously explained the care our team of research officers takes in putting together and adding value to the information we find in response to enquiries. Our members in both the public and private sectors have always been appreciative of this work, but the feedback we’ve been receiving in recent months has been particularly positive. Enquirers most often highlight the depth of information provided, the wide range of sources used, the inclusion of the most up-to-date information and the fast turnaround times between enquiry submission and response.

In this blog post, we’re taking a closer look at why ‘Ask-a-Researcher’ has been so popular, focusing on real-life enquiries we’ve received and showing what our service users thought of the results.

Finding the facts

Our Research Officer Steven McGinty recently responded to an enquiry from Pamela Buchanan at North Lanarkshire Council requesting information on social work practice, and specifically on working with hard to reach groups, teenagers, and service users.

Steven began his response by searching the Idox database, using a selection of search terms such as  ‘social work’, ‘young people’ and ‘hard-to-reach’. He then organised the retrieved results into chronological order, and divided them into three sections: working with hard to reach groups; working with teenagers; and communication with service users. To accompany the results, Steven presented a summary, highlighting a number of resources of particular interest. In addition, he also conducted an online search, which generated further resources, most of which focused on communication within social work.

After reviewing Steven’s results, Pamela responded with an enthusiastic assessment:

“Fantastic! Thanks so much, Steven. Excellent communication, very timeous.”

Experience, skills and added value

Colin Pidgeon from the Northern Ireland Assembly approached the Idox Information Service for help in finding information on government policies that have tried to mitigate the effects of negative equity.

In response, Idox Research Officer Heather Cameron conducted a search of our database which returned a number of items related to negative equity and indebtedness. In her summary of the results, Heather noted that there was a lack of evidence specifically on government interventions to mitigate against negative equity, however a number of reports (such as one published by The Smith Institute) considered preventive policy actions and interventions that might be appropriate.

Colin was pleased with the results and recognised the skills of our research officers in finding the most relevant material:

“Every time I have used the service, Idox researchers have managed to turn something up that I hadn’t previously located through our library.”

The time-saving service

Many of our members often mention how much time our searches have saved them. While some aren’t able to quantify the exact time saved, others are happy to make estimates. After our research officer, Stacey Dingwall carried out a search for Ceri McMillan from North Ayrshire Council, Ceri replied with her thanks, estimating that Stacey’s search had saved her some seven hours of work. Another search, carried out by Steven for Skills Development Scotland was estimated to have saved 2-3 days of desk research. And a highly complex search carried out by Stacey and Heather for Chloe Billing at City-REDI was estimated to have saved Chloe a week’s worth of research.

Steven, Stacey and Heather, along with Donna Gardiner, Rebecca Jackson and James Carson have backgrounds in research, information science or public policy. A special mention should also go to Mhari Glen, our Information and Communications Assistant, who frequently receives messages of thanks for her quick and efficient dispatch of articles and books from our library.

It’s this kind of personal, tailored, dedicated service that has earned the Idox Information Service so many appreciative responses. Our members like dealing with people who are skilled and experienced in managing information, and who are ready to listen and respond to their needs.

It’s a reputation we’re happy to live up to.

In their own words: what our members think of Ask-a-Researcher

  • “You have provided me with an excellent overview of what literature is available for my topic of interest.” – Charlotte Hoole, City-REDI
  • “I have already recommended it to colleagues and students. Having up to date information is vital to keep abreast of new research and developments.” – Marilyn Stewart, Shetland Islands Council
  • “The speed of reply was excellent. I thought I had likely found the majority of the literature available, but this provided some great papers I had not come across.” – Naomi Saunders, Skills Development Scotland
  • “Fabulous information, gathered so quickly. I would not have found all this information.” – Jackie Timmins, Birmingham City Council
  • “Saved me a lot of time and has given me access to a variety of resources.” – Jenni Kerr, Glasgow City Council
  • “Idox are officially our biggest life savers.” – Clare Hammond, Rocket Science
  • “Disarmingly fast! Well targeted. Helpful.” – David Ottiwell, Greater Manchester Combined Authority – Research and Strategy

Further information

Members of the Idox Information Service may access the Ask-a-Researcher service by logging into the Information Service website and then choosing the Request a Search option.

If you would like to know more about the benefits of Idox Information Service membership, including the Ask-a-Researcher service, please get in touch with our customer development team today.

If more than one in three homeowners are interested in downsizing, why aren’t they making the move?

 

According to Savills estate agents, about 90,000 people over the age of 65 in the UK downsize to smaller homes each year. On the face of it, that’s a substantial number, but it still leaves more than three million houses under-occupied.

With an ageing population and a serious housing shortage, government at local and national levels is looking for ways to encourage older people to downsize their accommodation so that more family-sized housing is made available.

Benefits of downsizing

Everyone needs good housing, but as people grow older their homes become especially important as places where they can feel safe, independent and comfortable. Downsizing from larger properties can offer significant benefits to older people:

  • Smaller homes can be easier to heat and have lower utility bills.
  • People downsizing to sheltered housing can retain their independence, while having access to support when it’s needed.
  • Smaller homes are easier to manage and cheaper to maintain.
  • People moving into specialised retirement accommodation can experience improvements in their health and wellbeing.

Enabling people to remain in their own homes may also alleviate the pressures on the country’s social care system – pressures that are likely to intensify as the population age rises.

Downsizing barriers

While there are attractions to downsizing, important factors are putting off large numbers of people from moving to a smaller home. Some may feel too confined in a smaller space, experience problems storing their possessions, or miss having a large garden. Others may feel that they’ve taken a long time to climb the property ladder, and want to enjoy the home they have spent a lifetime working to achieve.

But for those who do want to move, downsizing can be expensive.  It may release equity, but some households find the costs of moving – notably stamp duty – may cancel out the financial benefits. And although lower maintenance costs can be a major reason for downsizing, older people moving into apartments may find that costs for maintenance and factoring, may be higher than in a standard family home.

Downsizing: the real story

A 2016 report by the International Longevity Centre (ILC) explored the experiences and expectations of people downsizing from under-occupied housing later in life. The report found that one in three homeowners over 55 are considering or expect to consider downsizing. However, while demand for downsizing is substantial, the reality is a different story:

“In many ways, the older generation is stuck in its current housing, which has resulted in the UK having one of the lowest moving rates amongst its older population compared to other developed countries.”

The study echoed the findings from a 2014 Age UK report which showed that the scarcity of suitable and affordable retirement housing was a barrier to downsizing:

“At the moment, retirement housing makes up just 5-6% of all older people’s housing. Research indicates that many more older people might consider downsizing if alternatives were available, although not just retirement housing schemes.”

The Age UK report noted that, based on demographic trends, specialist retirement housing would need to increase by between 35 and 75% just to keep pace with demand. The report also pointed to poor access standards and cramped accommodation in some sheltered housing schemes as downsizing deterrents.

Alternative approaches

The Scottish Government’s strategy for housing for older people, published in 2011, supports downsizing, and highlights Highland Council’s scheme as an example of good practice. In association with local housing associations, the council has provided financial and practical incentives to support older people wishing to move because their homes are too large for their needs.

Another approach, popular in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, is co-housing, which offers older residents a balance between independence and community life. Co-housing schemes are run totally by the residents, offering support when needed to those who live there, while respecting their dignity and independence.

In the Netherlands, there are now more than 200 co-housing communities. Successive governments there have supported co-housing because it has had such positive impacts on demand for health and social care services.

In April, the UK’s first co-housing project for older women opened in Barnet, north London. One of the scheme’s proponents, Maria Brenton, believes that it will be a model for similar projects:

“One of our purposes is to promote the idea of senior co-housing. Now we have shown the way, we are a living, breathing example, it will encourage people enormously.”

Final thoughts

As the ILC report notes, the policy debate on housing in the UK has focused almost completely on first-time buyers. However, with more than three million homeowners aged 55 or over open to the idea of downsizing, the impact of freeing up large numbers of family homes could be significant. Before that happens, the under-supply of affordable homes meeting the particular needs of older residents needs to be addressed:

“Fundamentally, the notion of downsizing in later life should be about choice rather than obligation. It therefore becomes clear that if we were to develop the right policy environment, we can enhance the choices available to people in later life, encouraging downsizing and creating a more dynamic housing market.”



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Opt-in, Opt-out? A new system for organ donation in Scotland

Guest blog by Findlay Smith

Credit: Soeren Stache / DPA/Press Association Images

The Scottish Government is in the process of bringing forward legislation to introduce a ‘soft opt-out’ scheme for organ donation. Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell stated that the move will be one step of many in a “long term culture change” regarding organ donation.

A ‘soft opt-out’ scheme operates on the assumption that lack of objection on an individual’s part can be considered ‘deemed consent’.

This means that people in Scotland will have a choice to:

  • actively opt in – being placed on the organ donor register; or
  • do nothing – which will now be treated as ‘deemed consent’; or
  • actively opt out – being removed from the donor register

 Current situation in Scotland

According to the British Medical Association, as of 6 March 2017 there were 530 people in Scotland waiting for an organ transplant, with more than 1 in 10 dying before receiving a transplant.

Scotland currently operates an ‘opt-in’ system – to be a donor, you must actively register with the donor card scheme.

Although support for organ donation is high among the Scottish public, and there are indications of support for deemed consent, less than half of Scotland’s population are registered organ donors, with 45% registered.

Aimed at increasing the rates of organ and tissue donation, a public consultation was held by the Scottish Government between December 2016 and March 2017. The results indicated that 82% of respondents supported the principle of a ‘soft opt-out’ system.

Comparison with Wales

One example cited by the Scottish Government of a successful ‘soft opt-out’ policy is in Wales. In 2015, following the passing of the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act in 2013, Wales became the first country in the United Kingdom to introduce deemed consent for organ donation.

Due to these changes being implemented very recently, it is too early to accurately assess the impact of deemed consent in Wales, as it can take several years for an observable change in donation rates.

However, despite the absence of concrete figures, there are some promising signs. The British Medical Association reported in December 2016 that 39 organs had been transplanted in Wales as a direct result of the change in laws.

The Spanish model

Looking elsewhere in Europe, Spain has the highest rate of organ donation in the world, at a reported 40 donors per million people in 2015.

Whilst they have a nominally similar system to Wales, in practice they operate in a different manner. Although Spain introduced an ‘opt-out’ system in 1979, the system itself is considered ‘insignificant’ when looking to explain their world leading donation rate, as in the decade following the change in legislation there was no substantial increase in organ donation. This may be due in part to the ‘opt-out’ process rarely being applied in practice, as family members always have a final veto.

Crucially, in addition to the change in system, Spain has also drastically improved the infrastructure used to identify and recruit potential donors. In 1989 the National Transplant Organisation (ONT) was established, and Transplant Co-ordinators were placed inside every hospital.

The role of the Transplant Co-ordinator is to identify potential organ donors as early as possible. What makes the Spanish model innovative (it has since been emulated elsewhere in Europe), is the widening of the pool of potential donors. Rather than focusing on people in intensive care, potential donors are also identified in accident and emergency rooms and hospital wards.

The role of family members in this process is also key. The early identification of potential donors allows a strong relationship to be built with family members. As they have the final say, getting them on board early can make a significant difference. The Scottish Government seems to be aware of this, having conducted a fact-finding mission to Madrid in 2015, consulting ONT Director Rafael Matesanz.

Final thoughts

The examples highlighted suggest that if the introduction of ‘soft opt-out’ legislation is to be successful, it may not solely be the result of the legislation on its own. Improvements in infrastructure, organisation, and dialogue with families of potential donors will also be crucial. Transitioning towards this change in practice will require a change in culture in the NHS around organ donation.

These steps taken in Scotland, which follow the lead of Wales and draw from the Spanish model, are also now being considered in England. Assisted by a lengthy campaign from the Daily Mirror, Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson’s Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill was introduced to Parliament on 19 July 2017 and is due for debate on 23 February 2018.


Findlay Smith is currently in his final semester of study of the MPP Public Policy Programme at the University of Stirling. Findlay has recently completed a voluntary two week work experience placement with the Knowledge Exchange team in Glasgow.

The CABE Experiment and housing design: where have all the leaders gone?

Bad design? Housing development in Melton Mowbray by Persimmon

Guest blog: Matthew Carmona and Lucy Natarajan

Here at The Bartlett, UCL we recently completed a major study of the eleven years of publically funded CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. We evaluated the work, history, and impact of the organisation, and the ‘tools’ it used to promote good urban design across England. When it came to housing design CABE had real impact and, as we argue here, the leadership it provided is sorely missed. But there are ways that planners, urban designers and the government can draw on the CABE Experiment, which will be increasingly important in light of the intended increase in the volumes of housing being built.

CABE was never well understood. External perceptions were often of a monolith swallowing up huge dollops of tax-payers’ money to conduct design review. As we reported in our book Design Governance: The CABE Experiment, the organisation was tiny by government quango standards, and only around a fifth of its staff were dedicated to design review. The rest of the staff worked on lower profile but typically highly regarded and effective activities such as: enabling within local authorities; its research projects; the work of its public spaces and parks arm (CABE Space); production of its very well used guidance and website; and various educational enterprises such as its summer schools.

These ‘informal tools’ of CABE were not mandatory or statutory and instead influenced and guided the professions. Yet they created a culture that improved design, for housing as for many other aspects of place. The work of CABE even reached some, although not all, of the volume house builders. Such progress will easily ebb away without continued efforts and leadership.

But how did improvement happen?

The answer is relatively simple: CABE’s tools were flexible and the activity was coordinated across the country, with the voice of government behind them. CABE addressed the issue of housing design from different angles, with:

  • national housing audits to embarrass the housebuilders with a stark national picture of the generally poor standards of their products
  • case studies and guidance to demonstrate principles and help raise aspirations
  • training for local authority staff
  • ‘enablers’ within local planning authorities working directly with councils, assisting with policy frameworks and large-scale applications
  • hundreds of design reviews were conducted on residential-led masterplans around the country

In addition, the Building for Life consortium helped establish nationally acceptable standards and an awards system for the best housing designs. And last but by no means least, government strengthened national policy, including on highways design in residential areas.

So where are we now?

Since CABE’s demise we have seen a large scale withdrawal of government, at national and local levels from engaging in design, and a fragmentation of the non-governmental design governance services that remain.  We have also seen a retrenchment of house builders, highways authorities, and planning authorities across the country back to the old ways of doing things.  Respectively, these are based on standard (and inappropriate) housing types, rigid and over-engineered highways standards, and planning authorities without the time, skills or confidence to challenge the house builders.

This is not to imply that nothing is happening. The Place Alliance provides a forum for ‘grassroots’ exchange and, bubbling up from these connections, UDL initiated and lead the work to produce a collaborative and comprehensive guide: The Design Companion Planning & Placemaking. This publication demystifies the principles behind ‘good places’ and explains with detailed examples how planners and placemakers can deliver the highest standards in urban design. In addition the largest metropolises particularly benefit from local leadership, particularly the Mayoral SPG for new build in London and Manchester’s City Council’s guide. However without the national coordination of such initiatives, housebuilders can and surely will cherry pick where they build quality homes.

But learning the lessons from the CABE era…

What should the government do now?

  • Show leadership: Minsters should speak out when residential design is poor and celebrate it when it is not, and appeal decisions where residential schemes were rejected on design grounds can provide rich illustrations for that work.
  • Support proactivity in local authorities: LAs can move away from reliance on generic policies in local plans and prepare simple non-statutory site-specific frameworks and design codes for housing sites.
  • Promote design review: This constructive peer-based checking and refinement mechanism should be made compulsory in the forthcoming revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for all major housing schemes.

Speaking up for better places and better homes will help those who are working on the ground, and as Design Governance: The CABE Experiment shows, this can have a great effect.  With little cost and no new legislation we can once again drive design quality up the national agenda.

 

References

Carmona M, De Magalhães C, Natarajan L, (2017) Design Governance: The CABE Experiment. London: Routledge

UDL (2017) The Design Companion Planning & Placemaking. London: RIBA.


The Place Alliance were winners of the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement in 2016’s RTPI Awards for Research Excellence. This award was sponsored by the Idox Information Service.

Idox sponsors RTPI Research Excellence Awards

Idox is pleased once again to be supporting the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence for 2017.

The awards are intended to recognise the best spatial planning research from the Royal Town Planning Institute’s accredited planning schools, and to highlight the implications of academic research for policy and practice. In addition, the awards recognise the valuable contribution of planning consultancies to planning research and promote planning research generally.

Submitted research and its potential implications for planning policy and practice can relate to anywhere in the world (not just the UK and Ireland).  The five award categories are:

  • Academic Award
  • Early Career Researcher Award
  • Student Award
  • Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement
  • Planning Consultancy Award

Idox: supporting the planning profession

As the UK’s leading provider of planning and building control solutions to local authorities, Idox actively engages with issues affecting the planning profession. Here at the Idox Information Service, we see our core mission as improving decision making in public policy by improving access to research and evidence, and we are proud to be playing a part in these awards to promote academic, researcher and student excellence in this area.

This is the third time that Idox has given its support to the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence. In 2015, and we sponsored the Student Award, won by Emma Thorpe, a student in the School of Planning and Geography at Cardiff University. Idox also sponsored the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement Award, won by Dr Paul Cowie from Newcastle University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. Paul went on to write a guest blog post for us describing his innovative project, which uses theatre to engage communities in planning.

Last year, Idox again sponsored the Student Award, which was won by Adam van Heerden, of the University of Cape Town, for his research engaging with a marginalised group – the ‘Skarrelers’ in Cape Town’s southern suburbs – who survive on the margins of prime urban spaces by either selling or re-using discarded waste material with value.

The Wider Engagement award was won by Place Alliance – a national movement campaigning for high quality places. In addition, we sponsored the 2016 Planning Consultancy award, which was won by Ryden (lead consultants) along with WSP and Brodies, who delivered the Planning for Infrastructure Research Report for the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland.

In 2017, Idox is pleased once again to be sponsoring the Student, Wider Engagement and Planning Consultancy awards.

Further details on the five award categories, application guidance and entry forms, are available here. The closing date for applications to the awards is 19 May 2017. The finalists will be announced on 24 July, with the winners being named at an awards ceremony in Belfast City Hall on 12 September.


The Idox Information Service is the first port of call for information and knowledge on public and social policy and practice. For 40 years the service has been saving its members time and money, and helping them to make more informed decisions, improve frontline services and understand the policy environment.

For more information see: http://informationservice.idoxgroup.com

In partnership with RTPI, the Idox Information Service has introduced an individual membership offer, which provides a 30% discount on the normal price.

Destination stations: the role of railways in regeneration

King’s Cross Station, London © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

From Roman roads, to Victorian ‘cathedrals of steam’, transport has played a pivotal role in the development of societies and economies throughout history.

Today, rising energy prices, road congestion, and climate change, as well as reduced household sizes and an increased demand for urban living have put the potential benefits of urban transport hubs back in the spotlight.

Transit-orientated development

Transit-orientated development (TOD) is one response. An American-concept, it involves the creation of high-density mixed-use developments around a transit station or stop, such as a railway station, usually within a half-mile radius (a 10-minute walk approximately).  It may include office space, retail, leisure facilities and housing, as well as public areas and green space, and a variety of public transport options.

The aim is to create attractive, diverse, walkable places.  TOD can also help to significantly reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

Stations as ‘destinations’

In Europe, TOD has yet to ‘catch on’. However, it shares many similar principles with the increasingly popular concept of developing railway stations as destinations in their own right – for shopping, working and socialising.  Railways often form an important part of a town or city centre, and the combination of transport node and central location has the potential to attract people in great numbers.

The redevelopment of London King’s Cross station and the surrounding industrial wasteland made it one of the first ‘destination stations’ in the UK.  Around the station, new homes, shops, offices, galleries, bars, restaurants, a hotel, schools and a university were created, along with 20 new streets, 10 new public parks and squares, and 26 acres of open space.  In fact, the redevelopment was on such a scale that the area now has its own postcode – N1C.

Some other key examples of newly developed ‘destination stations’ in the UK include Manchester Victoria Station and Birmingham New Street Station. Network Rail last year stated that they intend to create many more such ‘destination stations’.

Economic and social benefits

As well as environmental benefits such as reduced air pollution and traffic congestion, mixed-use developments in and around railway stations can help meet housing demand, and spur the economic and social regeneration of their surrounding communities.  Particular benefits can include:

  • Improved passenger experience/satisfaction
  • Attracting more businesses into an area
  • Improving the supply of labour for businesses
  • New job creation
  • Increased demand for food, retail and leisure facilities from greater numbers of commuters, residents and workers
  • Helping high streets to compete with online retailers and out of town developments
  • Contributing to public health goals through increased walkability of areas
  • Making good use of previously inaccessible/waste land

Government support

There is strong government support for delivering improvements around railway stations.

The recent Housing white paper recognises the regenerative potential of railway stations, viewing them as key anchors for the next generation of urban housing developments.

Two new sources of funding for railway station developments have also recently been announced: the second round of the New Stations Fund – a £20 million pot to build new stations or reopen previously closed stations; and the Station Regeneration programme – which aims to develop railway stations and surrounding land, while delivering up to 10,000 new homes.

Alongside this, there are also plans to release large amounts of unused railway land for housing – enough to build 12,000 houses across 200 sites.

Large and small

In addition to developments focused around one particular station or city, there are also a number of major railway-based infrastructure projects currently taking place.  Among these are the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme (including recently approved plans to redevelop Glasgow Queen Street station), Great Western Electrification, Crossrail and HS2.  All of these have the potential to catalyse regeneration in their surrounding areas.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are also a number of successful smaller scale regeneration projects involving railways.

Addressing the challenges

The development of railway sites can pose a number of challenges, including contaminated land, fragmented land ownership and reconciling short-term economic development goals with the longer time scales necessary in larger infrastructure projects.

However, according to James Harris, a policy officer at the Royal Town Planning Institute, planners are ‘uniquely’ placed to work with landowners, infrastructure providers, developers and the local community to help deliver a strategic vision for these locations.

Planners should also be flexible and creative in their approach towards station redevelopments, focusing on outcomes rather than processes, says David Crook, assistant director of station regeneration at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s Cities and Local Growth Unit.  In doing so, he says, planners can help make a station regeneration project ‘more than the sum of its parts’.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in our blog post ‘Reimagining travel: how can data technologies create better journeys?

Evaluations Online: evaluating economic development activity in Scotland

by Stacey Dingwall

Recently we profiled Research Online, one of the two research portals managed by the Knowledge Exchange team. In this blog, we focus on Evaluations Online.

Economic development activity in Scotland

Evaluations Online is a public portal providing access to a collection of evaluation and economic development research reports commissioned by Scottish Enterprise. Scottish Enterprise is Scotland’s main economic development agency and a non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government.

Idox won the contract to deliver Evaluations Online in 2007. The team developed a site which utilises a publishing platform designed specifically to deal with research material. Users can easily navigate to and assess the relevance of material thanks to specially-written abstracts and structured search functions based on a bespoke classification and record structure.

The site now contains over 500 evaluation and research reports commissioned by Scottish Enterprise, dealing with different aspects of economic development activity such as business support, investment, sector growth and improving skills. All of the reports are publicly accessible and free to access.

In 2011, the team won a further contract to refresh and improve the site, focusing on how the site could be refined to better meet the needs of key user groups including economic development policy-makers and practitioners across Scotland. In the last quarter of 2016, the reports hosted on the site were accessed over 30,000 times.

The importance of evaluation

One of the key reports hosted on Evaluation Online is the annual review of the risk capital market in Scotland. Scottish Enterprise commissions the report annually in order to consider the scale of new investment flows. The findings are also used to inform the nature of Scottish Enterprise interventions in the Scottish early stage risk capital market, such as the Scottish Co-Investment Fund and Scottish Venture Fund.

Scottish Enterprise commissions evaluations of projects and programmes each year in order to identify their contribution towards economic growth in Scotland, and particularly in terms of their impact on gross value added (GVA) and employment. As the findings of the evaluations inform decisions about public spending, it’s important that all of the appraisal and evaluation work is of a high technical standard.

We’ve highlighted the importance of evidence and evaluation on the blog several times before. It’s worth repeating that repositories of evidence can help bring about better policy in a number of ways:

  • improve accountability by making it easier for people to scrutinise the activities and spending of public sector organisations – this helps organisations meet Freedom of Information responsibilities;
  • improve the visibility and therefore the impact of evidence;
  • help identify gaps in evidence by making it easier to compare research findings; and
  • increase our understanding of what works (‘good practice’), not only in the activities covered, but also in evaluation and research methods.

We’re proud to support Scottish Enterprise in the dissemination of their evaluation and research output, through a portal which they believe increases the return on these activities.

You can find out more about the projects The Knowledge Exchange team has been involved in, and the consultancy services we offer, here.

 

Eating or heating: tackling fuel poverty in the UK

nastural gas flame

It is a complete scandal that people die because they can’t afford to heat their homes. ‘I, Daniel Blake’ shows the tragic circumstances and daily dilemma of ‘heating or eating’ faced by many thousands of people in Britain today.”

Those were the words of I, Daniel Blake lead actor Dave Johns as he backed a report published in November 2016 by the charity National Energy Action. The report, which looked at the health problems related to fuel poverty, claimed that a child born today may never see fuel poverty eradicated from the UK unless more assistance is given struggling families.

Identifying the “fuel poor”

In England, according to the most recent official government statistics, more than 2.3 million (10%) households are living in fuel poverty. Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Cornwall are among the places worst affected. At risk groups include single parent households with dependent children, rural households, and those living in the private rented sector. Research also highlights that those customers who use prepay meters, which include a large proportion of the most vulnerable customers, are more likely to be “fuel poor” as they do not have the flexible tariff options and reduced rate deals which are offered to customers who pay via direct debit.

The picture is not much better elsewhere in the UK. A report produced by the Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group estimated that there are currently over 800,000 households (35%) living in fuel poverty, with levels as high as 50% in rural areas. Meanwhile, in Wales the latest estimates suggest that 23% of households are currently living in fuel poverty.

heater gauge

Tackling the causes of fuel poverty

Not being able to afford to heat your home, or having to choose between eating or heating is the stark choice many families in the UK are being forced to make, however it is clear that fuel poverty stems from a number of different factors, including the cost of fuel, the price of energy, and rising energy consumption habits.

The latest Scottish Government strategy on tackling fuel poverty suggests that four drivers of fuel poverty need to be tackled before fuel poverty can be eradicated. These are:

  • Raising incomes  8 out of 10 households (in Scotland) in income poverty are also fuel poor.
  • Making energy costs affordable  in many cases the cost of fuel is rising faster than household incomes.
  • Improving energy performance in housing  people living in a home with low energy performance are 3.5 times as likely to be suffering from fuel poverty as those in a home with high energy performance.
  • Changing habits of energy use  adopting energy-saving behaviours can make a significant difference to fuel bills by reducing overall demand. There is also a need to better understand and increase use of “green energy”.

But what about energy suppliers?

In December 2016, a report from Turn2Us suggested  that two million households suffer from fuel poverty. Subsequently, the “big six” energy suppliers met at Westminster to discuss what they could do to help tackle fuel poverty. At the moment, there is no legal requirement for energy companies to take action to reduce fuel poverty. However, they are coming under increasing pressure to help tackle fuel poverty, by reflecting some of their profit margins in the rates they give to customers. The idea of automatically putting vulnerable or “at risk” customers onto the lowest fuel tariff was discussed. However the bulk of the discussion, according to reports, concentrated on how to increase awareness of existing options, including the government-led Warm Home Discount, individual support grants, the Cold Weather Payment, and practical support from suppliers themselves.warm fire

Practical strategies to tackle fuel poverty

A number of schemes have been developed to try to help tackle fuel poverty, with national roll outs being supplemented by more localised programmes often funded by local authorities or charities.

In November 2016 the Scottish Government pledged an extra £10m to be spent on tackling fuel poverty. £9m was allocated for councils and housing associations to make it easier for tenants to heat their homes. A further £1m is to be made available to provide interest free loans to help people make their homes more energy efficient.

Other schemes have also been introduced by local authorities to try and tackle fuel poverty, including Ready to Switch? Launched in November 2012, Peterborough City Council’s collective switching scheme uses the combined buying power of residents and businesses within the community to negotiate cheaper prices with energy companies. According to figures from Peterborough Council, to date, hundreds of households have switched to save on gas and electricity, with some reducing annual bills by nearly £150.

Boilers on prescription (BoP) is a new funding stream which is being tested in a number of local authority areas, including Sunderland. The fund is managed through NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups, and householders at risk of cold related illnesses are referred for heating upgrades via health professionals. One of the main ideas behind BoP is to reduce a resident’s need for NHS interventions by improving their thermal comfort at home. It is hoped that a warmer, healthier home could reduce the number of GP appointments or emergency admissions.

Energie

 

Altering the design of new homes and subsidising the retrofitting of older ones is also a key policy strategy for tackling fuel poverty. Providing homes which are designed or adapted to be energy efficient through improved insulation, the installation of solar panels or using appropriate lighting or heating systems will allow the government not only to reduce fuel poverty in the present, but should also reduce the likelihood of more people falling into fuel poverty in the future. Reducing the demand for energy by creating homes which use less of it may also help to drive down the cost of energy, resulting in even bigger savings. However, it is not just the responsibility of individual homeowners to carry out these improvements. Local authorities, housing associations and private landlords also need to (and have in many instances) recognise the vital role they play, particularly in relation to more vulnerable customers who are at increased risk of falling into fuel poverty. Retrofitting has been increasingly popular in other parts of Europe, as these case study examples show.

The issue of fuel poverty in the UK does not appear to be going anywhere fast. Despite the attempts of governments across the UK to reduce the figure, in many areas the number of people falling into fuel poverty continues to rise. While there are individual areas of good practice aiming to help some of the UK’s most vulnerable families to heat their homes, it is clear that a wider commitment to combat the underlying causes of fuel poverty is needed, along with a recognition that there is a responsibility across the board to provide help and information to families suffering as a result of fuel poverty.


If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our blog on the Dutch Energiesprong model and our research briefing on retrofitting (member access only).

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. 

Another year draws to a close …

xmas-card-2016

 

Thanks for following our blog in 2016. It’s been quite a year and we’re sure that there will be plenty of policy and practice issues for us to explore in 2017!

We are The Knowledge Exchange … the research and intelligence arm of Idox, a supplier of specialist information management solutions within the UK and the wider world.

And we’ll be back in January!

Christine, Donna, Elizabeth, Heather, James, Laura, Mhari, Morwen, Rebecca, Stacey, Steven

Rounding up our best blogs of 2016

Throughout 2016, The Knowledge Exchange’s team of Researchers has been reporting on developments in a wide range of subjects. As this selection of our blog posts from the past year illustrates, we’ve been covering everything from health and social care to digital transformation.

January

Stacey Dingwall reported on the decision by Brighton College, a co-educational independent college, to stop making a distinction between boys’ and girls’ uniforms. While the announcement was applauded by parents and other schools, the Commons Women and Equalities Committee highlighted more needs to be done to ensure schools are compliant with their legal obligations towards pupils across all protected characteristics.

“The Committee recommended that the government should consider the inclusion of training on these protected characteristics in its review of initial teacher training, and that trans issues (and gender issues generally) should be taught as part of PSHE.”

February

Heather Cameron reported on the pressures facing social workers in England:

“The Social Lives Survey revealed that while the majority of social workers enjoy their job, two-thirds say they can’t focus on what really matters and only a quarter feel their workload is manageable. Almost 80% work overtime every day, and 86% don’t get paid for doing so.”

March

Reablement, or enablement is the process of rehabilitating people to allow them to regain some or all of their independence. In March, Rebecca Jackson blogged about the successful application of this form of care:

“A 2007 study for the Department of Health’s Care Services Efficiency Delivery Network found that up to 68% of people no longer needed a home care package after a period of reablement, and up to 48% continued not to need home care two years later.”

April

James Carson introduced Reading Room, which joined the Idox Group in 2015. Reading Room is an award-winning digital consultancy with an international reputation for innovative strategic consultancy, design, and technical delivery.

“The company was especially proud to have won the British Educational Training and Technology Award for Free Digital Content/Open Educational Resources for its development of the Magna Carta educational resource for the National Archives.”

May

In May, Morwen Johnson reminded readers that the Idox Information Service has its own library of 60,000 books and reports, and highlighted some recent additions, including Inside the Nudge Unit: how small changes can make a big difference.

“Behavioural insights, and how these can be used within policymaking in order to shape and improve outcomes, has always been popular as a search topic on our database. Now this book, written by David Halpern, who headed up Number 10’s ‘Nudge Unit’ or Behavioural Insights Team (now spun out as an independent company jointly owned by the UK Government; Nesta and its employees) sheds light on how it works.”

June

As the UK prepared to vote on its membership of the European Union, our blog looked to Switzerland, where referendums are far more commonplace than here.

Of all the national referendums held in Western democracies since World War II, more than two-thirds have been held in Switzerland. Swiss voters go to the polls three or four times a year, deciding on issues as varied as immigration, complementary medicine, and financing of local sports facilities.”

July

Steven McGinty looked at public-private collaboration as a means of helping government to achieve digital transformation, and highlighted a new approach taken by the Scottish Government’s Civtech project, which encourages entrepreneurs, start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to develop innovative solutions to public sector problems.

“Unconventionally, the tender does not include pre-determined solutions, instead opting to pose six open questions, known as ‘challenges’, and inviting participants to provide answers.”

August

As London Underground’s Night Tube was launched, Heather Cameron outlined the benefits and concerns about night-time public transport:

It is of course too early to tell whether the night tube will bring the economic and social benefits to the city as predicted. What is clear is that the night tube supports London in its drive to becoming a truly 24-hour city.”

September

Steven McGinty reported on Norway’s pioneering role as a leader in digital government.

“In 1973 Norway became the first country to connect to the US’ ARPANET, which was the military predecessor to the Internet. And more recently, maritime and off-shore technology developments in Norway have become of global importance. In particular, the use of Big Data modelling plays a significant role in finding new oil fields.”

October

In October, Stacey Dingwall reported from the annual CILIPS autumn gathering in Glasgow, where Martin Goodfellow described his role as Coder in Residence at Glasgow Life.
“For the uninitiated, Martin explained that coding=programming. It’s a form of computational thinking: something we all use in everyday life, e.g. in deciding when to stop looking for something, be it when shopping or looking for information. Martin’s remit is to support the creation of coding clubs in Glasgow’s public libraries.

November

In her November blog post, Donna Gardiner explained that, while coaching was becoming more prevalent in organisations, there is very little research evidence about what makes a ‘good’ coach.

“The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) are among those working to address this.  In August, they published a report which explored the factors leading to coaching success, from both the coach and the coachee perspective.  They also examined the nature of an effective coaching relationship and set out practical advice for organisations on how to improve coaching elements of everyday work.”

December

Steven McGinty highlighted the challenge of digital transformation in local government. While there are significant barriers to digital adoption, Steven reported that many councils are involved in pilot projects and introducing new services.

“For example, Cambridge City Council have launched Cambridgeshire Insight, a shared research knowledge base which allows over 20 public and third sector organisations to publish their data and make it freely available. We have also seen 18 councils coming together to collaborate on a project which aims to keep electoral registers up-to-date, potentially saving £20 million a year.”