‘Think globally, act locally’ – local job creation

Jobssign2

By Heather Cameron

The Local Government Association (LGA) last week called for greater devolution of employment and skills funding to councils and a ‘radical rethink’ of the way Jobcentre Plus works. Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board said:

“Job centres need to engage with more unemployed people for a start and then help more claimants move into sustainable employment. This is crucial to boosting local growth. Councils know best how to do this. We know our local economies, we know our local employers and we know our residents and we can bring local services together in a way central government will never be able to.”

Local solutions

Of course, local solutions for job creation and economic growth is not a new idea. Local development and job creation initiatives first emerged in the 1980s, in response to a ‘new phenomenon of high, persistent and concentrated unemployment that national policies seemed powerless to reverse on their own. Since then they have continued to spread and develop.

Although unemployment is at an 11-year low in the UK, according to recent research many countries, including the UK, are seeing widening gaps in the geographic distribution of skills and jobs. And the importance of local solutions has again been highlighted.

The OECD’s most recent edition of Job Creation and Local Economic Development argues that local development is a key tool for addressing the problem of such unequal distribution. Similarly, in its submission to last year’s Autumn Statement, the LGA argued that local government is central to the delivery of locally tailored solutions to national public policy challenges.

Boosting productivity growth, while ensuring growth delivers improved living standards and distributes the benefits of increased prosperity equally, are highlighted by the OECD as the twin challenges facing all policymakers. Underlined as a crucial but difficult task, it is argued that ‘actions originating at any single governance level or policy area will not be sufficient’.

Whole-of-government approach

The OECD report, therefore, examines how national and local actors can better work together to support economic development and job creation at the local level. In particular, it outlines what both national and local actors can do to improve the local implementation of vocational education and training (VET) and SME and entrepreneurship policies.

Among the recommendations for national actors include:

  • Design VET frameworks that allow local stakeholders to tailor training to local labour market needs while still maintaining a certain level of national consistency
  • Build the capacities needed to make VET systems more agile locally
  • Develop a strong national apprenticeship framework that builds a high quality system, includes strategically-designed incentives for employer participation, and allows for flexible delivery frameworks
  • Maximise the efficiency of SME and entrepreneurship policy delivery by allowing for local tailoring, co-locating services, using intermediary organisations to deliver programmes, and/or developing formal agreements for the division of competences and financing between governance levels
  • Develop national frameworks and strategies to support disadvantaged young people in entrepreneurship, and clearly assign responsibility for this policy portfolio to a single agency or ministry
  • Embed entrepreneurship into national education frameworks, while also providing integrated packages of entrepreneurship support in other settings to reach young people outside of the education system

Among the recommendations for local actors include:

  • Balance the need to meet pressing local labour market demands with ensuring that VET helps to move local economies to higher skilled and value-added products and services
  • Encourage VET teachers and trainers to maintain contact with local employers and industries to keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date
  • Boost employer engagement in apprenticeships
  • Tailor the delivery of apprenticeship programmes so that they work better for a broader range of employers, including SMEs, and disadvantaged populations
  • Forge connections across administrative borders in developing and co-ordinating entrepreneurship and SME policies
  • Work with organisations that have already established relationships with disadvantaged youth to maximise the reach of entrepreneurship programmes
  • To better reach disadvantaged youth, provide integrated packages of support, use hands-on learning methods, and involve entrepreneurs in programme delivery

Decentralisation?

The report concludes that local actors need both flexibility to tailor delivery of national policies to local conditions and the capacity to use this flexibility to ensure informed decision-making.

It is noted that this doesn’t necessarily mean political decentralisation, but rather ensuring the right tools are used to add local flexibility while maintaining national coherence.


If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our previous blog on Local Enterprise Partnerships

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Equal to the task? Addressing racial inequality in public services

huddleCLR

Throughout October, a series of events to promote diversity and equality will take place as part of Black History Month. Although there are many achievements to celebrate, it is an unfortunate fact that many people in the UK today still experience disadvantage due to the colour of their skin.

Over the summer, reports by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), found that racial inequality in the UK was ‘worryingly high’.

In its biggest ever review of race inequality in the UK, the EHRC concluded that:

“while for certain people life has become fairer over the past five years, for others progress has stalled and for some– in particular young Black people – life on many fronts has got worse.”

Audit of racial disparities announced

The government responded quickly by announcing an audit of racial disparities in public services. It promises to ‘shine a light on injustices as never before’.

From summer 2017, Whitehall departments will be required to identify and publish information annually on outcomes for people of different backgrounds in areas such as health, education, childcare, welfare, employment, skills and criminal justice.

As well as enabling the public to check how their race affects the way they are treated by public services, the data is also intended to help force services to improve.

The audit is being called ‘unprecedented’ – and it certainly is – up until now, public services in the UK have not systematically gathered data for the purposes of racial comparison. Indeed, according to the FT, very few countries, if any at all, currently produce racial impact audits.

‘Worryingly high’ levels of racial inequality

The audit will have its work cut out.  The review by the EHRC found that, compared to their White counterparts, people from ethnic minorities were more likely to be:

  • unemployed
  • on low wages and/or in insecure employment
  • excluded from school
  • less qualified
  • living in poverty
  • living in substandard and/or overcrowded accommodation
  • experiencing mental and physical health problems
  • in the criminal justice system
  • stopped and searched by police
  • a victim of hate crime
  • a victim of homicide

Institutional racism

Similarly, the CERD findings into how well the UK is meeting its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) raised serious concerns about the level of institutional racism in UK public services. Omar Khan, of the Runnymede Trust, suggested that the findings would ‘embarrass the UK on the world stage’.

Longstanding inequalities in access to services, the quality of care received and patients’ health outcomes were criticised, as was the over-representation of persons belonging to ethnic minorities in psychiatric institutions.

The committee echoed the EHRC’s concerns regarding higher unemployment rates and the concentration of persons belonging to ethnic minorities in insecure and low-paid work.  They also criticised the use of discriminatory recruitment practices by employers.

In education, there were concerns regarding reports of racist bullying and harassment in schools, and the lack of balanced teaching about the history of the British Empire and colonialism, particularly with regard to slavery.

The committee also concluded that there had been an outbreak of xenophobia and discrimination against ethnic minorities, particularly since the EU referendum campaign.  Indeed, the rise in post-Brexit racial tensions has been widely acknowledged.

Equal to the task?

Although the audit has been welcomed by many, including the EHRC, others have raised concern about the extent to which it will tackle the root of the problem.  Danny Dorling, of Oxford University, remains sceptical, stating that “within two or three years every single one of these audits is forgotten”.

Some have noted that in order to be effective, the audit will also have to capture outcomes for migrant families, and for poorer White people, who also suffer from discrimination and disadvantage.  Others, including Labour’s Angela Rayner, shadow equalities minister, have noted that there is a ‘huge gap’ in the review as it would not include the private sector.

The EHRC have called upon the government to createa comprehensive, coordinated and long-term strategy to achieve race equality, with stretching new targets to improve opportunities and deliver clear and measurable outcomes.”

Certainly, the data produced by the racial equality audit may well provide some basis for the establishment of such targets.

So while this October there is cause for celebrating the progress made so far, the findings of the EHRC and the CERD underline just how entrenched and far-reaching race inequality remains.  As the EHRC states:

“We must tackle this with the utmost urgency if we are to heal the divisions in our society and prevent an escalation of tensions between our communities.”


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Government as a Platform: a new way of thinking about digital transformation

Multi-coloured blocks on the table, with a green dinosaur

By Steven McGinty

The term ‘Government as a Platform’ (GaaP) was coined by Tim O’Reilly, a technology entrepreneur and advocate.

The Government Digital Service (GDS), the body responsible for UK Government digital transformation, has started to introduce ‘platform thinking’ to government services. However, according to a survey carried out in February, three-quarters of civil servants hadn’t heard of or didn’t understand ‘Government as a Platform’. This may be concerning for government, whose efficiency programme greatly relies on successful digital transformation.

On the blog today, I’m going to reflect on the concept of ‘Government as a Platform’, as well as outlining its adoption in the UK.

The ‘gubbins’ of government

Mark Foden, an organisational change strategist, explains the platform-based view of government in a simple (and humorous) video.

In his view, government has traditionally been made up of independent departments, providing services such as benefits, pensions, and tax. These services use bespoke technology provided by large technology companies, over long contracts.

However, the platform based-view is different. He illustrates this by splitting a government department into three sections:

  • Levers and dials – the part of the service the user interacts with (e.g. websites and mobile apps)
  • ‘Gubbins’ – in simple terms, it’s the common capabilities (e.g. checking identity) and the bespoke services (e.g. calculating tax) that government services need to function
  • Machinery – the fundamentals of technology (e.g. mainframe computers, storage, and databases)

Foden explains that a key element to platform thinking is the ‘gubbins’ section. Advances in technology now make it possible to untangle these ‘gubbins’ government services, without affecting others. In practice, this means that common capabilities used by government, such as making payments or checking identity can be developed and used across departments. Websites can also be shared to create consistency across government digital services – a sort of ‘brand government’. This approach limits the number of bespoke services developed in ‘silos’ (or within departments).

Additionally, having this separation between common capabilities and bespoke services also presents opportunities to involve a greater number of suppliers.

Potentially, this approach could be worth £35 billion in savings across government.

Organising Government as a Platform

Mark Thompson, senior lecturer in information systems at Cambridge Judge Business School, suggests three principles to enable Government as a Platform to succeed:

  • gradually moving towards more common capabilities and reducing departmental bespoke services
  • developing common capabilities across the public sector must be a priority for digital transformation
  • optimising the relationship between common capabilities and bespoke services within government departments

The UK approach  

GDS

A widely used definition by the GDS is that digital government should include:

 “a common core infrastructure of shared digital systems, technology and processes on which it’s easy to build brilliant, user-centric government services.”

GOV.UK was the first attempt to transform how the UK does government. Launching in 2012, the publishing platform brought together over 300 government agencies and arm’s length bodies’ websites within 15 months. Replacing DirectGov and Business Link alone saved more than £60m a year. Early testing also showed GOV.UK was simpler for users, with 61% completing tasks on the new Business Link section; compared to 46% on the old website.

GOV.UK Verify has also been introduced – an identity assurance platform which allows people to prove who they are when using government services. The common service is the first of its kind and is being used by organisations such as HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to build new services.

More recently, GOV.UK Notify, a service which sends text messages, emails or letters, has sent notifications to its first users. GOV.UK Pay also just secured compliance with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard.

NHS

Although the GDS have taken the lead on platform thinking, the NHS launched NHS Jobs, a shared recruitment service, in 2003. The service has been remarkably successfully, generating over £1 billion in savings.

Mark Thompson suggests this is because of its platform approach. The Department of Health (DoH), working alongside Methods Consulting, convinced over 500 NHS employers to give up their own recruitment services and to make use of this common capability. The website is the biggest single employer recruitment site in Europe, with one unique visit every two seconds. The service has also become a valuable commodity with suppliers willing to provide the service at near cost, and compete on providing innovative services. The creation of this high quality recruitment service has therefore become a spur for innovation – something which is at the heart of Tim O’Reilly’s work on Government as a Platform.

Local government

Adur and Worthing council have recently taken a platform approach to their digital transformation. Paul Brewer, digital lead for the council, notes that it was struggling on several fronts, including IT outages and systems replicating inefficient paper-based processes.

To solve this problem, the council went through a capability mapping exercise. They identified departments which had common functions, such as undertaking case management, taking payments and booking appointments for customers. With this roadmap, they developed a CRM system to manage customer interactions (including social media), and purchased a platform which supports the creation a range of new IT products. The new approach enabled the council’s waste management service to support full mobile and remote working. Within a year, the department saved £20,000 on software and the equivalent of 1.5 staff members.

Interestingly, the council did not built their own platform, on the GDS model. Nor did they purchase an inflexible technology. Instead, they chose a third way by purchasing the building blocks of capability, and controlling where the capability was slotted in.

Final thoughts

The lack of knowledge about Government as a Platform within the civil service is somewhat disheartening. However, the GDS has introduced many new approaches to government and shown practically how they can work. Projects such as GOV.UK and GOV.UK Verify have been well received and countries such as New Zealand have looked towards the UK for their own digital transformation.

In August, the UK was ranked as global leader for e-participation on the United Nations E-Government Survey, ahead of Australia and South Korea.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our other digital articles. 

Budget 2016 – 5 messages for local government

One pound coin on fluctuating graph. Rate of the pound sterling

By Heather Cameron

Last week George Osborne revealed the details of his 2016 Budget, at the centre of which was a major deterioration of the forecast for productivity growth. Last year, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) projected an average growth in productivity per hour of 1.9% between 2015-16 and 2020-21; that average is now 1.7%.

As a result, a further £3.5 billion of savings from public spending is to be found in 2019/20. While Osborne has suggested these savings are equivalent to 50p in every £100 the government spends, experts have warned that the figure is closer to £2 or £3 for services that haven’t been protected.

What does it mean for local government?

Despite no direct cuts for local government, it remains unclear where these savings will come from. And with ring fencing of much public spending, local government may yet again bear the brunt of these cuts one way or another.

Business rates

Concerns have been raised over the announcement to extend business rate relief, the revenue from which is 50% retained by councils. It was revealed that this will remove £7 billion from the total take in England over the next five years; 600,000 small businesses will pay no rates at all from next year.

While good news for small businesses, there are fears it could leave a huge hole in local government finances as all locally raised business rates are to be fully devolved by the end of 2020. This will be accompanied by the phasing out of central government grants, and the devolution of additional spending responsibilities.

The government says that “local government will be compensated for the loss of income as a result … and the impact considered as part of the government’s consultation on the implementation of 100% business rate retention in summer 2016.”

But details of how such compensation will work remain unknown. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has suggested that the government’s plans for reimbursing local government is “nigh on impossible”.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), if protection for council budgets isn’t extended to beyond the devolution of business rates, councils stand to lose £1.9bn per year, or 2.9% of their total revenues.

Benefits cuts

Further cuts to welfare spending could also have a knock-on effect. The Chancellor outlined controversial plans to reform Personal Independent Payments (PIP) for disabled people, to save £1.3 billion. Overall, £4.4 billion will be cut from benefits for disabled people over the course of the parliament.

The cuts to PIP have been described as ‘devastating’ for disabled people, with many relying on them to live independently. They could therefore lead to increasing pressure on already stretched local services.

Even the government’s own party members criticised these cuts, which have since led to the shock resignation of Iain Duncan Smith and a government U-turn on the reforms to PIP, which will now not go ahead.

But there is no alternative plan to fill the hole left by this U-turn so local government may still need to brace themselves for cuts elsewhere.

Education

Under the education reforms, every state school in England is to become an academy by 2020 or have a plan in place to do so by 2022, ending the century-old role of local authorities as providers of education.

But, as our recent blog has highlighted, there are ongoing concerns over the academy programme with little evidence to justify it.

The plans have been criticised by councils and teaching unions. Chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA) children and young people board, said:

We have serious concerns that regional schools commissioners still lack the capacity and local knowledge to have oversight of such a large, diverse and remote range of schools.”

Ofsted rated 82% of council maintained schools as good or outstanding, while the results of recent HMI inspections of academies has been described as “worrying”. The findings also highlighted a “poor use of public money”, something that has been reiterated by the LGA.

In response, the LGA noted that “councils have been forced to spend millions of pounds to cover the cost of schools becoming academies in recent years”.

Devolution deals

There was some better news for local government in the form of new devolution deals with the West of England, East Anglia, and Greater Lincolnshire. The West of England and East Anglia will each receive a £900 million investment fund over 30 years to boost economic growth, while Greater Lincolnshire’s deal is worth £450 million.

New powers over the criminal justice system are also to be transferred to Greater Manchester and business rates are to be fully devolved to the Greater London Authority next year, 3 years before everyone else.

The LGA welcomes these deals as recognition of the economic potential of all local areas and calls for a return to the early momentum in which similar deals were announced last year.

Flood defences

Another positive for local government was the £700 million funding boost for flood defences by 2020-21, including projects in York, Leeds, Calder Valley, Carlisle and across Cumbria, to be funded by a 0.5% increase in the standard rate of Insurance Premium Tax.

Considering the extent of recent winter flooding, this was welcomed by local government as a “step in the right direction”.

However, the LGA has stated that councils will need further help from government once the full cost of recent damage emerges. It has also called for flood defence funding to be devolved to local areas so the money can be spent on where it is really needed.

Final thoughts

So despite no direct cuts for local government, and the welcome boost to local economies and flood defences, it remains to be seen whether local government will lose out financially in the longer term.


Read our related blog on the total academisation of schools.

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The local prevention of terrorism

by Steven McGinty

Since the terrorist attacks in Paris there has been a renewed focus on preventing terrorism.  On a national level, the UK government has increased the defence budget by an extra £12 billion, and is expected to hold a vote on airstrikes in Syria. More locally, there has been fierce debate about looming police cuts, with the Muslim Council of Britain suggesting that it could harm trust with communities.

At the Knowledge Exchange, we recently received an Ask-a-Researcher request for information on the role and importance of local partners within the counter-terrorism and extremist space. We provided the member with a number of resources to support their work; but there was one that stood out.

Essential resource

The book was ‘The Local Prevention of Terrorism: Strategy and Practice in the Fight Against Terrorism by Joshua J. Skoczylis, Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Lincoln, UK. It was published in September 2015 and appears to be a vital resource for UK policymakers and academics.

The book explores the UK government’s Prevent policy, a key strand of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST) that focuses on stopping people becoming or supporting terrorism, as well as examining its impact on local communities.

Concepts and tensions affecting Prevent

In chapter 2, the key concepts are analysed that underpin CONTEST, and in particular the Prevent policy.  This involves looking at the idea of prevention, the relationship between Prevent and policing, and the relationship between communities and CONTEST.

An interesting point raised is that the narrative of CONTEST provides a powerful basis for which policies are based on. There is a critique of the phrase ‘international terrorism’ (often used in government strategies), with the author suggesting that the lines between international and local have been blurred, with terrorist attacks being carried out by local residents.

Prevent – an innovative counter terrorism strategy

One of the main arguments put forward is that the Prevent policy is an innovative approach to counter-terrorism. The author explains that Prevent occupies the ‘space somewhere in the middle, between extremism and violent extremism’. In essence, this space provides an area for honest engagement within communities, free from the security and intelligence community. This space allows local actors to be involved in the debate, including local authorities and Muslim organisations.

Delivering Prevent to Maybury Council

In the final chapters, the book reflects on Prevent’s impact on Maybury, a mill town in the north of England. Since 2007, several Prevent programmes have been delivered in the area, including Channel, an early intervention programme for young people vulnerable to be drawn into terrorism. Although, the majority have focused on community cohesion and awareness raising.

The book also discusses the findings of a report commissioned by Maybury Council into the Prevent policy. It highlights that the Prevent programme has been viewed as ‘divisive’ and has alienated members of the community that local agencies need to engage with. In particular, it suggests that focusing solely on Muslim communities, using surveillance measures, only breeds distrust.

The report also highlights the tension that exists between the national and the local delivery of Prevent. It explains however that Maybury Council have adapted their own policy to address local needs; although it’s noted that this may change as the government have introduced a more centralised administration process for Prevent funds.

Conclusions

At the end of the book, the author comes to several conclusions about the local delivery of Prevent. One of the main conclusions is that evaluation is crucial for establishing what policies and programmes are successful. It is important that an evidence base is developed and that good practice is shared amongst practitioners.


Our popular Ask-a-Researcher enquiry service is one aspect of the Idox Information Service, which we provide to members in organisations across the UK to keep them informed on the latest research and evidence on public and social policy issues. To find out more on how to become a member, get in touch.

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The UK digital economy: how can the government support digital businesses?

By Steven McGinty

Last month, the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee launched an inquiry into the UK’s digital economy. Iain Wright MP, the Chair of the Committee, explained that:

Digital technology is rapidly changing the economic landscape in which firms operate. Nothing short of a digital and tech revolution is taking place, with new entrepreneurs and business models emerging and existing businesses having to adapt quickly to keep pace.”

The inquiry will focus on three areas:

  • Government actions affecting businesses in the digital economy;
  • how to maximise the opportunities and overcome challenges in the sector;
  • how the sector can contribute to improving national productivity.

The BIS Committee is asking for submissions from those involved in the digital economy, including digital businesses and companies hoping to benefit from technology.

 Why should the government support the digital economy?

Innovate UK expect that, by 2015, the UK digital economy will account for 10% of GDP. Tech City UK report that the sector employs 1.5 million people (about 7.5% of the total workforce); although this is expected to increase by 5.4% by 2020. In 2013-2014, 15% of all the companies formed were digital businesses. Most were based outside of London (74%) and nearly all were SMEs (98%). The majority (90%) of digital companies expect revenues to grow within the next year.

Technology clusters

Technology clusters play an important role in the UK’s digital economy. There are 21 clusters across the UK, with expertise ranging from software development to marketing and advertising. The majority of digital businesses consider themselves part of a cluster (65%). Bournemouth has the fastest growing digital cluster, with a 212% increase in the number of companies formed since 2010. Its specialism is digital marketing and advertising.

This growth suggests specific focus should be given to technology clusters. Tech City UK found that a third of digital companies highlighted access to funding as a challenge, particularly outside of London and the South East.  One suggestion offered by Tech City UK is that businesses need to take advantage of European funding where possible.

Other forms of support could include: providing fast and accessible broadband; access to a pool of skilled employees; suitable workspace, particularly in the South East; and business and mentoring advice.

Digital Economy Strategy 2015-2018

At the beginning of the year, Innovate UK set out a strategy to support UK businesses in getting the most out of digital technology. It sets out five main objectives:

  • Encouraging digital innovators
  • Focusing on the user
  • Equipping the digital innovator
  • Growing infrastructure, platforms and ecosystems
  • Ensuring sustainability.

Within the strategy, actions are put forward for how these goals will be achieved. For instance, to ensure sustainability, Innovate UK would work closely with UK research councils to encourage cross-disciplinary academic collaboration and help connect it to real-world business needs. If even some progress is made with each of these objectives it would be hugely beneficial for the UK digital economy.

Innovation centres – the Digital Catapult

The Digital Catapult is a national centre that aims to accelerate the UK’s best digital ideas to the marketplace, in order to create new products, services and jobs. It was established in 2014 by Innovate UK and is based in the Knowledge Quarter in Kings Cross. There are also three local centres in the North East and Tees Valley (NETV), Brighton, and Yorkshire.

The Digital Catapult centres focus on the challenges associated with: closed organisational data; personal data; creative content; and the internet of things (IoT). The centres are involved in a number of projects, including IoTUK, which has been launched as part of a £40 million government investment in the internet of things (the use of networks to allow the exchange and collection of data from everyday objects, such as fridges). The programme aims to increase the adoption of high quality IoT technologies and services throughout business and the public sector.

Regina Moran, CEO at Fujitsu UK&I, notes that:

The IoT has the potential to turn ideas in a hyper-connected world into fully realised digital services but it has challenges ahead and it’s encouraging to see the Government investing in its development.”

 Regulation

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has managed to convince the European Commission (EC) to review the VAT regime for tech start-ups, arguing that it punished British entrepreneurs. The regime, which was implemented in January, forced companies to pay tax in every country they traded in rather than their headquarters. It also eliminated a £81,000 threshold for which companies have to register for VAT duty.

However, the Commission has recognised that this was adversely affecting small businesses. Therefore, measures such as the reintroduction of the VAT threshold and a single registration scheme for cross-border taxes, will be included in the Commission’s consultation.

The UK government’s approach shows a commitment to providing a competitive business environment and a single European market in digital services. It’s likely that most digital businesses would support the government’s approach.

Concluding remarks

The upcoming BIS Committee inquiry will provide an opportunity to reflect on the government’s approach so far. Although evidence confirms that the digital economy has been growing, there may be areas that the UK is failing to capitalise on. In a highly competitive globalised economy, it’s important that the UK exploits any strategic advantage, ensuring that innovative ideas are brought to the market quickly.

The inquiry will also provide an opportunity for a dialogue between the government and the private sector. This increased collaboration can only be good news for the UK’s digital businesses.

Here at Idox, we take an active interest in the future of the digital economy and eagerly await the Committee’s findings.


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Enjoy this article? Read our other recent blogs relating to the digital economy:

IDOX Plc announced on 8 October 2015 that it had acquired the UK trading arm of Reading Room Ltd. Reading Room, founded in 1996, is a digital consultancy business with a focus on delivering websites and digital services that enable its customers to make critical shifts into digital business and client engagement. It has an international reputation for its award winning and innovative approaches to strategic consultancy, design, and technical delivery.

The self-employment boom … a challenge for government?

By Heather Cameron

There are around 4.5 million self-employed people working in the UK – 1 in 7 of the total workforce. And based on the current rate of growth, it is expected that the self-employed will outnumber public sector employees by 2020. But what impact is this shift in the labour market having on the economy and on government policy?

Growth

Earlier this year we wrote about the rise in female self-employment and entrepreneurship. And generally, jobs recovery in the UK following the recession has undoubtedly been helped by self-employment, which accounts for over a quarter of the growth in employment since 2010.

While the recession has accentuated the growth in self-employment, it is a trend that predates the downturn and it is the significant drop in the numbers leaving self-employment that has been the main driver of growth over the last five years.

Also, as people are living longer and healthier lives, many don’t want to give up working at the traditional retirement age. There has been a 46.5% increase in freelancers over 50 since 2008, an age group that now accounts for 72% of all self-employed people.

This could be seen as a positive outcome of growing entrepreneurialism, contributing to economic growth.  On the other hand, some see it as a move towards more risky, insecure work.

Why self-employment?

There is a definite attraction to being able to work for yourself and organise your own working hours. Most self-employed workers have chosen this path and there is evidence to suggest that job satisfaction is high among self-employed workers.

The freelancing model can also be beneficial to firms as it provides flexibility in access to expertise, helping them to manage peaks and troughs in demand for their services and enabling them to test new ideas with less risk.

A recent study of freelance workers found that a number of factors affect their wellbeing. When working hours are higher than their normal working pattern, freelance workers were found to be calmer and more enthusiastic. However, when the demands they face are difficult or conflicting, then anxiety increases and enthusiasm declines, potentially leading to depression.

Self-employment is therefore not without its drawbacks.

Challenges

Self-employment is often associated with a lack of stability in terms of income and employment benefits such as holiday/sick pay and pensions, and difficulties in accessing financial products and housing.

A particular issue recently has been ‘bogus self-employment’ where workers who would normally meet the legal definition of an employee are registered as self-employed, therefore not receiving any of the employee benefits afforded to registered employees. The government also loses tax revenue and responsible businesses can be undercut.

Access to training is another big challenge for the self-employed as they can only treat training that improves existing skillsets as tax deductible, meaning training for new skills is not covered. As a recent report by Demos argues, this contradicts the aspiration of policy makers to promote entrepreneurial behaviour.

Worryingly, the number of self-employed people receiving training in the UK has fallen in recent years while other European countries have seen a rise. Limited access to training could become a real concern and contribute to the problem of low pay and poor progression rates for self-employed workers and across the wider labour market.

A recent report by IPPR highlights data suggesting that the earnings of the self-employed across Europe are falling relative to employee earnings, and many are looking for more hours or another job, raising concerns over living standards among this group.

As the UK is unique in its self-employment led recovery, this may be of particular concern. According to IPPR, the growth in self-employment could be driving a rise in in-work poverty alongside the jobs recovery.

Support

With a record number of self-employed people now working in the UK, it has been argued that the government needs to better support this growing section of the workforce.

Self-employment has surpassed growth in permanent employment by 3 to 1 in the last decade, but, as Demos has recently reported, government policy has yet to catch up with this structural shift.

There have been moves towards providing support for self-employment, such as the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA), set up by the previous government, which provides people on certain benefits with support to start their own business. Figures published at the end of 2014 show that the NEA has helped to set up over 60,000 new businesses.

Nevertheless, more needs to be done to bring policy in line with the current situation.

The report by Demos makes 18 recommendations for policy to protect the flexibility that self-employment offers, while addressing power imbalances within the marketplace. These include:

  • reducing red tape for firms and the self-employed;
  • providing greater certainty over employment status;
  • creating a tailored pension scheme for the self-employed;
  • aligning the tax treatment of training for employees and the self-employed;
  • and protecting the self-employed from loss of earnings.

In July, the government launched an independent review of self-employment which will consider how those who want to work for themselves can be better supported.

Due to be published in early 2016, perhaps the outcome of this will herald a shift in policy which is in line with the shift in labour market structure.


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

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on labour market policy. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading*

Neither one thing nor the other: how reducing bogus self-employment could benefit workers, business and the Exchequer

Self-employment and ethnicity: an escape from poverty?

Policy brief on sustaining self-employment: entrepreneurial activities in Europe

Business start-ups and youth self-employment in the UK: a policy literature review

Making sense of self-employment in late career: understanding the identity of olderpreneurs, IN Work, Employment and Society, Vol 29 No 2 Apr 2015, pp250-266

Self-employment: what can we learn from recent developments?, IN Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin, Vol 55 No 1 Q1 2015, pp56-66

The changing workforce (increased self-employment and flexible working practices), IN Business Voice, Jun/Jul 2014, pp20-24

*Some items may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Social labs … tackling social problems through collaboration and design

Crossing out problems and writing solutions on a blackboard.

by Laura Dobie

Nesta’s LabWorks 2015 global lab gathering kicks off today in London, bringing together innovation labs, units, offices and teams working within and with government to address social challenges.

Today on the blog we look at social labs, their potential to improve public services and a couple of social labs who are carrying out innovative work in public services.

What are social labs?

Social labs are platforms for tackling complex social challenges.

Zaid Hassan highlights the following key characteristics of social labs:

  • They are social, facilitating participation by a broad range of stakeholders
  • They are experimental, taking an iterative approach to problem-solving
  • They are systemic, seeking to address the root cause of a problem, and not just its symptoms (Hassan, 2014, p.3)

Social labs draw inspiration from design thinking, which is centred on the following principles of design which were promoted by design firm IDEO:

  • A user-centred approach to problem solving
  • Using direct observation as a main source of learning
  • Moving quickly to creating prototypes as a means of generating additional knowledge
  • Learning from failures to refine and redevelop

Social labs in the public sector

The public sector is making increasing use of design, policy or social labs as a means of complementing and reinforcing skills in public policy, programme and service design. They contribute a different perspective to challenges and use a range of research methods and facilitation techniques to foster ideas and insights that attempt to incorporate many different points of view.

Recent Canadian research on a What Works Lab, which was established to develop approaches to increase employer engagement in workplace training, found that using lab methodology enhances the ability to generate insights into potential policy responses, and that lab techniques can also substantially reduce the transmission cycle between research, policy and service delivery. The research also highlighted how experimentation in a lab setting can be used to de-risk an initiative before wider implementation, and demonstrated that labs are an effective means of generating high-quality policy work.

Social Innovation Lab Kent (SILK)

SILK is a small team based within Kent County Council established in 2007 to ‘do policy differently’. They consider that the best solutions come from people who are at the heart of an issue, those with lived experience, families, friends, volunteers, and front line workers, and they ensure that these groups are involved at all stages their projects.

Projects are broken down into the following phases:

  • Initiate. Involve the right people, create a project plan collectively and decide who needs to be informed about the project.
  • Create. Collect as many insights as possible, involve a broad range of stakeholders and generate ideas for testing in the next phase.
  • Test. Test the ideas which were proposed during the create phase, and continue testing until a model that woks is identified. Trial runs, prototypes or ‘mock ups’ can be a part of this process.
  • Define. A model which has been tested and known to work is defined and consolidated.

SILK has delivered a variety of projects across the themes of future services, service (re)design and sustainable services, and tackled a range of social issues, including accessible and affordable food, the resettlement of offenders and creating a dementia-friendly community.

MindLab

Based in Danish central government, MindLab employs a human-centred design approach to address public sector challenges. Its board sets its strategic direction and approves its portfolio of projects, ensuring that their work is aligned with their sponsors’ priorities. Its emphasis on human-centred design helps to forge links between the perspectives of end users and government decision making.

MindLab’s team has a variety of skills which are indicative of its ethos and method, including social research, design, public administration, project management, organisational development and creative facilitation.

In one project MindLab worked with National Board of Industrial Injuries (ASK) to increase the number of people who remain in employment after suffering an injury at work. MindLab highlighted the potential in strategic working across working across public, private and non-governmental organisations and a change in attitude in helping these people return to the labour market.

MindLab interviewed people who had suffered industrial injuries and put together service journeys, which mapped the different stakeholders involved in a work injury case from a citizen’s perspective. They demonstrated through a case study how cooperation between the municipality, the insurance company and ASK improved an injured person’s employment prospects. MindLab also conducted internal workshops with ASK management to support a change in strategic focus from case resolution to employment outcomes for injured people.

It is clear that social labs are taking a different approach to policy and service delivery, focusing on the experiences and needs of service users to devise innovative solutions to a range of social challenges.


The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of information on economic and social policy and public service delivery. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Hassan, Zaid (2014). The social revolution: a new approach to solving out most complex challenges. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. (Available for loan from the Idox Information Service Library)

The What Works Lab process: report for the Skills and Employment Branch, Employment and Social Development Canada

Will voter advice technology affect turnout on 7 May?

Polling_Station_2008

Image: Man_vyi via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons Licence

By Alan Gillies

In the run up to the last General Election in 2010, there was talk of declining turnouts in elections, disillusionment with politicians and fears that the 2010 turnout could be the lowest ever. But in the end the 2010 turnout (65.1%) was up slightly on both 2005 and the all-time low of 2001 (59.4%).

It will be interesting this year to see whether turnout continues to recover, perhaps to over 70% as suggested by some, or resumes a downward trend since 1950.

Turnout

The Scottish Independence referendum, which had a turnout of 84.5%, perhaps gives hope that people can still be engaged in politics, when they feel that issues are important to them and affect their lives. The referendum also highlighted the role of social networks, social media and technology in political engagement, particularly for young people.

In November 2014, our blog by James Carson looked at the rise of voter advice applications (VAAs), which pose a series of questions about election issues and uses the results to advise the user on which party is most closely aligned to their views. Since then these applications have proliferated in the UK, as shown by a list on the mySociety blog, which initially (20 March) identified six such apps, and to-date added a further thirteen!

There are concerns about potential negative aspects of such sites, for example that the ‘advice’ generated is dependent on a series of methodological choices made by the creators. But they do seem to engage and encourage people to vote. A study in the Netherlands estimated that that VAA usage accounted for about four per cent of the reported turnout in the election, and that it particularly affected groups typically less likely to vote, such as young voters and those less knowledgeable about politics.

A study of the impact of VAAs on actual voting behaviour indicated that “the patterns of usage and impact appear to cancel each other out, in that those who most frequently use VAAs are least likely to be affected by their vote advice”. Perhaps that is not such a bad thing? Users become engaged in the issues involved, but still make up their own mind.

And engagement in the political process is not just a ‘good thing’ for democracy. For those more interested in the ‘bottom line’, and what politician isn’t in this time of austerity, recent research has suggested that, at the local level at least increased public participation in the process of public decision making increased tax revenues.

Of course many issues affect turnout levels and VAAs can only play a small role. ‘The weather!’ it is often said, is the deciding factor – if it rains turnout will be low, sunshine and it will be high. The current long range forecast for 7 May is fine and 17C in the south of England, heavy showers and 13C in Scotland. But be wary of reading too much into that – evidence suggests that in the UK at least the link between weather and electoral turnout is an urban myth!


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on democracy and voting, to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Our recent white paper ‘Democracy and voting: key organisations and individuals‘ is an overview of who is influencing thinking in elections research.

Is our electoral system going through the biggest change in a generation?

By Steven McGinty

The biggest change in a generation? Quite simply: yes.

Last year, we saw an unprecedented focus on the democratic process, with high profile votes such as the Scottish independence referendum, as well as revolution in the way in which citizens vote through the introduction of the Individual Electoral Registration (IER). It’s likely that this degree of interest in the political system will continue as we move towards the general election in May, with a number of related topics being up for debate.

I’ve therefore decided to highlight some of the most notable election and referendum-related issues, as well as look at which might come up in the general election campaign.

Individual Electoral Registration

The introduction of IER in June 2014 was a major step in the delivery of digital government services. It was implemented to provide a more modern service and to help combat electoral fraud. The IER system is essentially a hub that was built by the Government Digital Service. The hub links up with the Electoral Management Software (EMS) in each local electoral area. There is no central database of voter details and the data has been received and saved locally, and is deleted from the Hub within 48 hours.

Yet although these changes have been introduced to improve the system, Dr Toby James, Senior Lecturer in British and Comparative Politics, suggests that they could have the opposite effect, and lead to reduced levels of voter registration.

Political engagement

The Scottish independence referendum was described by some as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, which would have permanently changed the political landscape of Scotland. The plebiscite saw 84.6% of the population voting, the highest turnout a nationwide election has had since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1918. The election also gave 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote, which resulted in 109,533 young people signing up before polling day.

It will be interesting to see if this high level of political engagement and the lowering of the voting age will be reflected across the UK in the future. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has already accepted proposals by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to lower the voting age in Holyrood elections permanently; although a House of Lords committee has raised concerns over these plans.

European referendum

The referendum on Europe could potentially be the big issue of this year’s general election. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Conservative Party have promised to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union if in government. However, the Labour party, at the moment, are against the idea of a European referendum.

Due to the fragmented political environment, it is quite possible that there will be another coalition government. In this scenario, parties will negotiate and smaller coalition partners may change their stance. At this stage, other parities including the Liberal Democrats, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Green Party and the SNP may also have an impact.

The latest polls are too close to call: with Ipsos MORI showing the Labour Party leading the Conservative Party by 1 point and YouGov showing the Conservative Party leading the Labour Party by 2 points. If the Labour Party win, it’s unlikely that there would be a referendum on Europe; however if the Conservative Party win, it’s likely that there will be.

Boundary changes

Boundary changes, although not as high profile as the debate on Europe, could also figure in the next parliament. In 2013, a Conservative backed plan to reduce the number of constituencies was rejected by their coalition partners and the opposition parties.  However, there are currently a number of electoral reviews being carried out by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England. For example, North Dorset Council will make changes to their boundaries that will come into force at the local elections in 2015.

Devolution

Greater devolution within England is also expected to be a major general election issue.  Although directly elected mayors have been part of the political landscape since the early 2000’s, not many cities have chosen to introduce them due to low voter turnout. However, in November 2014, the chancellor, George Osborne announced that Greater Manchester would have a directly elected Mayor, who would have a host of new powers for the region. This increase in powers, alongside a greater desire for more local decision making, may lead to a higher voter turnout than has previously been seen. It will be interesting to see if this triggers demands for mayors from other regions.

Police and Crime Commissioners

The spotlight will also be on the role of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC). Similar to the mayoral elections, turnout has been very low for PCCs elections, with the average turnout approximately 14.7%. If the Conservative Party wins the general election, it is likely that PCC elections will continue across England and Wales, despite their low turnout. Conversely, if Labour wins the election, it is likely that they will scrap PCCs, arguing that the Conservatives have wasted millions of pounds on PCC elections.

Whatever the result of the UK election, 2015 looks like being another big year for all aspects of elections management and voting.


Idox Elections is one of the premier election service providers in the UK, providing outstanding expertise and knowledge across all areas of election management.

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on elections, democracy and political engagement. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further Reading: