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 Government Digital Service: successes, turmoil, and the focus for the future

By Steven McGinty

In April 2011, the Government Digital Service (GDS) was launched to lead the digital transformation of government. The focus was on making public services digital by default (a policy which envisions most public services being delivered online), and simpler, clearer and faster to use.

Their first major project was the development of GOV.UK. It was to act as the primary source for UK government data and would replace a number of existing websites, including DirectGov. Overall, GOV.UK has been viewed as a GDS success story.

In the latest GDS progress report, it was highlighted that:

  • Over 300 agency and arm’s length bodies’ (ALB) websites had been transitioned over to GOV.UK by the end of 2014;
  • The GOV.UK website averaged 12 million weekly unique visitors in the first quarter of 2015 (25th most used website in the UK);
  • The GOV.UK website saw 13.6 million unique visitors and 21.2 million visits in the last week of January 2015 (this was the likely the result of the 31st January Self-Assessment tax return deadline).

However, GOV.UK has not been without its critics. In February, the Register revealed documents that said that the GDS knew that GOV.UK was:

destroying useful online services and replacing them with trendy webpages bereft of useful information

One noted failure was the transition of the Home Office visa and immigration site to GOV.UK. According to their own analysis, the GDS did not have a good enough understanding of the users’ needs.

GDS in turmoil?

At the beginning of August 2015, Executive Director of the GDS Mike Bracken announced he was leaving. In an interview, Mike Bracken explained that he was leaving due to the “stresses and strains” of the role. The current GDS Chief Operating Officer Stephen Foreshew-Cain will move up and replace him.

There have also been a number of other senior GDS leaders departing. These include:

  • Deputy Director Tom Loosemore
  • Director of Strategy Russell Davies
  • Director of Design Ben Terrett
  • Head of User Research Leisa Reichelt
  • Transformation Programme Director of the Government Digital Service Michael Beaven.

These changes have led to speculation about the future of the GDS. Last financial year, the service had a budget of £58 million and approximately 700 members of staff. Computerworld have suggested that the GDS could undergo substantial cuts as part of the HM Treasury’s spending review.  If so, the impact could fundamentally change the GDS’ role.

The future

In August, Matt Hancock MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, reiterated his support for the GDS. He said:

“the work that GDS is doing, and the vision of Government as a Platform, is changing the core infrastructure of shared digital systems, technology and processes.”

The Minister then went on to emphasise that the GDS has extremely talented people and has a lot more to contribute in the future.

In addition, Eddie Copeland, Head of Technology Policy at the Policy Exchange has outlined 5 points of focus for the ‘next phase’ of the GDS. These include:

  • Be guardian of the rules – the government should lead the way in defining the standards of how front-end government IT should work, although should not be concerned about who provides it, whether that’s public or private sector.
  • Focus on the user / citizen experience – the government should focus on providing a positive customer experience and creating online transactions that are needed.
  • Lead on open standards for data – the use of open standards would reduce the technical barriers to sharing information between different systems.
  • Be an informed customer – failed IT projects were often the fault of the government, therefore the government needs to become a smarter, more demanding customer.
  • Scale best practice – all departments should learn from the successes of the GDS, and try to implement innovative solutions where possible.

 Final thoughts

It’s likely that the GDS will play an important role in the continued digital transformation of government services. However, some – including Eddie Copeland – believe that the GDS will become a smaller organisation.  As a result, there may be opportunities for the private sector to get involved in supporting the digital transformation, particularly if they can provide a solid business case.


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Read our other recent articles on digital government:

Is the Freedom of Information Act ‘working effectively’?

Wall with the words 'Freedom Street'

Image by Kevan via Creative Commons

 

By Steven McGinty

In July, Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office, Lord Bridges, announced that there would be an independent cross-party review on Freedom of Information (FOI).

The UK’s FOI Act was introduced in 2000 (in Scotland, FOI legislation came into force in 2005). The Act requires public bodies to publish certain information about their activities and to respond to requests for information from the public.

Since its introduction, the FOI Act has facilitated the release of information from across government. The most high profile releases have involved MPs’ expenses and correspondence between British diplomats ridiculing the notion of a widespread increase in migration from Poland to the UK, once they joined the EU.

Lord Bridges explained that the review would focus on three main issues:

  • whether there is an appropriate balance between having a transparent and accountable government and the need for sensitive information to be protected;
  • whether the Act adequately recognises the need to have a ‘safe space’ for policy development and implementation;
  • whether there is an appropriate balance between the need for public access to information and the burden on public bodies of providing this.

However, is this review really necessary?

Over recent years, a number of public figures have voiced their concerns over the Act. Even the man who introduced it, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, has stated that he was a “naive foolish, irresponsible nincompoop” to introduce it. He also suggested that it undermined “sensible government”.

Similarly, the former head of the Civil Service, Lord O’Donnell has argued that the requirement to release Cabinet minutes risked preventing “real discussions” between ministers.

There has also been discontent from local government, struggling to shoulder the financial cost of the Act. For instance, Ken Thornber, leader of Hampshire County Council, stated that:

We spent £365,000 in 2010 answering freedom of information requests. What else could I do with that money? More social workers, more school inspectors, more spent on road maintenance.”

Although clearly frustrated by the Act, he doesn’t suggest withdrawing it. Instead, he proposes the idea of a £25 charge. His hope is that this would deter individuals from making ‘frivolous requests’.

In the 2010, University College London’s (UCL) Constitution Unit estimated that the cost of FOI requests for local government was £31.6 million. It also highlighted that civil servants spent 1.2m hours responding to nearly 200,000 requests.

Safeguards already exist

However, the review also has its opponents. For example, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, has attacked the government’s decision. In particular, he criticises the UK Government for using its position at the top of the World Wide Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer (annual worldwide survey of open government) to justify the review.

Anne Jellema, Chief Executive of the World Wide Web Foundation, has also added her disapproval. She explains that the UK’s position at the top of the Open Data Barometer should not be an excuse to undo the progress that has been made. In addition, she claims that the government is behind European countries on other transparency and accountability issues, such as state surveillance and freedom of the press.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information has raised concerns over the review panel. It highlights that there are no panel members with a proven commitment to transparency. Currently, the five person committee consists of high profile political figures, such as former Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard and former Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

The Act has been praised for holding public bodies to account. For instance, the Daily Telegraph discovered that local authorities spent £2m on hotel bills over just 3 years, including stays at the Four Seasons in New York.

There are also those who maintain that safeguards are already in place. For example, section 35 of the Act provides a qualified exemption, which limits the release of information to the public. This safeguard is explicitly aimed at protecting the policy-making process.

A key challenge for any state is to strike the appropriate balance between effective governance and public accountability. Yet, with so many differing views, universal agreement is unlikely.  Therefore, no matter the outcome of the review, it’s likely that this debate will continue.


Further reading:

Brain food: the impact of breakfast on children’s educational attainment

By Stacey Dingwall

In the wake of the recession, food poverty and the rising number of foodbanks in the UK have frequently been in the headlines. At the other end of the spectrum, another nutrition-related issue that tends to be picked up on regularly by the media is child obesity. However, in a report released to coincide with their annual conference in May of this year, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) called attention to a concern that has not been as headline-grabbing: schools are now providing a great deal of welfare support to pupils that goes above and beyond their usual remit, including teachers bringing in food from home for pupils who have been sent to school hungry.

Hunger in the classroom

These findings echo those reported by the cereal manufacturer Kellogg’s in 2013. Based on a survey of over 700 teachers in England and Wales, A lost education: the reality of hunger in the classroom suggested that:

  • On average, 2.4 children in England and Wales were arriving to school hungry on at least one occasion per week;
  • 28% of teachers reported an increase in the number of children arriving to school hungry;
  • 31% of teachers indicated that they had to spend a disproportionately higher amount of time with children who arrived at school hungry than those who did not;
  • 51% suggested that hunger is a significant factor in the exam performance of pupils; and
  • if a child arrives at school hungry, teachers estimated that they would lose an hour of learning time that day; for those that come to school without breakfast once a week, this equates to 8.4 weeks of learning time (70% of a term) over the course of their entire primary school career.

Empty stomachs, empty brains?

The findings of a literature review, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2013, of the effects that eating breakfast has on children’s behaviour and academic performance indicated  a “mainly positive effect of breakfast on on-task behaviour in the classroom” and highlighted evidence that frequent breakfast consumption had  a positive effect on children’s academic performance, with the clearest effects seen on mathematic and arithmetic grades. The review also noted the positive influence of school-based breakfast initiatives, more commonly known as ‘breakfast clubs’.

The impact of school breakfast clubs

As well as carrying out research on the impact of breakfast clubs, Kellogg’s operates a support network for schools to run clubs, offering grants and training materials. According to the company, 69% of the teachers they surveyed in 2013 said that running a breakfast club had had a positive impact on their ability to teach their class.

This sentiment is echoed by the School Food Trust, whose review of the impact of primary school breakfast clubs in deprived areas of London found that the average Key Stage 2 results of pupils in 13 primary schools were significantly higher a year after the introduction of the initiative. In North Lanarkshire, one primary school’s award-winning breakfast club has demonstrated the educational benefits of having children at school early, well-fed and ready to learn. While other studies of the impact of school-based breakfast initiatives have found less definitive evidence of their impact on children’s academic performance, their positive effect on pupils’ attendance and punctuality is noted, which can be no bad thing for their academic potential.

The Education Endowment Fund is currently undertaking a randomised control trial of school breakfast provision involving 36,000 pupils in 200 schools across England. The study aims to look at impact on attainment and cost-effectiveness of different models, and the evaluation report is due to be published in 2016.

Supporting breakfast clubs

Understanding the impact of nutrition on children’s outcomes is crucial if the government is to provide additional support to local authorities whose schools are providing breakfast clubs for their pupils. Although support is available from companies like Kellogg’s and Greggs, as well as charitable organisations, these are often competitive grants-based schemes, with application processes that only place further pressure on already overstretched teachers and schools. And in the face of ongoing cuts to local authority funding, many are echoing the call of the NAHT for the government to do more to support schools to cope with the consequences of the austerity agenda, as well as make the improvements that are being demanded of them.


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

 Further reading

The School Food Plan

Examining the impact of school breakfast provision on health, wellbeing and educational engagement in a sample of schools in Blackpool: brief report (2013, Children’s Food Trust)

Effects of a free school breakfast programme on children’s attendance, academic achievement and short-term hunger: results from a stepped-wedge, cluster randomised controlled trial, IN Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Vol 67 No 3 2013, pp257-264

A zero hunger city: tackling food poverty in London (2013, Greater London Authority)

Effects of a free school breakfast programme on children’s attendance, academic achievement and short-term hunger: results from a stepped-wedge, cluster randomised controlled trial, IN Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Vol 67 No 3 2013, pp257-264

Averting a recipe for disaster: our children and their food (2013, Ella’s Kitchen)

Top 5 trends for public sector technology

The Word 'Digital' on metal

Image from Flickr user Ged Carroll via Creative Commons

By Steven McGinty

At the Idox Information Service, we like to keep up to date with the latest developments in public sector technology. Whether it’s what new digital services are on the market or which direction the government is heading in, we like to monitor everything that could potentially have an impact on our customers, as well as, of course, ourselves.

With the pace of change though, sometimes it’s a good idea to stand still and reflect. Therefore, we’ve decided to sit down, analyse the trends of the day, and produce our very own list of top 5 public sector tech trends.

Here’s what we’ve come up with:

Government as a platform

The recent election win by the Conservatives provides a certain level of continuity for the Government Digital Service (GDS). Over recent years they have been heavily involved in the implementation of ‘government as a platform’. They describe it as:

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

The most high profile example of the government as a platform approach is the GOV.UK website. In 15 months the government has shifted from having over 300 government agency and arm’s length body websites to having information delivered through just one single website.

The GDS has also introduced GOV.UK Verify, a platform that allows citizens to prove who they are when using government services. At the moment, several government departments have signed up, including HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS).

It is likely that government as a platform will continue, with new government departments and agencies moving onto GOV.UK and GOV.UK Verify. The Chancellor, George Osborne, also announced a greater role for the GDS in working with local government. The result could be a greater use of government as a platform principles in local government.

Government austerity

The issue of tackling the budget deficit was a major theme of the last election. It’s widely accepted that savings will have to be made if the government is to reach its goal of running a surplus by the end of the parliament.  The Local Government Association highlight that local authorities may be particularly affected, estimating cuts of approximately 9% next year. Although it will be interesting to see if a recent warning against further cuts, which has come from Conservative Councillors, will make a difference.

Either way, this will have an impact for technology. It could mean that councils will be looking to find technical solutions to create efficiency savings. We have also seen local authorities working more closely together and sharing services in order to drive down costs.

Data driven decisions (analytics)

The public sector has been using data collected from a variety of channels to provide more efficient and effective public services. Government services are being moved online and users are being encouraged to make this their first port of call.

For instance, Essex County Council has been using analytical and diagnostic methods from the commercial sector to map the ‘customer journey’. They applied this approach to the booking of Adult Learning courses, which requires customers to interact with a number of systems.

‘Open government’

In January, the Speaker’s Digital Democracy Commission published a report on how technology can be used to improve democracy in the UK. Some of the main proposals include:

  • Ensuring that Parliament is fully interactive and digital by 2020;
  • Introducing secure online voting for citizens by 2020;
  • Making sure that published information is freely available in formats suitable for re-use;
  • Using new technologies and social media to help explain the role of the Houses of Commons and increase public engagement.

Health and social care

Health and social care is a key area for technology. The policy of health and social care integration means that technical solutions are required to manage and share information.  Although this has been an issue for decades, the demand for greater savings has meant that this has become a real issue. It will also be necessary to meet new legislative requirements, such as the reporting requirements introduced through the Care Act.


Further Reading:

We regularly write about public sector technology, and how technology based solutions can help drive improvements in public sector service delivery. Other recent blogs include:

Evidence for the world we want – International Year of Evaluation

evaluation cycle 2015 has been declared the International Year of Evaluation, by a global movement of international partners seeking to enhance the capacity of Civil Society Organisations to influence policymakers and public opinion, and ensure public policies are based on evidence.

Our latest In Focus briefing considers the role of evaluation; the role of evaluation in programme planning; value for money; social return on investment; international experience; UK approaches; and the ethics of evaluation.

The primary purpose of evaluation is offering a way of determining whether a programme, project or initiative has been a worthwhile investment. It can help to shape and improve current initiatives as a means of reflection, correcting problems and finding what works.

However, there are many challenges to be overcome in carrying out evaluation such as:

  • engagement
  • bias
  • prejudice
  • setting realistic expectations
  • clear purpose and audience
  • lack of information and evidence

To find out more download the briefing here.

Find out more about the 2015 International Year of Evaluation here.

Read our recent blog on why using UK-sourced evidence when making policy or practice decisions is important.


Become a member of the Idox Information Service now, to access a wealth of further information on evaluation including government guidelines, best practice and examples of evaluations. Contact us for more details.

 

The Carnegie Trust and the Wheatley Group: showing us how we can tackle digital exclusion

By Steven McGinty

As the government pushes towards ‘digital by default’, a policy which envisions most public services being delivered online, it’s worth remembering that 20% of the UK population still lack basic internet skills. Groups such as Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) have raised concerns that ‘digital by default’ could significantly impact on vulnerable and marginalised communities, particularly those claiming welfare benefits. However, if every citizen had basic digital skills and could use online government services, it could save the public purse between £1.7 and £1.8 billion annually.

So, which groups are the most digitally excluded?

According to the UK Government’s digital inclusion strategy, digital exclusion occurs among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society. These include:

  • those living in social housing (approximately 37% of those digitally-excluded live in social housing);
  • those on low incomes (44% of people without basic digital skills are either on low wages or are unemployed);
  • those with disabilities (54% of people who have never been online have disabilities);
  • older people (69% of over 55’s are without basic digital skills);
  • young people (only 27% of young people who don’t have access to the internet are in full-time employment).

What are the main barriers to using online services?

In 2013, the Carnegie Trust carried out research into internet access in Glasgow. The findings suggest that there are three common reasons why people never go online:

  • the comfort of doing things offline (34% of people cited their preference for speaking to people on the telephone, or in person, as the reason they don’t go online);
  • a fear of digital technology and the internet ( 28% were worried about issues such as using technology and staying safe online);
  • the costs involved (20% of people highlighted pressures on incomes and the cost of internet connections).

What are the main drivers for people going online?

More recently, the Carnegie Trust carried out a new piece of research, replicating their Glasgow study in two new locations: Dumfries and Kirkcaldy. The study investigated the main reasons people choose to go online. The findings show that:

  • 56% of people went online to find information of interest to them;
  • 48% went online to keep in touch with friends and family;
  • 44% thought it would be an interesting thing to do;
  • 44% had to go online as part of their work.

 How can we encourage people to go online?

Both Carnegie Trust studies show that each individual’s journey to digital inclusion is different and that a ‘personal hook’ or motivation, such as the opportunity to communicate with family members abroad, is an important tool for encouraging digital participation.

Additionally, they also show that friends and family are an important source of help when people are taking their first steps online. For instance, the case studies in Dumfries and Kirkcaldy highlight that people would appreciate help from ‘trusted intermediaries’ or local groups.  Therefore, it’s important that digital participation initiatives make use of existing communities’ networks and tap into the support available from friends and families.

Wheatley Group

The Wheatley Group, which includes Scotland’s largest social landlord, the Glasgow Housing Association (GHA), has been heavily involved in addressing digital exclusion. They have developed a digital strategy to help social tenants access the internet and are committed to proving free or low cost internet access (maximum of £5 per month).

The Group has also been involved in two pilot projects: one which provides technology to 12 low-rise homes, and the Digital Demonstrator project, which tests the feasibility of low-cost broadband in multi-storey blocks. The pilot projects highlighted two important lessons:

  1. the role of the local Housing Officer was key for engaging with tenants
  2. it was important that communities and neighbours learned together.

In an ideal world, every citizen would be digitally literate, and be able to interact with government online. However, this is not the reality. The work carried out by the Carnegie Trust and the Wheatley Group provides a solid basis for developing digital initiatives and ensuring that citizens and communities are not left out.


Further reading:

Who’s influencing thinking on democracy and voting in the UK?

ballot box

Ahead of next week’s general election, the Knowledge Exchange has published its elections white paper, Democracy and voting: key organisations and individuals.

The white paper provides an overview of the following key themes in elections research:

  • Accountability and transparency
  • Representative groups
  • Voter participation and engagement

It highlights areas of overlap across these themes, and the different organisations which are producing research in each area:

Elections-briefing-info

The paper highlights different democracy campaign groups, and provides summaries and biographies of think tanks, research institutes, government departments and individuals involved in UK elections research.

The briefing also includes summaries of a selection of recent publications on democracy and voting from some of the organisations listed, which are available on our Idox Information Service database.

We’ve written blog posts on a range of issues in relation to democracy and voting, which you can view here. We’ll also be publishing more elections material in the coming week.

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.

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:

A bleak future for UK arts funding?

5349310766_ea97e0ee88_bBy Stacey Dingwall

At the moment, it seems like hardly a week goes by without the announcement of cuts to funding for arts organisations across the country. In July 2014, it was announced that, due to changes in the way it distributes its funding, Arts Council England would be reducing the amount of annual funding it provides to the English National Opera by 29%. On top of this, 33 organisations were informed that their funding would be stopped altogether, and 670 that the amount they receive would be frozen for the time being.

Cuts across the regions

The picture is similar across the country. In October, it was revealed that Arts Council Wales’ 2015/16 budget would be reduced by £300,000 on the previous year. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is facing an 11.2% reduction in its own budget for the year ahead. And in Scotland, more than half of the organisations, including the Scottish Youth Theatre, who applied to Creative Scotland for long-term funding at the end of 2014 had their bids turned down.

Reactions to these announcements have been widely negative, from the public, leading arts figures and the organisations themselves. Accepting a theatre award last week, the actor David Tennant argued that providing funding to the UK creative industries is an “investment” rather than an “expense”, and that “the arts bring in so much more money to this economy than they take out”.

This was backed up a couple of days later in a report published by the Warwick Commission, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth, after a year-long examination of the UK creative arts sector. According to the Commission, the sector represents 5% of the total UK economy, valued at £76.9 billion.

Despite this, the sector presently receives just 0.3% of public spend annually, a figure which many involved in the sector expect will only decrease; new analysis carried out for the London School of Economics has predicted that English local council spending on the arts could fall by as much as 33% over the next five years. In real terms, this would represents a fall in funding of £750 million between 2014 and 2019, making arts the fourth hardest hit service during that period, behind planning, transport and housing.

Unfair distribution?

Aside from the actual amount of funding provided to the arts, another key issue is its distribution across the regions. In October 2014, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee published the report of its enquiry into the work of Arts Council England, which criticised the “clear funding imbalance” in favour of London in the Council’s distribution of grants and aid.

Many have argued that this has been an issue for some time; a 2013 report, Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital, argued that of the £320 million allocated by Arts Council England in 2012/13, £20 per capita went to London, with only £3.60 per head given to the rest of England.

Separate analysis of Arts Council England’s national investment plans for 2015-2018 by GPS Culture, Hard Facts to Swallow, placed the overall balance of investment from the Council’s grant-in-aid and lottery income streams over this period at 4.1:1 in London’s favour. According to this analysis, £689 million (43.4%) will be invested in the London arts scene, providing a per capita return of £81.87 per head of population (php); £900 million will be provided for arts in the rest of England, generating a per capita return of £19.80 php.

Things can only get….worse?

Should there be a change in government at the upcoming general election, it doesn’t look like this will improve the funding situation for the arts. In January this year, the Labour Party was criticised for ‘bragging’ that it wouldn’t reverse the arts funding cuts announced by the coalition government, should it gain office in May. Although she has criticised cuts to arts funding imposed by the current government in the past, the deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman indicated that as “this government has failed on living standards and failed on the deficit”, a future Labour Government would be unable to reverse all of their decisions made regarding cuts going forward, including on arts.

In the meantime, many UK arts organisations are turning to an alternative means of financing their projects: crowdfunding. The last few years have seen many filmmakers and musicians across the world turn to platforms such as Kickstarter to get their projects off the ground, and last year The Art Fund launched its own platform, Art Happens, to help UK museums and galleries raise money for creative projects. Through this, it is intended that British museums will be able to continue to present the innovative projects which they, and the entire UK arts sector, are globally renowned for.


This article was originally published on 3 March on the Idox Grantfinder expert blog.

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