Five current challenges facing Further Education

As well as developing the careers of school-leavers and adults and contributing to the economy, further education (FE) also plays a crucial, but unsung role in our daily lives. As one college chief executive has observed:

“Over the past 25 years, we have quietly gone about our work producing the people that matter most to our communities – those that build our houses, fix our boilers, our computers and our cars, care for our children and our parents, ensure the planes that take us on holiday are safe and look after us when we get to our destination, cook our special meals, entertain us live and on TV, enrich our lives with their art, cut our hair and make us even more beautiful!”

But now the sector is facing key challenges that are likely to change the face of further education in the years ahead.

  1. Policy reforms

According to the Institute for Government (IfG), since the 1980s there have been:

  • 28 major pieces of legislation related to vocational, FE and skills training
  • Six different ministerial departments with overall responsibility for education
  • 48 secretaries of state with relevant responsibilities

The FE sector has proved to be resilient and adaptable to these changes, but many believe this instability has left the sector unfit for purpose.  In 2016, the Sainsbury review of technical education recommended changes to England’s FE system to make it less complex. These were taken up by the government, which introduced a new Post-16 Skills Plan. The reforms will replace thousands of qualifications with fifteen new technical education pathways. The new ‘T-Levels’, in subjects such as construction, childcare and hairdressing, will be rolled out by 2022.

It’s too early to say what effect the reforms will have, but some already have misgivings. A senior civil servant at the Department for Education has advised deferring the start date for T-Levels, while the shadow education secretary Angela Rayner argued the changes would not make up for “years of cuts” to the FE sector.

  1. Funding pressures

The Social Market Foundation reported in 2017 that, since 2010, the adult skills budget in England has fallen in cash terms. “Alongside this reduction, the Institute for Fiscal studies (IFS) has shown that 16–18 education spending has reduced.”

Funding pressures on FE are likely to continue. In August, the Treasury instructed Whitehall departments with non-protected budgets, including FE,  to identify areas of “potential savings”. David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said “The news that the chancellor may be looking for further funding cuts from unprotected departmental budgets is very worrying for colleges. College students and staff have already taken on too much pain from the funding cuts in further education over the last decade.”

The government has announced a review of post-18 education funding, including further education. The review will be supported by an independent panel, led by Philip Augar, and is expected to conclude in early 2019.

  1. New apprenticeships

The apprenticeship levy was introduced on 6 April 2017. It requires all UK employers with a wages bill of over £3 million per year to invest 0.5% of their bill into apprenticeships.

Once they start making payments, employers can access the funds through a Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS) account that allows them to pay for apprentice training, choose the training provider they want to provide the training, and find apprentices for their vacancies. Initially, this service is only available to those employers paying the levy. However, the government aims to extend access to all employers by 2020.

In May 2018, the Reform think tank published an assessment of the apprenticeship levy’s impact in its first year of operation. The report found that in the six months after the levy was introduced, the number of people starting an apprenticeship was 162,400 – over 40% lower than the same period in the previous year. Concerns about the levy were heightened in May 2018 with official figures revealing a 40% drop in apprentice starts across all industries in February, compared with the previous year. The statistics prompted further calls for reform of the levy. However, the Learning and Work Institute (L&WI) has argued that it is still too soon to judge the new system.

  1. Devolving FE

Central government continues to control FE funding, but local authorities and Combined Authorities are pressing for greater devolution of the adult skills budget. City mayors are also showing interest in bringing more of FE and skills under local control.

At the same time, the FE sectors in, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have been experiencing their own challenges:

  • College funding in Wales has remained tight over the last few years, but a 2017 report from Colleges Wales highlighted the economic impact of FE in Wales. It reported a return of £7.90 for every £1 spent, an average annual return on investment of 24%.
  • A report by Viewforth Consulting report estimated that the FE sector generated over £524 million of output in Northern Ireland from college and student off-campus expenditure. A new further education strategy was launched in 2016, but the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly has presented the FE sector with additional uncertainties.
  • Between 2012 and 2014, 25 colleges in Scotland merged to create ten new regional ‘super colleges’ under a Scottish Government programme to make the sector more efficient and ‘responsive to the needs of students and local economies’. According to the Scottish Funding Council, the merger programme cost £72m, but delivered annual savings of more than £52m. However, Audit Scotland’s 2017 review of further education in Scotland found that student numbers at Scotland’s colleges fell to the lowest level for almost a decade. Performance figures on Scotland’s colleges published by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) in February 2018 show that the success rate in almost two-thirds of Scottish colleges has dropped.
  1. The future

It’s clear that funding issues and policy changes will continue to affect FE in the UK. But other challenges are also looming.

The Social Market Foundation has highlighted market developments likely to present competitive threats to the FE sector. These include more employers moving in to provide training traditionally delivered by the FE sector, and the advance of educational technology, encouraging more learners to self-direct.

As for Brexit, the Association of Colleges believes the impact of the UK leaving the European Union may be less in FE than in other areas of national life,  but forecasts that Brexit has the potential to bring big changes to the demand for skills and training.


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Public transport: lessons from our Nordic neighbours

Public transport is a vital element in the lives of many people. Commuters rely on bus, train, tram and metro services to get them to and from work. Public transport is also crucial for those without cars who need to access education, training, health and social care services.

The state of UK public transport

Recent research by the Urban Transport Group (UTG) has reported important trends in public transport England. Among the findings:

  • Buses remain the most used form of public transport, but service levels and usage have been in decline.
  • There has been rapid growth in rail passenger numbers over the last decade.
  • Patronage on Light Rail systems in England has seen an increase of 44% since 2007/08.

Elsewhere in the UK, there’s a mixed picture on the state of public transport:

  • New legislation introduced by the Scottish Government aims to halt the decline in bus use in Scotland, where passenger numbers fell by 10% over five years. Meanwhile, the rail regulator has demanded improvements to the punctuality of trains in Scotland.
  • Wales has seen a steady decline in bus usage in recent years, although over the same period passenger numbers on trains have increased.
  • Translink, which provides public transport in Northern Ireland has reported that trips by fare-paying passengers increased for the second year in a row, with rail passenger numbers reaching their highest level in 50 years.

Overall, rail passenger numbers in the UK are rising, although the recent disruption to services in the south east and the north of England following timetable changes underlined ongoing dissatisfaction with the standards of service from rail companies. Meanwhile, Britain’s bus network continues to shrink, especially on local routes.

Lessons from Scandinavia

When it comes to public transport, it’s often enlightening to look at how other countries manage. A recent UTG report explored how transport authorities in Sweden, Denmark and Norway are using devolved powers to transform public transport for the better. The report, written by Professor Tom Rye, from the Transport Research Institute at Edinburgh Napier University, considered various aspects of public transport, including service levels, fares, technological innovations, environmental impact and franchising.

Service levels

The report found that, in comparison with the equivalent city regions in the UK (outside of London), service levels in the Nordic countries are higher, particularly during off-peak times. In rural and low-density suburban areas, a higher level of service is provided since there is an element of cross-subsidy between revenue-generating and loss-making routes. By contrast, in the UK bus deregulation does not allow for comparable levels of cross-subsidy.

Fares

In Scandinavia, as in many other parts of continental Europe, fares are zonal and multi-modal. Passengers can travel on the same ticket by rail, bus, light rail, and in some cities on urban ferries. Journeys are paid for on a stored value or season ticket smartcard. The research found that, in comparison to incomes, fares for frequent users in Scandinavian cities are similar to those in the UK, but season tickets often cover wider geographical areas.

Technological innovations

The report provides examples of significant innovation on vehicle technologies, including smart ticketing. In Norway fares are increasingly supplied as mobile tickets.

Environmental impact

The research found that the Scandinavian countries have ambitious plans for public transport’s role in reducing carbon and toxic emissions. These include low or zero emission bus fleets and modal shifts from other transport modes. Copenhagen’s metro and suburban rail services are a key part of the city’s plan to be the first in the world to be CO2 free by 2025. There will be no diesel-powered buses in Oslo by 2020, and in Sweden Skåne’s bus fleet will run on fossil-free fuel by the same year.

Franchising

Public transport strategies in Norway, Sweden and Denmark are aligned with wider national and sub-national goals for economic development, land use planning and social cohesion. Levels of revenue support for bus services underpin a high quality of service, and levels of public transport use are high (although in Denmark, heavy investment in cycling infrastructure means public transport usage is relatively low).

One of the key features of public transport in Scandinavia is that virtually all bus services have been franchised. Metro and tram services are also provided either through franchising or by the incumbent municipal operator.The report notes that the main impact of franchising of bus services in all three countries has been to reduce costs and increase quality. The authors note that:

“…franchising in these countries and regions gives public sector Passenger Transport Authorities the direct ability to improve aspects of service because they specify and purchase that service from private sector operators. Thus, if they have the resources and are willing to pay for improvements, these can be delivered rapidly, to deliver on policy ambitions.” 

The Scandinavian way

Even as local, devolved and national governments are trying to encourage greater use of public transport, the evidence suggests that in a significant number of British cities – including Glasgow, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Sheffield, the number of people travelling by public transport is falling.

The UTG report suggests that the Nordic model provides a road map for improvement in the way that UK transport service providers currently deliver urban public transport:

“Scandinavian countries have taken this approach because there is a political and public consensus that public transport is a public service. A public service that has a key role to play in tackling road congestion, reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution. A public service that also spreads the benefits of economic growth and promotes social cohesion through ensuring better connectivity within and between communities – including linking peripheral areas with the main towns and cities that are driving the wider economy.”


Read more of our public transport blog posts:

Community planning in the devolved UK

Community planning is all about how public bodies and other partners work with local communities to design and deliver services that suitably reflect the needs and priorities or a local area. Effective community planning incorporates strong partnership working and a shared vision which has been created especially to fit a set of local circumstances.

Providing effective and efficient services, promoting community engagement and enterprise and engaging the third sector are all things that could now be considered part of “community planning”. It is founded on the idea that communities know best; they know what they need, they know how it can be delivered and how they will use services in the most effective way to get the most value from them. With an increase in political devolution we have seen different approaches to delivering community planning emerge in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some nations embraced it from a very early stage, others less so. However, it has become an increasingly popular model over recent years, with all four administrations now using some form of community planning model.

England

In England, the focus has largely been on housing and land use and the relationship between community plans (which consider services and public engagement) and local development plans (which focus more on the physical aspects of planning in the community, such as land use). Neighbourhood plans give communities the opportunity to develop a shared vision for and shape the development and growth of their local area. Neighbourhood plans are not a legal requirement, but a right which communities can evoke if they wish to. They are designed to fit alongside local authority produced “local plans” and provide an opportunity for communities to set out a long term vision for their area in terms of development, and “may encourage them to consider ways to improve their neighbourhood other than through the development and use of land.”

Scotland

The introduction of the 2015 Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act is a clear indication of the stance of the Scottish Government with regards to community planning. As well as statutory rights being strengthened with regards to consultation and community consultation, the legislation also places statutory requirements on public bodies with regards to supporting local community based service delivery, and actively engaging local people in decision making processes. As a result of the legislation 32 Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) now exist in Scotland and they are responsible for developing and delivering community plans. These can take two forms:

  • a larger plan, which takes account of the whole CPP area (Local Outcomes Improvement Plan)
  • a smaller plan, which focuses on a smaller geographic area which has been identified as being in need of improvement (locality plan)

There is no limit to the number of plans CPP’s can create in a year, but the views of local communities are particularly important in creating these as that is the way to best reflect local needs and priorities.

In Scotland a consultation is also currently underway to consider ways to align community and spatial planning more closely, as it was recognised that planning for services should also be mapped along with physical development.

Wales

In a Welsh context the use of community planning focuses on resource allocation and the direction of resource to where it is needed. Promoting community cohesion and well-being through community planning is also something which can be seen in both Wales and Scotland. Increasingly, plans have attempted to incorporate a “place-centred”, “service focused”, “partnership led” approach, with the emphasis on individual need. It is hoped that by bringing service providers and other partners back in touch with the people who use their services that their views can be taken on in future planning projects. As in all community planning projects, partnerships are key; however in Wales one of the biggest challenges has been forming these partnerships and getting buy-in from local businesses. A similar challenge has also been seen with national level bodies.

This challenge of engaging national bodies in community planning has also been seen in Scotland. National bodies are expected to engage with rural and urban CPP’s in ways which reflect individual community need, something they had not been used to doing previously. As a result, promoting flexibility and adaptability and encouraging participation from a range of stakeholders in order to support the creation and delivery of community plans has been high on the agenda across the UK.

Northern Ireland

The situation in Northern Ireland is, to a large extent, still evolving. Executives at Stormont, as well as planners and developers, see engaging local people as important but they are also trying to find a model which works best for a Northern Irish context. Potential options for integrating community based models have included adopting models from England or Scotland respectively; creating their own model which takes elements from a number of different models; or making attempts to align the Northern Irish model closer to that of the Republic of Ireland.

Currently the legislative basis for community planning in Northern Ireland is set out in the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014. The Act makes a statutory link between community plans and local land use development plans, and makes the link between community planning for a district and well-being more explicit.

category-picture-community-development

Engaging difficult to reach communities in community planning

The views of local communities are particularly important when creating community plans, as their fundamental principle is to reflect service and resource need more effectively in order to benefit communities. As a result community planners across the UK face the unilateral challenge of getting people to engage. Different groups within a community may have different capacity and ability to engage. ‘Hard to reach’ groups are particularly important to the consultation process as it is often they who make the most use of services or have the greatest need for specific service provision. People in this group may include young people, older people, ethnic minorities or other socially excluded groups, and small businesses. They are also sometimes referred to as ‘seldom heard’ groups.

Methods to improve communication and consultation with hard to reach groups vary, but some potential barriers and solutions to engagement include:

  • Jargon and technical language – Policy and planning documents can be very long, and very dense, with lots of planning specific technical jargon, create an easy access version so that everyone can be engaged in discussions and not feel intimidated by “high level” documents.
  • Digital illiteracy – Increasingly consultation documents, some forums and copies of the plans themselves are held online, and improving access to these would help to encourage more people to participate.
  • Awareness and accessibility – Promoting consultations or community planning events, and holding them at a variety of times and in a variety of settings to allow people from different groups to attend. In addition providing them in multiple languages, using language that is more accessible for young people, or in a larger type size may also help to encourage people to participate.
  • Showing impact – Create follow up documents so that people can see how their input has made a difference. Even if the plan won’t be implemented for a number of months, let people know how what they said influenced or changed the decisions that were made.

It is clear that England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are at different stages in their community planning journey. However, they have all, in one way or another recognised the importance of engaging communities to identify needs and attempt to allocate resources accordingly. In many instances, these community agendas have not just been linked to spatial, or even service planning, but also to wider issues around inequality and well-being and how resources and planning across all areas can best be directed to tackle this. It may be that we see this reflected further in future legislation.


This blog reflects on a recent paper by Deborah Peel and Simon Pemberton “Exploring New Models of Community based Planning in the Devolved UK” a study funded by the Planning Exchange Foundation.

Idox Information Service members can access our research briefing on engaging communities in planning.

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Debating the cost of alcohol to society

“Society is paying the costs – alcohol-related harm is now estimated to cost society £21 billion annually.”

So said David Cameron, launching the UK government’s alcohol strategy in 2012.

The prime minister was echoing the widely held view that alcohol is a financial burden on taxpayers. The British Medical Association has put the costs of alcohol harm in Northern Ireland and Wales at £680m and £1bn respectively, while the Scottish Government believes the annual cost of excessive alcohol consumption to be £3.6bn (equivalent to £900 for every adult in Scotland).

An alternative view

But now the popular view of alcohol as a drain on taxpayers has been challenged. A new report from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) claims that the net cost of alcohol to the state is minus £6.5 billion.

The report found that the direct costs of alcohol use to the government in England – including NHS, police, criminal justice and welfare costs – amount to just under £4 billion each year, whilst revenues from alcohol taxes amount to over £10 billion. And it claims that even if the government halved all forms of alcohol duty, it would still receive more money in tax than it spends dealing with alcohol-related problems.

Commenting on the findings, the report’s author, Christopher Snowden said it was time to stop regarding drinkers as a burden on taxpayers:

“Forty per cent of the EU’s entire alcohol tax bill is paid by drinkers in Britain and, as this new research shows, teetotallers in England are being subsidised by drinkers to the tune of at least six and a half billion pounds a year.”

The report received a hostile reception from Alcohol Concern. Deputy chief executive Emily Robinson told the Daily Telegraph:

“Non-drinkers suffer the consequences of alcohol related problems every day; whether that’s from drink driving accidents, being the victim of crime or anti-social behaviour, family breakdown, waiting in Accident and Emergency departments for their turn, even through to the costs of street cleaning town centres after a Friday night.

She went on to argue that policies, such as minimum unit pricing (MUP), were needed to tackle the harm caused by alcohol.

A setback for minimum unit pricing?

The IEA report appeared on the same day that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) advocate general advised that the Scottish Government’s policy on MUP breached EU competition and free trade laws.

The proposal to introduce minimum retail pricing for alcohol appeared in the Scottish Government’s 2009 alcohol framework, and in 2012 the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2 paved the way for the introduction of a minimum price of 50p per unit. The policy was challenged by the drinks industry, which believes that there are more effective ways of tackling harmful drinking.

While the advocate general’s advice may influence the ECJ’s final decision, The Scottish Government is standing by its policy. “While we must await the final outcome of this legal process,” said Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, “the Scottish Government remains certain that minimum unit pricing is the right measure for Scotland to reduce the harm that cheap, high-strength alcohol causes our communities.”

The devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland have set out plans to introduce their own MUP legislation. In England, the 2012 alcohol strategy included a commitment to introduce an MUP for alcohol. However, in 2013 the coalition government decided not to proceed with this, and instead to impose a ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price.

Last year, a report from Sheffield University suggested that below cost price policy would have small effects on consumption and health harm, while an MUP set at  a level between 40p and 50p per unit, was estimated to have an approximately 40-50 times greater effect. The research appears to support evidence from Canada, the first country in the world to introduce MUP, indicating that MUP could bring significant health benefits.

With the IEA report introducing a provocative new perspective, and the final judgement on MUP awaited, it’s unlikely that ‘last orders’ will be called any time soon in the debate on alcohol’s impact on society.


 

Enjoyed this article? Read our recent blog posts on the night-time economy and on ten years of the Licensing Act.

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Further reading*

Alcohol pricing and purchasing among heavy drinkers in Edinburgh and Glasgow: current trends and implications for pricing policies

Understanding the alcohol harm paradox in order to focus the development of interventions

Understanding the development of Minimum Unit Pricing of alcohol in Scotland: a qualitative study of the policy process

Alcohol’s harm to others

The cost of binge drinking in the UK

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

To regulate or not to regulate? Housing standards in the private rented sector

To Let housing signs

Image from Flickr user Locksley McPherson Jnr, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License

The Scottish Government published its ‘Consultation on a New Tenancy for the Private Sector’ on the 6 October 2014. The paper states that 333,231 homes are rented privately in Scotland and it puts forward proposals to modernise the sector including giving tenants greater security of tenure, including:

  • Landlords to offer tenancies of not less than 6 months.
  • A bar on repossession except in specific circumstances.
  • The introduction of a model tenancy agreement.

The consultation poses a series of questions relating to rent levels, in particular ‘what action, if any, should the Scottish Government take on rent levels in the private rented sector in Scotland?’ Clearly the focus of the consultation is on the affordable private rented sector, but the implications of legislative change are likely to be far broader and impact across the whole rental sector.

The consultation raises a number of big issues for a range of stakeholders including tenants, landlords, citizens’ advice bureaux, local authorities, and indeed for the broader social rented sector, because any changes may well have knock-on implications far beyond the private sector tenant/landlord relationship.

Continue reading

Guest blog: Martyn Evans of The Carnegie UK Trust on Measuring Wellbeing

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by Martyn Evans, Chief Executive at The Carnegie UK Trust

When looking for good practice at an international level it comes as a bit of a shock to find it on your own doorstep. The Carnegie UK Trust, based in Dunfermline in Scotland, has had a focus on wellbeing since 1913 when Andrew Carnegie signed the Trust deed requiring us to “improve the wellbeing” of the people of the UK and Ireland. Our recent work in this area builds on the excellent programme run by the New Economics Foundation. Two years ago we set out to learn more about how wellbeing was being measured. We led on research and international study trips with IPPR North. We concluded, to our surprise and delight, that the Scottish National Performance Framework, now called Scotland Performs, is a global pioneer. Our view was later corroborated by a Professor Stiglitz in his address to the OECD World Forum in India, in 2012. Continue reading