Category: On Topic

The big issue … austerity gets local

After weeks of drama in Paris with global consequences, the last week has seen a shift to more prosaic issues. Now that there has been some time to digest the latest Spending Review, think tanks have been pondering what this means for various aspects of local services.

NLGN looks at the overall policy implications of further austerity and sees the “weakening, if not demise of the very old idea that redistribution from richer areas to their poorer counterparts can solve regional social and economic problems”. At the same time, the piece wonders whether the size of the cake will grow enough to compensate for the fact that people’s shares are getting more measly.

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The big issue … a fair COP21 in Paris

Tomorrow, ministers attending the COP21 UN climate talks in Paris will discuss a 48-page statement of purpose – which leaves much to be decided in subsequent talks.

There are some peculiarities about the nature of the discussion, argues Andrew Simms at PRIME economics. Emissions agreements based on temperature rises should be understood as agreements on the degree of acceptable risk nations can stomach from climate change. Communities around the world have different exposure to climate risk – and they may take more dramatic action into their own hands.

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The big issue…Paris

In the UK, the response to the Paris Attacks has already turned into an argument over police funding, with a senior police officer telling Theresa May that the expected cuts in the Chancellor’s Spending Review will ‘reduce very significantly’ the UK’s ability to respond to a Paris-style attack. SMF Chief Economist Nida Broughton lays out George Osborne’s options, concluding that he may be able to avoid the appearance of compromising security by changing the definition of ‘defence’.

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Follow the BBC? Finding funding for technical education

Free up £532m by making universities pay for widening participation programmes? Our reviewer says: “Is it right to make autonomous institutions responsible for government mandated social policy? Doing so could be a dangerous first step to undermining the independence that is vital to the sector’s continued high standing.”

Allow National Colleges and Institutes of Technology to award their own qualifications? Our reviewer says: “I would be bolder and allow all highly performing colleges to award qualifications tailored to meet the needs of employers.”

Focus attention on the network of industrial partnerships developed under the coalition government? Our reviewer says: “These partnerships have already facilitated employer ownership of training, the holy grail of skills policy ever since the Major government introduced Modern Apprenticeships in the mid-1990s.”

As one distinguished academic commentator put it in the title of a recent paper, the big question currently occupying anyone concerned with training and Further Education (FE) is, ‘What does skills policy look like now the money has run out?’ The short answer is that decades of government spending has failed to increase the overall level of training. Behind government boasts of delivering more than two million apprenticeships lurk real concerns about the quality of provision and frustration about employers’ apparent reluctance to take responsibility for their future skills needs.

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“An all-out assault on poverty”

Poverty is used to being threatened with military-inspired action. After facing down LBJ’s declaration of war, it might be feeling fairly confident about seeing off Cameron’s threatened ‘all-out assault’. The think tanks, however, have heard the battle cry and are preparing the intellectual ammunition. Here’s our round-up.

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Tax credits: will the Lords use their ‘fatal power’?

On Monday, the UK’s second chamber will take the national spotlight when Members of the House of Lords discuss the government’s draft regulations on tax credits.

The Institute for Government looks at the implications of peers exercising their ‘fatal power’ on secondary or delegated legislation. The Constitution Unit provides a useful primer on the conventions covering the Lords’ role in relation to delegated legislation and financial matters (see also the Institute for Government), as well as exploring what might happen if the government is indeed defeated.

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Think tanks on…immigration and the Nasty Party

On Tuesday, Theresa May told the Conservative party conference:

“What I’m proposing is a deal: the fewer people there are who wrongly claim asylum in Britain, the more generous we can be in helping the most vulnerable people in the world’s most dangerous places.  And my message to the immigration campaigners and human rights lawyers is this: you can play your part in making this happen – or you can try to frustrate it.”

Journalists called it “as tawdry as it was contemptible” (Spectator) and an “awful, ugly, misleading, cynical and irresponsible speech” (Telegraph).

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Doing the maths on academies

The English schools system is in the midst of a profound transformation. What was previously a complex network of different types of schools largely controlled by local authorities is gradually evolving into a system where academies and chains of academies are dominating the educational landscape.

Academies were an idea dreamt up by Lord (Andrew) Adonis under Labour in the early 2000s. The idea was to take failing schools in deprived areas and turn them around by freeing them from local authority control with the support of a new sponsor from the private or charitable sector. Since 2010 the Coalition and Conservative governments have turned this ‘rescue’ idea into something approaching an all-encompassing vision for the education sector by allowing good schools to convert to academy status. As a result the number of academies has grown from just 203 in 2010 to over 4000 and it has also been extended to primary schools.

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Everyone’s talking about…the crisis at Calais

When the Adam Smith Institute produces a piece titled ‘Owen Jones is entirely right here’, you know there’s consensus on an issue. With a refugee crisis unfolding in Calais, how different would our approach be to immigration if we didn’t just care about people who happen to have been born in Britain, they ask? Similarly, British Future calls for some perspective from the right-wing press, noting that ‘the world is struggling with its largest refugee crisis since the Second World War’ but the number of refugees in the UK has actually fallen by 76,439 since 2011.

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An idea that’s out there: going from welfare taxes to personal accounts

“Some party, some government, will have to replace the welfare state by a less destructive alternative. The Fortune Account is the shape of its replacement.”

That was the conclusion reached in a 1995 Adam Smith Institute report on welfare reform. Fast forward 20 years and the report’s central message – that personal savings and insurance accounts, not centralised taxation and distribution, should form the basis of much of the nation’s welfare system – may be getting its best ever hearing in the corridors of power.

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