Think Tanks

Better government

14 Jun 2012 06:57:11

The Government needs a new Coalition Agreement to renew its purpose, says the Institute for Government

By Matthew Barrett
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Institute for GovernmentA new report (pdf) released today by the Institute for Government recommends a new Coalition Agreement-style document to reinvigorate the government for the second half of this Parliament. The new "renewal plan" would set out objectives and priorities for the remainder of the term, and would help the parties in government work more effectively, the Institute’s report - "A game of two halves – how coalition governments renew in mid-term and last the full term" - says. The report is based on interviews with figures in Westminster and Whitehall and in countries where coalitions are common.

International research confirms that all governments struggle with mid-term renewal, but the challenge is even greater for coalitions. The Institute for Government - a think-tank which focuses on the civil service's role in government - warns that Britain's civil servants should plan for a minority government towards the final months of the Coalition, as the parties in government will be trying to distinguish themselves from the Coalition, and may cause a breakdown in relations between the two parties.

A new plan, apart from renewing the Coalition, would be able to take stock of new realities. Some policies of the Government, such as Lords reform, have been opposed by backbenchers on the grounds that they are not in the Coalition Agreement. An updated document would be able to include new economic measures, to take into account the progressively worsening situation in the €urozone. The Institute for Government argues that the new plan would:

  • Clarify ambiguous policies in the Coalition Agreement
  • Be open about which policies have been amended or dropped since 2010
  • Develop a clearer link between policy objectives and the funding allocated from the Budget to pay for them
  • Articulate the Coalition’s big objectives for the second half of the Parliament, and set out how the specific planned policies will help to achieve them
  • Urge the government to think for the long-term, post-2015 political landscape

Continue reading "The Government needs a new Coalition Agreement to renew its purpose, says the Institute for Government" »

8 May 2012 16:16:46

A new report from Jesse Norman MP and the Centre for Policy Studies urges the abolition and replacement of PFI

By Matthew Barrett
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CPSIn a new report - After PFI - released yesterday by the Centre for Policy Studies, Jesse Norman MP has advocated the abolition of PFI, and its replacement with a new model of public sector procurement. Norman, the MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire, sits on the Treasury Select Committee, and set up the PFI Rebate Campaign in 2010, which led Tim Montgomerie to label him "the £1.5bn backbencher", after the expected public savings from the campaign.

After PFI shows that PFI has been one of the costliest experiments in public policy-making, causing more than £200 billion of public debt - the equivalent of £8,000 for every household in the country.

Amongst the detailed recommendations in the report are:

  • Placing all past and future liabilities on the government balance sheet as soon as practicable
  • Establishing a new central unit across government to monitor all PFI-style projects, to advise on best practice, to educate actual and potential public sector clients on contract management, and to generate greater “shared client power”
  • Far greater transparency of existing and future contracts, and of costs to the public sector within contracts
  • Mandatory disclosure to government of data on secondary market transactions

Tim Knox, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, comments:

“The extraordinary cost and opacity of PFI under New Labour must never be allowed to happen again. Over £200 billion of new infrastructure is needed over the next decade. We cannot afford to get it so wrong again.”

The full paper can be downloaded here.

14 Dec 2011 07:11:09

New TaxPayers' Alliance report indicates council employees have spent 2,500 working years on paid suspension since 2009

By Matthew Barrett
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TAXPAYERS ALLIANCEA report (pdf) from the TaxPayers' Alliance released today reveals that 1,328 Midlands council staff have been suspended for a total of 419 years since 2009, costing taxpayers £8.2 million.

If these figures were replicated nationally, in line with the spending power of Councils in the Midlands, the TPA estimates that since April 2009 7,852 staff would have been suspended for a total of 594,816 days, or almost 2,500 working years.

The suspended members of staff have been on full pay, and the average suspension lasts 76 days.

The worst-offending councils include:

  • Leicester City Council, who paid out the most in salaries to suspended staff at almost £1.5 million for 107 incidents.
  • Nottinghamshire Council had 167 cases of suspension since April 2009, the highest in the Midlands.
  • 78 employees across the Midlands were suspended on full pay for more than 12 months.
  • A manager on over £67,000 a year at Newark and Sherwood Council was suspended for 77 days before leaving the authority.
  • An employee of Leicester City Council on a salary of £48,642 was suspended for 872 days. The total wages paid during suspension was in excess of £176,000. This was the largest amount paid during suspension.
  • An employee at Lincolnshire Council on a salary of almost £65,000 a year received over £140,000 during a suspension of 523 days, before being dismissed.
  • An employee of Nottingham City Council was suspended for 950 days – almost four years.

Six councils refused to provide any information, twelve did not provide salary details, one did not respond to the TPA's request, and two did not record requested details of any suspended staff.

Continue reading "New TaxPayers' Alliance report indicates council employees have spent 2,500 working years on paid suspension since 2009" »

25 Aug 2011 07:13:04

New TaxPayers' Alliance report finds £27.4 billion in taxes goes uncollected

By Matthew Barrett
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TAXPAYERS ALLIANCEA new report released today by the TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) for the 2020 Tax Commission (a joint project by the TPA and Institute of Directors) shows that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has given up on collecting £27.4billion in tax revenue over the last five years.

The TPA report, "How the taxman loses billions every year" (which is available to read here in pdf format), suggests that tax simplification would help avoid errors of such scale - and would help reduce the deficit more quickly. 

HMRC gives up trying to collect billions in tax in the form of remissions and write-offs every year. The report describes remissions and write-offs:

  • "Remissions are debts capable of recovery but HMRC has decided not to pursue the liability, for example, on the grounds of value for money or official error"
  • "Write-offs are debts that are considered to be irrecoverable because there is no practical means for pursuing the liability (e.g. after bankruptcies)"

Continue reading "New TaxPayers' Alliance report finds £27.4 billion in taxes goes uncollected" »

16 May 2011 19:00:03

New Reform reports show the potential benefits and favourable public attitudes towards for-profit delivery in public services

ByREFORM Matthew Barrett

The Reform think-tank today launched a new report highlighting cases of successful private sector involvement in public services. These include:

  • The Valencia region in Spain, where 20% of health services are provided by private sector organisations, who have to deliver at a cost 25% lower than the public sector.
  • In Germany, a third of hospitals are run by for-profit organisations and a further third by not-for-profit organisations. All hospitals are accessible to German citizens through the national programme.
  • In Britain, private sector companies have operated prisons for some years. In 2010, an independent evaluation of HMP Doncaster, operated by Serco, found that “the prison is considered to be leading the way in terms of the rehabilitation revolution”.
  • A number of failing Local Education Authorities have been run by for-profit companies since 1999. Cambridge Education @ Islington became the education partner of the London Borough of Islington in 2000. By last year, the borough's GCSE results have nearly caught up with the national average, having once being among the worst.
  • Other Local Education Authorities have given contracts to for-profit companies to help them improve schools. In 2008, for example, Northamptonshire County Council agreed a three-year contract with the for-profit company EdisonLearning to improve seventeen primary schools and four secondary schools in the council's remit. In the first two years of the contract, the proportion of 15-year-olds achieving five good GCSEs increased from 24.8% to 33.3%.

Continue reading "New Reform reports show the potential benefits and favourable public attitudes towards for-profit delivery in public services" »

11 May 2011 16:00:24

The TaxPayers' Alliance and Big Brother Watch give their anniversary verdicts on the Coalition


During the last general election, the TaxPayers' Alliance published a manifesto, setting out objectives for this Parliament. Today, the TPA published its assessment of the Coalition's progress so far. The new report assigns scores out of five (with five meaning the objective has been satisfied, or there are plans to satisfy it, and zero meaning no progress has been made). 

The report finds that in every area, there is progress towards achieving some objectives, but progress is lacking in others:

  • In tax and spending the Government has introduced a 2-year public sector pay freeze (3/5) and cut middle class welfare (3/5) but has not matched benefit reform with better tax policy (2/5)
  • In reforming services the Government has given teachers and parents the right to open new, free schools (5/5) and appears to be on track to introduce elected police commissioners (4/5) but is yet to refocus transport spending on high use commuter rail and roads and is yet to scrap high speed rail proposals (0/5)
  • In democracy and transparency the Government has strengthened the FOI act (2/5) but there have been no moves to hold a referendum on a renegotiation of our relationship with the EU (0/5)

Matthew Sinclair, Director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said:

"Early on the Government made some excellent progress cutting some wasteful spending and opening up the public sector so taxpayers could see how their money is spent. Since then there has been further progress in some areas like strengthening Freedom of Information. Exciting reforms that will deliver better value from welfare, education and police spending have made progress. But in too many other fields, like tax reform and abolishing useless quangos, the rhetoric hasn’t been matched by the policy delivered. With expensive commitments like increasing international development and the high speed rail white elephant, families will see more of their money wasted. The TaxPayers' Alliance will continue fighting to defend the interests of ordinary taxpayers and campaigning on the priorities we set out before the election."

BigBrotherwatch logo The full report can be read here (pdf).

The civil liberties campaign group, Big Brother Watch, has also produced an anniversary report, assessing the Coalition's progress on that front. Some key points:

  • The promise to reduce the 28-day detention limit to 14 days has been kept
  • The promise to abolish ID cards has been kept
  • ContactPoint, the database that held information on all children under 18 was turned off in August last year
  • However, the Coalition has retained biometric identity cards for non-EU citizens
  • The Protection of Freedoms Bill, published in February made some progress towards deleting the DNA of people arrest for a crime but never charged. However, the bill will still allow storage of DNA profiles of those accused of serious violent and sexual crimes for a three year period, extendable by a further three years by a court order
  • The Protection of Freedoms Bill contained plans to remove stop and search powers granted by the Terrorism Act 2000, but further progress needs to be made
  • Control Orders have been replaced with Terrorism  Prevention and Investigation Measures, which are only an incremental improvement
  • The government kept its promise to ban the use of powers given by the Investigation of Regulatory Powers Act, the law that gives council officers the ability to demand entry into private homes
  • The government has continued the Intercept Modernisation Programme, which allows the government to crack phones and store emails, but information stored is on a smaller scale than Labour planned
  • The Summary Care Record, the NHS record database, is being continued by the government, despite both Coalition parties pledging to scrap it
  • CCTV usage has grown, despite research showing it has no effect on crime

The full report can be read here (pdf).

26 Mar 2010 08:52:08

Report calls for all government policies to be examined for how they impact the family

A recent report from the Cambridge-based Relationships Foundation, 'Progressive Families, Progressive Britain', recommends a 'triple lock' on all policy ideas.  It argues that all policies should be 'family-proofed' as well as measured for their economic and environmental impact.

The report argues that family policy cannot be isolated in one or two Whitehall departments but policymakers need to recognise that nearly all government action impacts the family. David Cameron has promised to appoint Iain Duncan Smith to chair a Cabinet committee if he becomes Prime Minister. Mr Duncan Smith will be tasked with co-ordinating policies that fight poverty and impact the family.

The RF report contains this illustrative graphic:

Screen shot 2010-03-26 at 08.41.01 Crucially, the RF says, the flow is both ways. All government policy impacts family strength and family strength helps determine the success of all government policy.

RF's Executive Director and former Tory MP Michael Trend promises a second report in the next few weeks to analyse how Whitehall might practically deliver this 'triple lock'.

Here is a link to the full report.

11 Jan 2010 08:46:44

Douglas Carswell MP rejects idea of government think tank to evaulate public policy

In an article for yesterday's Sunday Times, Anthony Browne, Boris Johnson's chief policy adviser, called for the government to set up and fund a new body to evaluate the success of policy innovations:

"We do too many projects, with too few that are evidence-based. We should do more of what we know works and less of what we are guessing works. Even those projects that are evidence-based often aren’t implemented effectively and if they are implemented effectively it is usually locally rather than nationally. To guide our thinking we should set up a national institute of policy evaluation, answerable to parliament, which would analyse the cost and benefits of each policy and guide government on where to spend its money to have the desired outcome."

He cites the Washington State Institute for Public Policy as a possible model.

The idea of a impartial expert class is deceptively attractive but the recent differences over drugs policy between Professor David Nutt and the Home Secretary illustrate the political dangers of trusting experts.

Tory MP Douglas Carswell blogs as to why he opposes the idea:

"Anthony makes the mistake that many very intelligent people make when contemplating public policy; if only expert policy-makers used evidence-based research to ascertain what works, we'd have good public policy.  The trouble is, who decides "what works"?  Who determines what evidence to apply to the evidence base?  Why would experts be any better at deciding public policy than they were once supposed to be at running the economy?  ...Over the past generation - and under both parties - a vast alphabet sea of national bodies have sprung up, overseeing public policy on the basis of what they tell us is the evidence; the “evidence-based” NICE, MPC, PCTs, both FSAs, the CSA, EA, HA et al.  It is they that are responsible for so much of the waste and public policy failure that Anthony rightly recognises."

Douglas Carswell says the people who need to do the evaulation of public policy are the MPs.