Think Tanks

Policy Exchange

29 Jun 2011 06:21:21

Piotr Brzezinski: Why Policy Exchange has launched a Digital Government Unit

Policy Exchange new logo Piotr Brzezinski is Head of Digital Government at Policy Exchange.

Although modern technologies have completely transformed the private sector, much of Whitehall still operates in the Victorian-era, with outdated bureaucratic structures and antediluvian policies. There are some excellent examples of innovative public services, efficient IT procurement and tech-savvy policymaking, but they remain just that: isolated examples. The bulk of Whitehall has – to put it charitably – not taken advantage of the opportunities created by technology.

Today, however, the rumbling of a digital government revolution can be heard. The government’s open data programme – now led by the founder of Dr Foster’s, Tim Kelsey – has led to the publication of thousands of files previously buried in Whitehall. Martha Lane Fox and Mike Bracken are leading the development of innovative, digital-by-default public services. And a new generation of digitally aware civil servants and politicians are developing innovation-friendly policy reforms.

At Policy Exchange, we’ve launched a new Digital Government Unit – a first for a Westminster-based think tank – to help identify the opportunities and address the challenges of digital government. The dedicated, cross-departmental team will develop new ideas for how the government can make better use of technology, improve public services, and promote innovation.

Enabling people to access data and information more easily should enable people to have more control over their lives and say in how their communities are run.  Technology is also crucial in delivering more for less: better use of data would help government identify problems and deliver cost-effective solutions; delivering public services digitally could transform cut costs and raise productivity. But effective digital government will also require addressing new challenges ranging from individual privacy to cyber-security – as highlighted by recent data-loss and online espionage scandals.

At the launch of the Digital Government Unit earlier this week, Francis Maude provided an exciting overview of the Government’s ambitions from broadband regulation and ICT reform to open data and cyber-security. On many of these issues the UK is at the forefront of innovative thinking and experimentation globally. As a result, however, there’s no natural, easy blueprint to follow; in most cases, this simply hasn’t been done before. Take, for example, the Right to Public Data; unlike the FOI Act, where the Government could learn from analogous laws elsewhere, there are few comparable models for a right to public data to build on.

That’s why I see this as an exciting field where Policy Exchange can make a valuable contribution, leading the debate, challenging long-standing bureaucratic assumptions and providing new evidence-based policy proposals. It’s time for Whitehall to join the 21st century.

15 Jun 2011 18:06:17

New Chairman of Policy Exchange is Daniel Finkelstein

By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter.

FINKELSTEIN DANNY HANDS Daniel Finkelstein of The Times and close ally of George Osborne will be replacing Charles Moore as Chairman of the Policy Exchange think tank. Charles Moore is stepping down to focus on his Telegraph columns and his biography of Margaret Thatcher. The official announcement will be made tomorrow.

Thursday 11am update:

The announcement has now formally been made.

Here's what PX Director Neil O'Brien, along with both Moore and Finkelstein have said in statements just released:

Neil O’Brien: “We are delighted that a person of Daniel Finkelstein’s intellectual capacity, detailed policy knowledge and wide ranging political and media contacts, is joining Policy Exchange. It is an exciting time to be at Policy Exchange. Over the next four years all political parties will be looking for new, workable policy ideas across a range of issues. Charles Moore is one of the reasons why Policy Exchange is now the most influential think tank in the country. Everyone who has ever worked at Policy Exchange has benefited from his expert counsel. I would like to thank Charles and wish him all the best for the future.”

Charles Moore: “It has been a great honour and a pleasure to have helped steer Policy Exchange to its current pre-eminence under Neil O’Brien. I am proud that it has become Britain’s leading think tank. Daniel Finkelstein is the ideal person to take Policy Exchange forward to new heights.”

Daniel Finkelstein: “I am really excited to be taking over as Chairman of Policy Exchange. Anyone who has been reading its output or attending its events knows that this is a think tank at the top of its game. It has a superb director, an excellent staff, and the intellectual quality of its output is really high. All of this is a tribute to the extraordinary job Charles Moore has done, and I am inspired by his example. Once Britain’s immediate fiscal problems are solved, the challenge will be to find ways to create a stronger society and better public services - without simply running up another large deficit.  Policy Exchange is ideally placed to answer these questions.”

15 Jun 2011 14:57:32

James Groves: Gove must be wary when he sets targets

James Groves is the head of the education unit at Policy Exchange

Today’s announcement that secondary schools in England are to be set the more ambitious target of securing five good GCSE passes for at least 50% of their pupils by 2015 is the natural extension of plans made clear in last year’s White Paper - The Importance of Teaching. There will undoubtedly be opposition from teacher’s groups and unions. However, that schools will be kept under consistent pressure to drive up standards is good news for pupils, parents, employers and the economy at large.

But the setting of such floor targets can only take us so far. This Government must be careful not to fall into the same numbers game as beset the last Labour Government’s education policy.   As our recent report,   Room at the Top, highlighted, floor-targets have the tendency to put pressure on teachers to focus a disproportionate amount of their time on those students who are on the C/D borderline, rather than on those slower - and indeed higher - achievers.  To take an example, the proportion of pupils who gained an A*, A or B grade in Maths only improved by 0.4% between 2001/2 and 2009/10, while the proportion gaining C grades over the same period went from 21.3% to 26.5%, an improvement of 5.2%.

Continue reading "James Groves: Gove must be wary when he sets targets" »

13 Jun 2011 11:30:22

In report on prison work schemes, Policy Exchange recommends "real work" with fair pay

By Matthew Barrett
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6a00d83451b31c69e201538e1e85df970b-200wiToday Policy Exchange published its latest report, Inside Job. This report focuses on work schemes in the prison system, and how they could be improved. 

It finds that there are many shortcomings with the current work regime. The report recommends a normal working week for prisoners, as a better way of engaging with society and stopping re-offending. At present, most prisoners leave custody without adequate discipline and work ethic for a working life. 

Faults with the current work system include:

  • The average weekly hours worked by prisoners fell from 13.3 hours per week in 2005-06 to 11.8 hours per week in 2009-10
  • In spite of a 70% growth in the prison population since 1995, the number of prisoners working in prison workshops has only grown by 7%
  • As a proportion of total prison capacity, prison work places were 17% in 1995, but are only 11% today
  • Policy Exchange found no evidence of a private company directly employing inmates in a business operating inside a prison in England and Wales
  • Prisoners currently only receive £9.60 per week for their work
  • They pay no tax on this figure, and victims receive no compensation from prisoners' earnings

Continue reading "In report on prison work schemes, Policy Exchange recommends "real work" with fair pay" »

20 May 2011 08:08:26

Policy Exchange has plans to get tough on benefit claimants

by Paul Goodman

According to research from the Department for Work and Pensions:

  • The average jobseeker currently spends just one hour a day looking for work.
  • Over a third of benefit claimants felt that there was nothing wrong with choosing to stay on benefits rather than looking for work and that claiming benefits should be an option over having to work.

Policy Exchange believes that all this must change.  And its proposals are set out in a new report called No rights without responsibility: rebalancing the welfare state.

  • Its key idea is that work search requirements should be expanded to make sure that claimants can stay in - or get into - the habits of a normal working lifestyle.
  • Its main recommendation is to start reintroducing the contributory principle into the benefit system.
  • This would mean those who have paid in National Insurance Contributions for longer would get treated more generously than those who have not.
  • At present, all claimants are able to turn down any job they do not want to do for at least the first three months of making a claim. As a first step towards making national insurance contributions count again, the report suggests that only those who have paid into the system should enjoy this right.
  • To back these measures up, the report says there should be harsher sanctions – including the loss of cash benefits – for those who decide they would rather take benefits than take available work.

Matt Oakley, head of economics and social policy at Policy Exchange, said:

“The welfare state was set up to help those in genuine need. Over the past 65 years that founding principle has been diminished and welfare dependency has grown.

“We now find ourselves in a situation where large numbers of those claiming benefit are doing so not out of necessity but because they believe it’s a fundamental right to take from the state. Spending just seven hours a week looking for work - less time than the average person spends at work each day - is not enough. There are limits on Government’s ability to coax people into work with higher tax credits or welfare payments. With nearly 5.5 million adults now living in households where no-one is in work, the government needs to put in place much stricter conditions so that life on benefits is not an option.”

17 May 2011 14:45:08

Neil O'Brien of Policy Exchange: How to fix Britain’s railways

O'BRIEN-NEILNeil O'Brien is Director of Policy Exchange

Why on earth are the railways so expensive?  The cost of tickets is shooting up. And the taxpayer subsidy is huge too – Network rail alone gets a grant of nearly 4 billion from the government.

These huge costs are one reason why lots of people say that railway privatisation was a failure.  Actually privatisation would be an interesting idea - if we actually tried it.

Think about it.  The track is run by a huge government-created monopoly.  The train companies are notionally private, but the Department for Transport (DfT) tells them in mind-boggling detail what timetable to run, what trains to use, and roughly half the time, what fares to charge too.   Even the smallest details are controlled by the state.  For example, the Government required South West Trains  to relocate a vending machine at Wimbledon station.  The old British rail logo may have been painted over. But in practice, the state is still firmly in charge of our railways.

Sir Roy McNulty’s review of UK rail, set to be published this week, is expected to say that costs need to be cut by 35 per cent to match European counterparts.

But if we are really going to get the costs of the railways down, we need to tackle the underlying reasons why the railways are so expensive.

In practice, micro-management by the DfT means wasteful subsidies for rail travel on routes that nobody travels on.  For example, the author of a recent Policy Exchange report on rail recalls catching the train from Worcester to Oxford shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve. The  train’s guard was surprised to see an actual passenger, because this particular train was usually empty all  the way.

Continue reading "Neil O'Brien of Policy Exchange: How to fix Britain’s railways" »

9 May 2011 06:59:02

The gap between public and private sector wages is growing says Policy Exchange

By Tim Montgomerie

The Telegraph leads this morning with a report from Policy Exchange that shows that public sector workers are not only better paid than people in the private sector but that the advantage is getting greater:

  • "The public sector pay premium for a typical worker increased in every region of the UK in 2009 and 2010 (except Yorkshire). As in 2009, the largest premium was found in Wales and then the North West.
  • Public sector workers are paid more than private sector workers whether measured annually, by typical wage or raw average.  For all these measures, the gap between public and private increased between 2009 and 2010.
  • Since the start of the recession, the pay premium for the typical public sector worker has increased by around four percentage points to 24% (or 43% when pensions are taking into account).  When controlling for the differences like age, experience and qualifications, the hourly pay premium for a public sector worker was 8.8% as of December 2010.  This almost doubled from 4.3% two years earlier.
  • Public sector pay premiums rose in every part of the earnings distribution in 2010 apart from at the very top.  Pay shrank (even in cash terms) for the bottom 30% of private sector workers.  The public sector pay gap continued to increase up to December 2010 in spite of an attempt at pay restraint."

Polixy Exchange recommends the end of national pay bargaining so that public sector pay can be set according to local labour market conditions.

It also recommends that the total public sector wage bill is frozen rather than individual wages. At City AM Allister Heath explains the sense of this:

"The pay freeze on individual salaries should be replaced by a freeze in the total pay bill for public sector organisations. This would allow the deficit to be cut, good public sector workers to be paid more – and bad ones who are enjoying an easier, more comfortable life than their hard-pressed private sector counterparts to be paid less or removed. There is nothing wrong with high pay – but only when it is deserved and affordable."

Miliband Ed at TUC march So, now we know. When Ed Miliband marched with the TUC in March and likened the public sector unions' cause to the fight against apartheid, he was defending public sector workers getting better paid by 35% more per hour, on average, than private sector workers.

26 Apr 2011 07:56:26

What is fairness? What is poverty? Policy Exchange asks the voters...

By Tim Montgomerie

Policy Exchange Over at ToryDiary I look at the PX Poll's implications for the Conservative Party but pasted below are some key findings:


  • Economic responsibility: 59%
  • Fairness: 50%
  • Family values: 32%
  • Traditional values: 29%
  • Equality: 21%
  • Liberty: 20%
  • Patriotism: 17%
  • Environmentalism: 11%


  • 63% of people say that “fairness is about getting what you deserve”, while just 26% say that “fairness is about equality”.
  • By a margin of 73%-18% people agree that society can be fair even if it is unequal – as long as there is equality of opportunity.


  • Reducing unemployment: 45%
  • Cutting tax on low earners: 45%
  • Reducing the cost of living: 38%
  • Improve state education: 29%
  • Increase minimum wage: 29%
  • Reduce crime in poor areas: 23%
  • Increase state pensions: 18%
  • Reducing tuition fees: 11%
  • Banning private education: 4%
  • Increasing welfare benefits: 3%


  • By 48% to 24% people say that people end up poor because of forces outside their control – not their own poor decisions;
  • BUT by 71%-16% they agree with the statement that “Some people who are poor are much more deserving than other people who are poor"


  • By 80% to 13% there is agreement that “people who have been out of work for 12 months or more, who are physically and mentally capable of undertaking a job, should be required to do community work in return for their state benefits.”
  • 49% of respondents back the idea that claimants who break their jobseekers agreement should lose half or more of their benefits.  21% backed the idea that they should lose all their benefits “regardless of the hardship it would cause”.
  • By 50% to 16% people think benefits are too high rather than too low.
  • By a margin of 55% to 36% people disagree with the idea that “People with children should be given higher benefits to compensate for the costs of bringing them up."
  • “The government should try to encourage marriage through the benefits system” is narrowly rejected (45% to 40%) but there is support (59% over 31%) for idea that “The government should try to discourage people from becoming lone parents”.


See the full results here.

8 Apr 2011 07:02:00

David Skelton appointed Deputy Director of Policy Exchange

By Jonathan Isaby

Picture 6 This week has seen David Skelton appointed as Neil O'Brien's deputy at Policy Exchange.

David, who has been working at management consultancy PA Consulting Group, was Conservative candidate for North Durham at last year's general election and is a former Deputy Director of the Parliamentary Resources Unit. He is also a regular contributor to the Platform 10 blog.

He replaces Natalie Evans, who is now Head of Operations for the New Schools Network.

Others recent recruits to Policy Exchange include:

  • Nick Faith, formerly of Luther Pendragon, is now Head of Communications, working with Head of Press, former Daily Express journalist, Gabriel Milland.
  • Simon Less, formerly at the Treasury, is now Head of Policy Exchange's Environment and Energy Unit.
  • Matt Oakley, another former Treasury civil servant, is now Head of Enterprise, Growth and Social Policy, working on welfare policy amongst other things.

5 Apr 2011 11:54:10

Policy Exchange says that schools are letting down some of their most able pupils

by Paul Goodman

Policy Exchange has today published a new report which says that schools are ignoring pupils capable of getting A* grades - concentrating instead on bumping students up from a D to a C.  The study, called Room at_the_Top, was undertaken by Professor Deborah Eyre, the Education Director for Nord Anglia Education.

It calls for all schools to expect excellence from all their pupils, for such exams GCSE to be made more rigorous and for every pupil to be given an assigned member of staff with responsibility for monitoring their progress and coaching them towards high levels of performance.

An analysis of GCSE results contained in the report proves that the key measure for schools of getting as many pupils to get five A* to C grades at GCSE has worked as a “floor target” - "effectively encouraging mediocrity", as the think-tank puts it.

Professor Eyre said -

“Children who try harder do better. But because of a fear of appearing ‘elitist’, pupils are not being encouraged to put in the effort which will bring about excellence. We need an approach which will recognise and nurture signs of high performance in every subject – both academic and vocational. There are many more pupils capable of high performance than we currently recognise."

James Groves, head of Policy Exchange’s education unit, said -

“Schools need a relentless focus on high achievement.  If we are to produce enough skilled, able adults who will be able to compete in a vastly-tougher global economy, then we cannot afford to waste any potential at all. Just being able to master basic skills is no longer enough. We need a workforce that can take on anyone in the world and beat them.”