Think Tanks

Policy Exchange

4 Apr 2011 10:56:21

Policy Exchange calls on the Government to slow down NHS reforms in order to get GPs on board

By Jonathan Isaby

Policy Exchange new logo I have already written this morning about the ongoing speculation about what the Government is going to do with its NHS reforms.

Right on cue comes another contribution to the debate this morning from the think-tank Policy Exchange.

It has just issued a paper, Implementing GP Commissioning, by Eve Norridge, a former head of the public services team in the Conservative Research Department and policy adviser at the Treasury.

She is in favour of the commissioning model favoured by Andrew Lansley, but uses the report to urge the Government not to move so fast:

"In recent years, GP involvement in commissioning has received widespread support from politicians of all parties and across the NHS. It would be a loss to everyone if it were discredited and the emerging consensus destroyed through overly rapid implementation. The changes that are planned are a natural next step from trials in the 1990s and from Labour's practice-based commissioning programme.

"However, the government has lost many potential supporters, both inside and outside the NHS, through pressing ahead with them so quickly. If these issues are simply swept under the carpet then patient care may suffer in the transfer to the new system and further undermine confidence in the proposals. On the other hand, if the hard work is done to slow things down, to bring sceptics back on board and to lay a solid evidence base for the scheme, then its potential to deliver real and lasting transformation in the NHS is enormous."

Continue reading "Policy Exchange calls on the Government to slow down NHS reforms in order to get GPs on board" »

17 Mar 2011 06:33:14

Alex Morton of Policy Exchange: How the planning system can be changed to quickly help to increase the supply of new homes

Alex Morton Alex Morton is Senior Research Fellow on Housing and Planning at Policy Exchange, which today publishes More Homes: Fewer Empty Buildings. He sets out below why the reforms it proposes are needed.

Today Policy Exchange publishes More Homes: Fewer Empty Buildings.  This proposes relaxing the rules around changing buildings from employment and retail uses to homes, and allowing land currently designated for commercial uses but left undeveloped for more than a year to convert to residential use without the need for fresh planning permission.

Current problems are caused by a planning system that is straight out of the 1940s collectivist ‘government knows best’ textbook.  17% of commercial buildings are currently empty – almost six times the rate of empty homes.  This isn’t just a result of the recession, but long term changes that mean many offices and shops are now no longer suited for their current use.  Internet shopping, faster stock turnaround and customer change means many older retail premises are not viable.  Similarly, changing employment needs mean much lower demand for older office buildings that are not suitable for open-plan spaces, air conditioning or modern computer-cabling.

Yet despite this, councils often refuse to allow a building to change to residential use despite a widespread and widely acknowledged housing crisis. Often the result can be derelict or half-empty buildings that do nothing to boost a local area’s employment or high street.  Planning regulations should be used to stop buildings changing from a more desirable to a less desirable use without good reason and oversight, not to create urban blight and prevent brown field land being recycled to a better use.  Who wants to live next to empty or derelict premises compared with a new home?  Making this change would spur growth over the next twelve months as currently under used premises are refitted and refurbished into new homes, and unused commercial land is developed for new housing.

Our proposed change would allow for change of use for a building only from commercial to residential use, not vice versa.  But even so, to allay potential concerns we propose possible safeguards.  Firstly, we propose some village amenities are excluded (until the community Right to Buy is operational). Secondly, automatic conversion should only be allowed if a building has been vacant for twelve months or more.  Thirdly, if this isn’t the case, then only 50% of the floor space of such buildings could convert without planning permission.  And of course any windfall gains for landowners should be shared with local communities and people through the Community Infrastructure Levy and New Homes Bonus mechanisms that government is creating.

This rule change (even with safeguards) would stop councils from blocking change of use on spurious grounds.  When a building was clearly not viable for its current purpose it would no longer remain vacant because of council obstinacy.

Some will argue this is removing a hidden subsidy for business.  Currently – with local authorities force up the supply of space offices and shops while restricting the numbers of new homes.  But high housing costs only lead to demands for higher wages, meaning any advantage is largely illusory.  If government really wants to be helping business, it should grasp the nettle of business rates, which strangle many small businesses.

This proposal is just one of Policy Exchange’s suggestions for a better planning system.  It could be introduced relatively easily and quickly, and – best of all it could have an immediate impact on the supply of badly needed new homes.

7 Feb 2011 07:54:10

Policy Exchange proposes exit plan from European Court of Human Rights

Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2011-02-07 at 07.36.33

A new report from Policy Exchange -  Download a PDF of "Bringing Rights Back Home" - calls for Britain to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if the Court cannot reform itself. The report's recommendations have the backing of the vast majority of the British people. 66% agreed that ultimate authority on human rights should be with Britain's own Supreme Court. Only 19% said it should stay with Strasbourg.

The retired Law Lord, Lord Hoffman, backs the report in a foreword. “In the last few years," he writes, "human rights have become, like health and safety, a byword for foolish decisions by courts and administrators”.

The press release from Policy Exchange states:

"The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg no longer fulfils the function for which is was founded with judges both there and in the UK stretching the text of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to make it apply in situations where core human rights are not at stake. Judges too often now see their role as making, not interpreting. The Strasbourg court also fail to take sufficient account of the cultural and other differences between countries – such as the conflict between the Convention’s “right to privacy” and the British tradition of freedom of the press.  The 47 Strasbourg judges also enjoy virtually no democratic legitimacy and are poorly qualified compared to Britain’s own senior judiciary."

On Saturday the Daily Mail highlighted how the Strasbourg judges were often very poorly qualified for their powerful positions. Many do not speak either of the Court's languages (English and French) or have even served as judges in their home nations. Read more here.

23 Dec 2010 08:21:46

Policy Exchange calls for universities to share services, help students and cut costs

by Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-12-22 at 16.01.16 Policy Exchange must be turning out a pamphlet a week.  Today, Alex Massey from its Education Unit calls for universities to reduce potential student debt and protect teaching and research by cutting their costs - for example, by outsourcing such functions as maintenance and accommodation.

In a research note called Higher Education in an Age of Austerity, Massey argues that there are big savings to be had from universities sharing such services as finance, human resources or student records - claiming that up to 30% of the total cost could be saved if more services were shared, meaning savings across the higher education sector of £2.7 billion.

But according to Massey, the Joint Information and Systems Committee (JISC) found that only 26% of HE institutions reported themselves to have any shared services at all, and fewer than 50% of HE managers would “readily consider” sharing services in any area of administrative operations.

He points to schemes such as “Manchester Student Homes” – a joint venture between Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan universities - which provides information and support through a single office, hugely reducing administration costs, and to UCL saving £250,000 a year by using Microsoft’s free email service.

Massey said -

“Too many universities operate in an outdated way. They’ve failed to recognise the savings and service improvements that could be obtained through engagement with commercial partners and the use of shared services.

“Too many university managers continue to regard the private sector with suspicion, rather than recognising the benefits that can accrue from productive collaborative arrangements.

“With students facing higher levels of debt, it is really time for universities to start taking efficiency and value-for-money seriously. Outsourcing and shared service arrangements would be a very good way to reduce costs and improve service quality.

There is no reason why activities like accommodation, IT systems, catering, administration and other non-core services should always be provided in-house, and far too many institutions replicate functions that could be carried out on a shared basis."

Massey's other recommendations include freeing universities from having to pay VAT on outsourced or shared services by giving them a similar exemption to that enjoyed by the NHS, and universities increasing private sector income through such activities as scientific spin-offs and a more entrepreneurial approach to generating revenue from commercial sources.


15 Dec 2010 06:10:58

Policy Exchange urges reform of the electricity market

by Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-12-15 at 06.09.11 Britain’s electricity market is being hamstrung by too much regulation and uncertainty, according to a new study from Policy Exchange.

The research, compiled by Simon Less, finds that costs are being piled on consumers, with generators waiting for government to centrally plan - and regularly fine-tune - its proposals, rather than seeking out the best investments and innovations to secure supplies and reduce carbon emissions.

Extra regulatory risk for those seeking to build power stations is likely to add £1.25 billion a year to the costs of new investment – equivalent to almost £50 for every household in the UK.

Key recommendations in the report include:

  • Radically simplifying current policy interventions.
  • Instead of complex subsidies for large-scale deployment of preferred technologies like offshore wind, government should focus on developing a credible, long-term, neutral carbon pricing framework – allowing the market to provide low-carbon, low-cost power.
  • Developing independent institutional arrangements to improve market confidence in the process of developing of climate-related regulation.

Simon Less said -

“The competitive electricity market in Great Britain has been a major success story, emulated around the world.  But the current road of incremental policy interventions is creating unmanageable uncertainty and gradually replacing market decisions and innovation with government planning.

“Unless reversed, such an approach will be much less effective in securing electricity supplies and lowering carbon emissions at least cost to customers.

“Unnecessarily raising electricity prices will harm UK competitiveness, increase fuel poverty and deter increased future electrification of the heat and transport sectors needed to meet climate targets.”

9 Dec 2010 06:10:18

Almost a quarter of financial institutions have considered quitting Britain

by Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-12-09 at 06.09.16 The claim comes from Policy Exchange, in a research note launched today entitled "Not With A Bang But A Whimper".  According to Ted Sumpster, its author, "the UK’s financial services industry is in danger of fading away" - which has big implications for the economy and taxpayers, since one study found that despite the recession, financial services contributed £61.4bn to the Exchequer in 2008/09 – 12.1% of tax revenues.

Three-quarters of the London-based financial institutions polled by YouGov for Policy Exchange blamed the overall tax burden as a reason for their possible departure, while two-thirds blamed increasing regulation as a significant reason.

Sumpster, said -

"What the City needs is clear and stable taxes and regulations that will preserve its status as a leading international financial centre.

“There’s nothing pre-ordained about London’s reputation as one of the best places in the world to do business. Financial services is a highly mobile, globalised industry where the key people and firms are able to move to wherever they can best achieve their goals.

“Britain is in danger of driving away talent. In other words, we could end up killing the goose that lays the golden egg.”

According to the research note -

  • Businesses and individuals are not looking to relocate to emerging markets. Instead the alternative locations they prefer are Switzerland and the Crown Dependencies – 59% for both – or Ireland, at 45%.
  • 24% of those planning to relocate will do so within the year, rising to 54% within two years.
  • Individuals planning to leave often cited high living costs and poor quality of life as the two biggest factors.
  • But 63% said the overall tax burden was in danger of driving them out of Britain, with 34% blaming tax and regulatory uncertainty.
  • The most highly-skilled professionals are the most likely to leave, not managers or support workers.

Recommendations in the study include -

  • An annual “City Health Check” detailing inflows and outflows of businesses and employees in financial services.
  • Action to monitor what the international finance industry thinks of the UK as a place to do business and a place to live.
  • Collecting proper figures showing how much financial services contribute to the British economy and to tax revenues.
  • A Government signal that the cumulative impact of changes to tax and regulation will be put into reverse.

26 Nov 2010 12:14:37

Policy Exchange wants independent panels to assess the requirements of pupils with special educational needs

 by Paul Goodman


Screen shot 2010-11-26 at 12.12.52 The report is called Reforming provision in English schools, and the thrust of its case is that parents should have a guaranteed choice on what type of schooling their child should get.  Its main recommendations are -

  • Greater honesty and clarity from government about the amount of cash available for SEN pupils - especially those with rare conditions that are expensive to deal with.
  • A new national assessment criteria so pupils with similar conditions will be able to get the same, high quality services. Independent assessment panels will apply the criteria at a local level.
  • Regular updates from the Government on how well SEN pupils are doing at school – alongside details of how what services are provided in different parts of the country – so local differences can be ironed out.
  • Better information for parents, so that children who have SEN “statements” can  find out how well different providers educate their children.  Every SEN pupil should have a choice between a straightforward placement in an ordinary school, and at least one other type of provision - such as a special school or an SEN unit in a mainstream school.
  • A range of different providers, including the third sector, should be allowed to bid to run local SEN services. Local parents of children with SEN could play a key role in deciding who runs services as well as holding them to account for their performance.
  • SEN "free schools", if there's demand for them.
  • More Special Schools and other specialist engagement with charities and other third sector groups.
  • Drasticallt improved training for special needs teachers – with ordinary teachers given extra expertise and specialist qualifications for those who spend more time with SEN pupils.

The author of the report is Ralph Hartley, who said -

“We need to focus on making sure children have the help they need so they can learn - not on where children are educated.  The upcoming SEN Green Paper is an opportunity for the coalition to make sure this happens. 

“Ministers should make sure there is a flexible range of provision available at a local level for parents to choose from. At the same time, parents need to have clear information about what their child can expect from certain placements and what other children with similar needs have achieved in that school or setting."

“That’s empowering – no longer should parents be forced to fight local authorities. If parents aren’t happy with the way services are being run at a local level, they should be able to influence this – by being involved with deciding who runs these services: the local authority; a third sector organization; a private organization; or any from a range of alternative providers.”

A previous Policy Exchange research note - Teacher Expertise for Special Educational Needs - found that just 5%of special schools found it easy to recruit teachers with the right training.
Only 34%  of SEN pupils currently reach the expected National Curriculum level in English and Maths compared to 85% per cent of pupils with no SEN. Children with SEN are twice as likely to be persistently absent from school and are eight times as likely to be excluded from school.

22 Nov 2010 16:13:47

Policy Exchange sets out plan to stop Britain's faith schools from being infiltrated by extremists

Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 16.02.02 A new report from Policy Exchange recommends reforms to faith schools to prevent infiltration from extremists.

It concludes that Britain’s education system, including OfSted and the Department for Education, is currently not equipped to meet such challenges. The report says:

  • "Current due diligence checks are piecemeal, partial and lack in-depth expertise;
  • The Coalition Government’s policy of opening up the education system to new academies and free schools programmes could be exploited unless urgent measures are taken to counter extremist influence;
  • Britain lags behind other liberal European democracies in addressing these problems in schools."

It recommends:

  • "Current, inadequate counter-extremism mechanisms and due diligence checks, especially on new schools providers and bodies, should be replaced by a centralised and dedicated Due Diligence Unit (DDU).
  • The DDU should be based within the Department for Education and be accountable directly to the Secretary of State. This would recruit staff with relevant skills from across the public sector and become a centre of expertise. The DDU should train Ofsted inspectors and other stakeholders in how to monitor schools.
  • Those seeking to set up new schools – including parents, charities, governors, companies and senior management – should be assessed both in the start up phase and thereafter.
  • New primary and secondary legislation should be passed to make it harder for extremists to engage in political indoctrination of children.  Existing legislation should be better enforced.
  • A commitment to core British values of democracy, tolerance and patriotism should be part of the ethos of every school and incorporated into new contracts for academies and free school providers.
  • Narrative British history should be a compulsory part the school curriculum.
  • The smaller independent inspectorates with an explicitly confessional mission should be rolled into Ofsted to ensure both quality and uniformity of provision.

Screen shot 2010-11-22 at 16.13.06 The Government should consider applying this regime to unregulated weekend schools. Today's Daily Mail splashes with news that Saudi-funded schools in Britain are radicalising young children:

"Children in Britain are being taught brutal Sharia law punishments, including how to hack off a criminal’s hand or foot. So-called ‘weekend schools’ for Muslim pupils as young as six also teach that the penalty for gay sex is execution and that ‘Zionists’ are plotting to take over the world for the Jews. One set textbook challenges youngsters to list the ‘reprehensible’ qualities of Jews."

The Mail report is a preview of a BBC Panorama programme due to be broadcast at 8.30pm tonight on BBC1.

17 Nov 2010 14:27:39

Max Chambers: Transforming offender management, reducing reoffending

By Max Chambers of Policy Exchange, Senior Research Fellow in the Crime and Justice Unit.

In just a few weeks time, the Government will publish much anticipated proposals on the future of sentencing and rehabilitation policy. A Green Paper will promise to deliver a ‘rehabilitation revolution’,  with innovative reforms seeking to break the cycle of reoffending. Proposals to cut reoffending will centre around a key idea – payment-by-results – where the state pays independent and voluntary groups for the results they achieve in reducing reoffending – funded by the savings to the criminal justice system of reduced crime.  This groundbreaking concept was first put forward by Nick Herbert MP, the Policing and Criminal Justice Minister, in 2007 - and it is now being studied by policymakers from all over the world, including those in the White House. So, why is reform needed, and will the idea actually work?

At Policy Exchange, we have always been sceptical about the previous Government’s claims to have reduced reoffending, and our new report finally blows apart this myth.  Officially, reoffending levels have fallen by 15.9% since 2000 – on the face of it, a pretty substantial achievement. However, ‘reoffending’ levels in this country are measured according to whether a criminal is reconvicted of another offence within one year.  But cautions, which require an offence to be committed and an acceptance of guilt on the part of the offender, and Fixed Penalty Notices are inexplicably excluded.  Basing the reoffending rate on reconvictions alone means that the measure is dangerously susceptible to changes in police practice – in other words, decisions about whether to convict. And over the last decade, there has been a huge rise in the number of cautions issued by the police. In fact, since 2000, the reduction in the reoffending rate is almost exactly proportionate to the increase in the proportion of offences dealt with via a caution (15.9% and 15.6% respectively). Our analysis shows that, as a result, it is extremely unlikely that the previous Government reduced reoffending at all – despite all the money spent – and it means the measure of reoffending is now unsafe.  So we need a better measure of reoffending that counts all crime, and then we need to try something new if we’re to reduce our high reoffending rates in future.

This would be an important task in itself, but it is now also a financial necessity.  The Ministry of Justice has set itself the hugely ambitious target of reducing the prison population by 3,000 in five years, and reduced reoffending (and thereby demand on the prison system) is being relied upon as one way of achieving this.  Such a turnaround would be unprecedented, and the ambition is commendable, but if it is going to be credible, then payment-by-results is going to have to deliver something really special.

The idea has got everybody in the sector geed up. But what will it really mean in practice? The argument for payment-by-results is quite simple: reducing reoffending requires the contribution of many different agencies to address issues such as accommodation, mental health, debt, employment, skills, and drug and alcohol addiction. The delivery of public services to address these issues for a small number of chronic criminals is fractured, bureaucratic, siloed, and ineffective.  By giving providers a direct financial incentive to reduce reoffending, you reward what works, and stop paying for what doesn’t.  The incentives will drive the private and voluntary sector to work together to better coordinate interventions and services for offenders, making sure they are sequenced properly, appropriate for individual circumstances, and more likely to reduce reoffending. Bodies will also be able to fill in the gaps where there is no service provision – such as meeting short-term prisoners at the gate on the day of release (like the probation service used to do), providing mentoring and wraparound support, and physically taking offenders to drug rehab sessions and job appointments.   And what makes payment-by-results really important, and relevant now, is the funding mechanism.  In theory, it costs taxpayers nothing up front, and ensures that if and when taxpayers do pay out, they are only funding what has actually be proven to work.

Important though this new approach is, it will not in itself fix the problems that exist in the public sector, where most of the services required to reduce reoffending lie. A true solution to reducing reoffending will seek to actually fix the fragmentation and perverse incentives in the public sector, and build on the expertise that is already there. Policy Exchange’s preferred model would be for the Government to introduce financial incentives to reduce reoffending (payment-by-results), but then go further and enable a mix of public sector professionals to come together with private providers and the voluntary sector to form a Public-Private Partnership, or a ‘Reducing Reoffending Mutual’.  Groups of disaffected but ambitious public service staff could club together and “spin out” from public sector agencies to form independent employee-owned social enterprises. Public sector staff with expertise in reducing reoffending could unite from across the range of services, while the private and voluntary sector could bring their own expertise to bear.  We believe this approach will inspire the most innovative approaches with a wide enough remit to make a difference and ensure chronic offenders stay on the straight and narrow.

3 Nov 2010 16:11:59

North London Mosque gets no apology from Policy Exchange - and pays "a substantial contribution" towards its costs

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-11-03 at 16.08.46 The legal action between Policy Exchange and the North London Mosque has ended.  The mosque sued the think-tank in relation to its report, "The Hijacking of British Islam" - published in 2007 - and it's worth reading the statement which it issued earlier this afternoon.

"Policy Exchange is pleased to report that the libel action brought by the North London Central Mosque (NLCM) against it over its report The Hijacking of British Islam has now ended, following the dismissal of NLCM’s appeal against the order of Mr Justice Eady.

NLCM has paid a substantial contribution towards Policy Exchange’s costs.

A statement agreed between the parties appears on our website here. Policy Exchange has not apologised to NLCM for the publication of its report.

In September 2008, the North London Central Mosque sought to sue Policy Exchange for libel over claims made in its report The Hijacking of British Islam. Policy Exchange denied that the claims were libellous.

On 26 November 2009, Mr Justice Eady struck out NLCM’s claim on the grounds that the NLCM lacked the capacity to sue in respect of the report.

NLCM sought the Court’s permission to appeal. This was twice refused.  It was granted by Lord Justice Sedley on 21 April 2010 on the third time of asking.  Lord Justice Sedley nevertheless emphasised that he did not believe there was a realistic prospect of NLCM overturning Mr Justice Eady’s ruling.

In the meantime, in February 2010 the trustees of the mosque abandoned their individual claims in libel against Policy Exchange in respect of the same report and paid a substantial contribution to Policy Exchange’s legal costs.

In October 2010 NLCM discontinued its appeal and paid a substantial contribution to Policy Exchange’s legal costs. Following that agreement the appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on 5 October 2010. Policy Exchange agreed to publish the statement which appears here.

Policy Exchange has not apologised to either the mosque or the trustees for the publication of the report.

The case is now closed.

A spokesman for Policy Exchange said: ‘We are delighted that this case has now been brought to a satisfactory conclusion.’ "

In short, the think-tank has said that "it's happy to set the record straight" in relation to the mosque not knowing about extremist literature sold on its premises...but has also made clear that it never sought to suggest anything else.  The mosque gets no apology.  And it has to make a substantial contribution towards Policy Exchange's legal costs.

Any reasonable person will see that the settlement is a clear win for the think-tank.  Harry's Place has a good summary both of the "lawfare" currently waged by Islamist activists, the Hamas background of a senior NLM trustee, and its other current difficulties.

For what it's worth, the best Policy Exchange report on these matters, in my view, was Munira Mirza's "Living Apart Together", closely followed by Martin Bright's "When Progressives treat with Reactionaries".  I hope that more's heard from it soon.