Inside: Choosy parents, think tank manifestos, crafting policy for impact. View this email in your browser
Edited by Tom Jeffery

Practice makes perfect

Is public policy undermining itself? In a new paper, Jake Thorold at the RSA argues that “regular policy failure” has created a “perception of government inadequacy”. As a result, new policy initiatives are unable to get support from stakeholders and the public and fail. Where they do succeed, no-one applauds.

This is a point directly acknowledged by the recent Government Transformation Strategy. In the foreword, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General Ben Gummer MP states plainly:

“Whether it is a lack of belief in the capacity of government to deliver the pledges it makes at election time, or the frustrations thrown in the way of people every day - from filling in a form to trying to talk to someone on the phone - government seems less and less capable of doing what people want.”

This may be unfair to the centre of government. The Strategy’s digital optimism is backed up by seven years of ambitious work by the Government Digital Service. As the Institute for Government found, this has provided some thoughtfully-made online services, spread user-focussed ways of working across government, and brought together like-minded civil servants. But “the promised revolution of digital government is not complete”, they argue, and Francis Maude warned its successes were “beginning to unwind” last summer.

Perhaps for this reason, the RSA report focusses on policymaking processes rather than digital transformation. The central recommendation is that policy and implementation must be integrated: “policymakers should be seen as partners in delivery or at a minimum connected to implementation teams through stronger feedback loops”. There’s a certain Maoist ring to this: “discover the truth through practice, and again through practice verify and develop the truth”. But an iterative approach is put forward as the antidote to Whitehall’s “pervasive fear of failure”. It may curb the demand for quick wins imposed by the political cycle, and the risks of “policy vandalism” as new administrations ditch the groundwork laid by their predecessors (see TTR 19 March 2017).

The report reveals that the RSA has a catchphrase: “push what moves”. It’s hard to disagree with Matthew Taylor’s argument, also made elsewhere, that constructive politics are needed for effective policy.

Quick Reads

393. The number of Islamophobic tweets sent each day from the UK, with Brent, Redbridge and Waltham Forest emerging as the leading locations. Demos

Premium pupils. Should more well-off parents pay a premium at schools facing funding shortfalls? NatCen

Outer circles or smart tickets? Points of consensus and points of difference between Greater Manchester’s prospective metro mayors. Centre for Cities

Counterproductive. When the NHS has a shortage of nurses, why were bursaries for training them removed? Health Foundation

Quiet valleys. Welsh newspapers have shut faster than the rest of the UK, and it is neglected by public broadcasters. LSE Media Policy Project

Ergonomic thinking. Aylesbury is a local government pioneer. Nesta

Gag clause.  While the Government fights to delay publishing a clean air plan, “37 out of 43 regions of the UK are in breach of legal limits for nitrogen dioxide”. ClientEarth

No progress. Pensioner poverty stopped falling in 2011, meaning that the UK was the only European country to see no improvement in life expectancy up to 2015. CLASS

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Train in vain. Why can’t we get enough new teachers? The Government has missed its targets for the last five years in a row, and the House of Commons Education Committee noted that last year fewer people actually started training. Complexity may be one issue - there are now over a thousand providers, with six routes to Qualified Teacher Status. Money is probably not - in the last parliament, PGCEs became eligible for the £9000 tuition fee, shifting financial risk from the Department for Education onto the student loan book. In that period, £620 million was spent on bursaries. But applicants and policy are drifting apart. The Training and Development Agency’s main vocational route into teaching is 15 per cent below target, and recruiting mainly in subjects without staffing shortages. Despite small shortfalls, significant numbers of prospective teachers seem to prefer the academic route. However, the Department’s 2016 Green Paper Schools that Work for Everyone insisted that universities own or operate at least one school to fit in with new plans for teacher training. A new Teaching Apprenticeship Scheme is planned for 2018. This means - if other proposals remain in place - “that the award of professional status rests with the employer and within the school system and occurs two or more years after graduation”. Time to pick a plan - one that's fair to all providers - and stick to it. HEPI

Here are the facts about the UK labour market today. Employment levels are at a record high of 75 per cent - and that’s probably as good as it’s going to get. No, this isn’t due to the proliferation of low skilled jobs. However, about 15 per cent of part-time workers would like full-time hours. There’s no grand shift away from full-time employment, although the self-employed workforce has increased by 860,000 (25 per cent) since 2005. Work is paying less since the crisis, and median earnings were £1700 less per year in 2015-16 than in 2007‒08 (7.1 per cent). True, employees who have stayed put may have a larger paycheck. It’s rising household inflation that’s largely causing the squeeze, and it's “hard to overstate how important” higher productivity will be to future pay growth. IFS

Choosy parents. Across the world, governments are loosening their control over schools - for two stated reasons. More autonomous schools can make choices about how they teach, hopefully putting student achievement first. By choosing schools that perform better in this way, parents may help create competitive pressure in the market. With so much radical change afoot in the UK system to encourage school autonomy, are parents making rational decisions about where they send their children? A survey of 40,000 families in Birmingham over three years suggests schools can improve their reputations simply by converting to academies - without corresponding performance improvements. This is only true for well-off, White British families, however: they seem to use conversion as shorthand for excellence, and are influenced by living closely to the school. Centre for Economic Performance

Head start. There seems to be a disproportionate gap between the number of young people who want to start businesses and those who actually do. As many as 55-60 per cent of those aged 18-24 in the UK would like to start their own business, but only 3.9 per cent take the leap. Universities should be central to supporting young entrepreneurs, given nearly half of people aged 17-30 are in some form of higher education. But while large numbers of students are being encouraged to think entrepreneurially, actual support is often limited to “periodic access to some desk space, a part-time mentor and one-off workshops and events.” A policy focus on spin-out companies mainly benefits researchers and academics in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects:  and those already working on marketable innovations. Over three quarters of universities run incubators, and the authors believe that these could play a vital role in rerouting rental cash into graduate enterprises, as well as providing constant contact with peers and mentors. However, only two thirds of businesses in the incubators surveyed are run by graduates, and three quarters are already full. Centre for Entrepreneurs

Think Tank Manifestos

End the 6-week wait for Universal Credit, create a Fair Work Authority, introduce automatic compensation for train delays and broadband outages. Citizen’s Advice

End charges for the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form, freeze interest and charges for serious debt problems, provide NHS referrals to debt and welfare advice services. Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

Legislate to preserve core data assets, adopt open data standards across the public sector, create a new Data Ethics board. Open Data Institute

Devolve new regional migration powers, spend a fifth of public R&D spending up North and create a Council of the North to provide economic accountability. IPPR North

See also

No balaclava, no blue digits. How you’ll actually get hacked next time. GQ

Under pressure. Is the Prime Minister really “getting on with the job” of exiting the EU? Jack of Kent

“Ease of access”. The EU affording automatic membership to a united Ireland shouldn’t be a surprise. Doughty Street

Think Tanks

Fact check. The IFS has launched a mini-site to help election claims get acquainted with data. IFS

Game over. Having failed to make the case against the Affordable Care Act, Heritage Foundation jettisons its president. New York Times


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