GK consultants analyse the latest stage of the Ukraine/Russia conflict. As the fighting rumbles past 100 days, GK takes a look at the continuing economic, diplomatic and political consequences: GK Strategy Russia Ukraine Monthly Bulletin – June 2022
GK Associate and early years specialist, Monica Thompson, takes a close look at what the UK can learn from the Nordic Model for childcare, and analyses the early years reforms suggested in the recent Times Education Commission Report.
The Nordic Model
In June 2022, Children & Families Minister Will Quince visited nurseries in Sweden as part of a mission to cut childcare costs . The minister visited multiple settings, both state-run and private, and met with senior officials from the Swedish counterpart of Ofsted and Sweden’s Minister for Early Years Education & Childcare. The discussion focused on how the settings in Sweden are able to provide high-quality childcare without putting children at risk and enforcing staff to child ratios. Quince noted that he is determined to address the cost and availability of childcare and learn from our international neighbours.
Some evidence on what works in Early Education in the Nordic countries was provided by Andreas Rasch-Christensen, Research Director at VIA University College in Denmark at the Early Years Alliance Annual Conference – also in June 2022. The Nordic countries have some of the highest employment rates for working mothers and high take-up of childcare places. Andreas pointed out that in Denmark above 90% of early years children are enrolled in day care and approximately 40% of the day care employees lack an official diploma. He also highlighted the importance of the pedagogical foundation – in other words, how Danish and Nordic models of early childhood education are considered. Their work focuses on collaboration with parents to support the children and further improve pedagogical practices. It also underlines the importance of nature and the outdoor environment. Indeed, it has been shown that connections to outdoor living can affect children’s strength, flexibility and coordination, while also reducing stress. These pedagogical foundations, guidelines and themes – as opposed to narrow learning goals – give an insight into Nordic models of early childhood education in both theory and practice.
The Times Education Commission Report
The need for Early Years reform has also been highlighted in the recent Times Education Commission Report. Published on 15 June, the final report from the Commission was entitled Bringing out the Best, How to transform education and unleash the potential of every child . This year-long project has been led by the Times’s Rachel Sylvester, supported by a team of 22 commissioners with backgrounds in business, education, science, the arts and government. The report has been described as one of the most comprehensive inquiries into the UK’s education system and more than 600 witnesses contributed. The report rightly points out the challenges of declining social mobility as well as, more positively, the myriad opportunities presented by new technological innovations.
The commissioners’ work culminated with a 12-point plan to significantly rethink the British education system:
- A British Baccalaureate
- An “electives premium”
- A new cadre of Career Academies
- A significant boost to early years funding
- An army of undergraduate tutors
- A laptop or tablet for every child
- Wellbeing being put at the heart of education
- Bringing out the best in teaching
- A reformed Ofsted
- Better training for teachers to identify children with special educational needs
- New university campuses in 50 higher education “cold spots”
- A 15-year strategy for education.
Significantly for the Early Years sector, the report recommends (as noted above, point 4) “a significant boost to early years funding” – noting that “The extra funding should be targeted at the most vulnerable. A unique pupil number would be given to every child from birth, to level the playing field before they get to school. Every primary school should have a library.”
The Commission also identified many challenges facing the Early Years sector. Indeed, it found, more generally, that the education system currently fails on all measures – from giving young people the intellectual and emotional tools they need as adults to providing businesses with the skills they require. For Early Years specifically, it found that inequalities are ingrained from an early age and preschool education is crucial but often overlooked in this country. The report also highlighted that while one thing that parents put at the top of the list for their children’s education is confidence about their wellbeing, the evidence suggests that they are being let down.
The chapter on Social Mobility and Levelling Up contains also many recommendations for the Early Years sector, including:
- funding should be targeted at the most disadvantaged and focused on education and child development
- the 30-hour entitlement should be extended to non-working parents to ensure that the children with the least support at home received it in a professional setting
- the Early Years Pupil Premium of £302 should be brought into line with primary school rates of £1,345. Raising it, at an estimated cost of £130 million a year, would make it easier for nurseries to break even, reduce the reliance on cross-subsidy and allow providers to pay their workers a more competitive wage
- there should be a better career structure, professional development and training for Early Years teachers to develop a well-qualified workforce with the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience to deliver high-quality early education
- every child should get a “school readiness card” at the end of nursery, describing their skills and development
- a unique pupil number, allocated at birth, would encourage greater co-ordination and data-sharing between government agencies (such as education, health and social services) to stop the most vulnerable children falling through the gaps .
There is an increased awareness of the Nordic Model in the Early Years sector and an increased understanding of why it’s successful. At the same time, the Times Commission’s recommendations provide a plethora of evidence on what the sector needs. The question is whether these important developments will translate into practical policy decisions.
GK Associate, Nicole Wyatt, analyses the biggest talking points from the recently published Digital Strategy.
The British Government published its new 2022 Digital Strategy to commence London Tech Week on 13th June.
As its name suggests, London Tech Week ran across five days in the UK’s capital and brought together over 20,000 governmental and corporate leaders from around the world including a hologram-version of Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Besides the Digital Strategy, other policy announcements included the UK’s digital trade agreement with Singapore (which is already coming into force), a health data strategy, and the ’Future of compute’ review.
The mere fact that London has its own tech-focused week, including thousands of fringe events, illustrates how the city (and the UK more widely) is at the centre of the broader tech ecosystem. Indeed, the UK’s tech sector raised £27.4 billion in private capital in 2021 – more than any other European country – and Boris Johnson’s government is putting a particularly strong emphasis on digital and tech policy. This is evidenced by the fact that, for example, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) is handling a larger number of legislative bills than any other government department.
Digital policy is also a way for the UK Government to diverge from the European Union’s regulatory framework, particularly as far as data is concerned. Just after London Tech Week, in fact, Ministers published their response to the consultation ‘Data: a new direction’, which seeks to reinvigorate the UK’s data regime to promote more competition and innovation than was possible under EU rules, especially with its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – which critics regarded as excessively complex.
The Digital Strategy, itself, is an update on its 2017 predecessor. It suggests that its proposed approach to supporting and strengthening the UK’s digital economy could grow its tech sector by an additional £41.5 billion by 2025 and create a further 678,000 jobs, while making the UK a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI), semiconductor design and quantum computing.
The Strategy sets out the Government’s vision for harnessing digital transformation and building a more inclusive, competitive and innovative digital economy. It focuses on six key areas:
- Digital foundations: developing the UK’s digital infrastructure and strengthening regulations around data, competition and security, to support the Government’s pro-innovation agenda.
- Ideas and intellectual property: supporting the UK’s innovation ecosystem to foster growing R&D initiatives among universities and in private sector businesses.
- Digital skills and talent: increasing the supply of digitally and tech-enabled workers throughout the supply chain to promote greater economic prosperity, through (among other initiatives) strengthening the digital education pipeline and attracting the best global talent.
- Financing digital growth: encouraging UK capital with incentives such as tax reliefs for start-ups and businesses, which will improve the tech ecosystem to ensure that Britain remains one of the best places to start and run a digital technology business.
- Spreading prosperity and levelling up: exploring how everyone from every industry can benefit from digital innovation in the UK, while also supporting the net zero agenda.
- Enhancing the UK’s place in the world: influencing tech policy beyond the UK’s borders to be a trailblazer in this space, as well as collaborating through strong international partnerships.
Included in the Strategy is an annex of all of the Government’s new and ongoing initiatives to support, in practice, its strategic aims. Some of the new initiatives announced include:
- Establishment of a joint UK/US Prize Challenge to accelerate the development of Privacy-Enhancing Technologies (PETs).
- Creation of a Digital Skills Council, to replace the Digital Skills Partnership Board, as a form of liaison between government and industry on how to address digital skills shortages.
- Review into the ‘Future of compute’ – seeking to create recommendations for improving the country’s computing capacity over the next decade.
- A revised version of the UK digital identity trust framework, with a related consultation seeking views on the Government’s proposed approach.
Notably, artificial intelligence (AI) as well as other rapidly growing fields such as blockchain and quantum computing, were included but with only limited details. As many other governments are concluding, this is currently a highly unregulated space and many hotly debated discussions are taking place about if, where and how legislate. The UK is seeking to lead the way but exactly how it will do so will be revealed in an eagerly anticipated AI White Paper.
Overall, this Digital Strategy seems to be largely a recap of what the UK Government is already doing, and striving to do, across various departments in order to shift digital policy to be more pro-innovation and pro-competition. Announced at London Tech Week, the motives behind the new Strategy, just five years after the previous version was published, demonstrate the UK Government’s desire to showcase the nation as a leader in digitalisation.
GK Intern, Jed Shashu, reflects on the Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting’s response at an Institute for Government event – on how to tackle the challenges facing the Health and Social Care sector.
At a time when Boris Johnson’s premiership is characterised by failing public trust and rising inflation, the Conservatives may well struggle to rebuild their brand in time for the next General Election. Recent opinion polls show greater support for the Labour party, and coupled with the upcoming by-elections and the results of the investigation by the Committee of Privileges, this could lead to Boris Johnson’s leadership becoming untenable. The Labour Party as the next ruling party is a serious possibility, therefore the shadow cabinet’s policy recommendations, proposals, and scrutiny of the current government’s actions gain increasing importance.
However, Labour are still struggling to reveal their key policies. One example is the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Wes Streeting who was recently speaking at an Institute for Government event. Although highly regarded in the role, Streeting did not offer clear policy proposals for the NHS or a pre-legislative proposal for the Health and Social Care sector. Streeting instead presented vague recommendations which offered a glimpse of Labour’s health policy and proposed solutions to tackle the current issues within the Health and Social Care sector, evolving around the mantra of both undisclosed reforms and resources which are needed to produce results.
One glimpse of a Labour policy to relieve pressure on the NHS came in the form of a previously announced National Care Service to provide free personal care for older people. Streeting said that this policy, which was first announced in September 2019, could be delivered within the first term of a Labour government. Additionally, he also argued his case for an effective workforce planning strategy, to tackle workforce shortages by investing in training for junior doctors to take on more frontline roles, increasing wages of the lowest paid in the sector, and greater investment in social care staff. However, while promoting these appealing policy proposals, he fell short of laying out any form of costs or targets that Labour would incur if in government.
These recommendations, if thought out, could certainly help tackle the biggest challenges facing the NHS and adult social care sector. Training junior doctors to have the skills take on more frontline roles could help ease the strain on our health service, while helping to clear the NHS backlog and the NHS staff shortages of 110,000. Increasing wages of the lowest paid in the sector can help those struggling to deal with the rise of the cost of living. The creation of a National Care Service and investing in social care staff could, if implemented correctly, help the structural issues within social care. Structural issues that have been worsened by the £4.6 billion cut to social care budgets and the impact of the pandemic. Recent estimates suggest 1.2 million older people’s needs are going unmet, this would mean the older generation who are not receiving adequate care can receive the support they need.
Discussing the necessary funds, Streeting attacked a recent statement by Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who said that the NHS does not require more funding. The Shadow Health Secretary argued the government’s underfunding of the country’s health and social care sector needs to be resolved by greater investment from the Treasury to address the underlying problems the pandemic uncovered and a structural reform of the NHS. Streeting indicated he will continue to stress to Her Majesty’s Treasury that investment in Health and Social Care is vital not only for public health but can boost the UK’s economy in the long term. However, throughout the event, he maintained a certain vagueness when speaking about the necessary funds and structural reforms, missing a clear chance to take advantage of the Conservative government’s tarnished image.
Streeting said that one solution comes in the form of the life sciences sector, which he said is “critical” in aiding the NHS perform at its best. He argued that this can be achieved by investing more in the sector; as this can lead to new medicines, treatments, and technology, which in return would ensure more patients receive effective pre-emptive treatments – this is necessary to help tackle the country’s greatest health issues including cancer, obesity, and ageing.
On the future of health, Streeting said it was critical to learn the lessons from the pandemic and build up resilience to minimise the effects of a new pandemic. He believes scaling up of vaccination rollouts, the implementation of “germ games” and an annual report presented to parliament as part of regular pandemic planning are key lessons to adapt and minimise the effects of future pandemics.
The Institute for Government event did not offer clear policy proposals, and Labour will have to solidify a policy base on which it will run in the next General Election. Labour’s lack of potential proposals could be the opposition party awaiting another Conservative blunder to deliver a coup de grace, but the public will undoubtedly expect more from any ministers of a potential cabinet.
What the event did highlight was Wes Streeting’s effective communication skills, quickness, and boldness that as Labour leader, the party could win back the decisive ‘Red Wall’ constituencies. Streeting may have distanced himself from replacing Keir Starmer, but his vision for the Health and Social Care sector shows qualities that are necessary not only for a future Secretary of State but a potential Prime Minister.
GK consultants Lavinia Troiani and Sam Tankard evaluate the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s capabilities in the post-Covid era
Since the 2020 merger of the Department for International Development (DfID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) into the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), there have been questions about how this would allow the Government to deal effectively with both global development and foreign affairs challenges. With the FCDO repeatedly coming under fire for underperforming across many fronts of its vast remit, one can be led to believe that the new super-department may not be properly equipped to deal with the full range of development, diplomatic and security challenges.
Leaving aside the fact that the merger happened in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which seems to have complicated some of the more practical elements of the unification, one could start looking at the fundamentally different aims of development policy and foreign policy. It could be said that development and foreign affairs are two sides of the same coin but are, in fact, two very different issues, and each requires a specific approach. Development policy is historically based on long-term decision-making and planning which, at its simplest, focuses on projects and initiatives designed to improve the lives of communities for generations to come. On the other hand, foreign policy traditionally is preoccupied with short-term crises, which need quick resolution, such as the recent and widely ridiculed Afghanistan evacuation which, incidentally, is arguably the clearest demonstration of the new department’s inability to successfully cover development and conventional foreign affairs issues at the same time.
The competing aims are generating some tangible obstacles. The machinery of government change indicates this was very much an FCO takeover of DfID which had practical difficulties of two sets of departments struggling to work harmoniously. The resulting relative deprioritisation of development, in practice, has led to former DfID staff feeling demotivated, as they are having to cut development programmes to make way for foreign affairs initiatives. The department is subsequently haemorrhaging skilled development staff, and therefore compounding the FCDO’s inability (or unwillingness) to prioritise tangible development goals.
The FCDO’s priorities can be seen in the recently published International Development Strategy. The Strategy revisits the UK’s approach to international development in light of a renewed geopolitical contest for influence and is threatening the principles of free markets, free speech, and shared technology. It focuses on aspects of investment, humanitarian assistance and green priorities. Compared to previous International Development strategies, this new strategy demonstrates a policy shift towards trade and economic relationships with developing countries as the Government looks to position the UK as outward-looking in a post-Brexit world. This consolidates the movement from the usual development projects that involve aspects such as improving health, increasing vaccines’ availability and providing clear water, whose objectives and aims are ‘on the ground’ and easily quantifiable, to a more influence and soft power-based approach, which is increasingly aligned to a conventional foreign affairs approach, rather than a development programme.
Funding remains an issue for any department. Under its UN commitment, the UK should spend 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) on Overseas Development Assistance (ODA). However, due to economic pressures caused by the pandemic, the Government announced in 2021 that this value would drop to 0.5% of GNI. Whilst the Government did announce at the last Budget that by 2024-2025, the spending on ODA will go back to 0.7% of GNI, the looming risk of a recession may delay this further.
Of course, the most imminent challenge that, for some, will ‘make or break’ the FCDO is the current conflict in Ukraine. Following the FCDO’s disastrous handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, attention will be on its response to Ukraine which not only has a tangible foreign policy element in protecting national security, but the more human element of the resultant refugee crisis. With the Home Office already facing criticism for its approach to Ukraine refugees, only time will tell how effective the far-from aligned FCDO will be in stepping up to the most significant foreign affairs and development challenge of the century so far.
GK Associate Director, Will Blackman, takes a look at the reforms to the private rented sector contained in the Department for Levelling Up’s recent White Paper.
This week the Government finally published its long-awaited White Paper on reforms to the private rented sector with its two central proposals consisting of, first, new measures to reform landlords’ grounds for repossession and, second, initiatives intended to tackle poor quality rental properties. The White Paper has been a very long time in development and comes almost three years after the Government originally consulted on its proposed reforms.
The Government’s proposed reforms would undoubtedly see the biggest shift in the balance of rights between landlord and tenant for over three decades. However the challenge for ministers and officials has been to find the optimum balance between greater security of tenure for tenants whilst, at the same time, ensuring landlords remain able to legally take back possession of their property where they have reasonable grounds to do so.
The headline proposal in the White Paper is the abolition of Section 21, or so-called ‘no fault evictions’, where landlords can evict their tenants at two months’ notice without needing to give a reason. At present landlords ordinarily seek possession of their property in one of two ways – by serving a Section 21 notice, or by serving a Section 8 notice, which enables them to evict their tenant providing certain grounds have been met, such as rent arrears or wanting to sell the property. To compensate for the abolition of Section 21, ministers are proposing to expand the grounds set out under Section 8 so that they cover a wider range of scenarios, such as anti-social behaviour. On the surface this sounds reasonable; however many landlords argue that they only use Section 21 because the court process needed to give effect to a Section 8 notice takes too long and is too convoluted. Whilst ministers are proposing reforms to the relevant court processes, in response to such concerns, only time will tell if it will be sufficient to maintain a healthy balance in the rights between landlords and their tenants.
Other measures in the White Paper have similarly been in the pipeline for some time, particularly to address the minority of so-called ‘rogue landlords’ and to enhance tenants’ rights to challenge poor landlord practice. This includes the creation of a new ombudsman to settle disputes between landlords and tenants, and the creation of a new national landlord register. The previously announced extension of the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector is also intended to create a minimum acceptable standard of accommodation and to remove the sometimes significant divergence in housing quality between the social and private rented sectors. The headline-grabbing announcement of a new legal right for tenants to have a pet in their home is something that many have been calling for; however it is the proposed outlawing of landlords refusing to let their properties to benefits recipients that could worry many across the sector.
Indeed, whilst the reforms overall are finely balanced, the big unknown is whether this package of changes will have an adverse effect on investment in the private rented sector going forwards..There is little doubt that these reforms will deliver on the Government’s intention to enhance the experience of those renting in the private sector. However there is a danger that some landlords, particularly with smaller portfolios, decide that letting a property is now simply too much hassle – particularly when considered alongside other tax and regulatory measures introduced in the last decade which have made letting property less financially attractive and which could see some opting to leave the sector. The knock-on effect this could have on the supply and affordability of private renting might well be significant.
The glaring omission from the White Paper is any clarity on the previously proposed new minimum energy efficiency requirements for private rented properties. In 2020 ministers proposed introducing a minimum EPC C standard for new tenancies from 2025, and all tenancies from 2028 – but the Government has said little about the matter since then. It is this requirement that is really concerning many in the sector, as they face the prospect of large bills for upgrading their properties to the new minimum standard, which could be a particular challenge for those with older houses. Ministers will need to provide clarity on this matter soon if they are to avoid significant unintended consequences for housing supply in the coming years.