The week in public services: 7th November 2019

This week: public services in the election; the surprising effects of the minimum wage; and the government commits to evaluating the effects of court closures!


As the campaign kicks off in earnest, we’re getting ready to publish our annual report on the performance of public services, Performance Tracker. What a time to be publishing…

Lots of new analysis this year — including, for the first time, how we think demand for public services will change over the next five years, and the scale of the challenges facing thew new government. As a sneak preview— here’s one (of many) new charts — bonus points if anyone can guess what it shows:

Reminder: our launch event is next Wednesday; sign-up here!

Resolution Foundation have also been busy crunching the numbers on Labour and Conservative spending plans. They found that both parties’ plans would see public spending as a share of GDP rise to 1970s levels. They are (rightly) concerned about the lack of fiscal rules, which mean the UK is currently ‘without an anchor’ when it comes to fiscal policy. Their conclusion? “it is vital that political parties take a step back […] to design a spending plan that simultaneously tries to deal with the legacy of austerity and the coming challenges from demographic change. This will mean implementing a new fiscal framework that reflects the realities of today’s economy and offers sustainability for the public finances”.

More interesting Resolution Foundation research on the shifting on the geography of changing demographics, and the political and policy implications of some parts of the country ageing faster than others.

Good essay from Jen Williams on the reality of austerity in Manchester, looking at families placed in temporary accommodation. The human cost — the impact on people’s mental and physical health — is massive, but the inefficient use of public money is just as much of a scandal. The principles of prevention outlined in the Homelessness Reduction Act are not much helping — because they didn’t get money to implement it, and there is a shortage of places to house people.

Not that it seemed to impact the government’s decision, but Professor Dube’s review of the evidence for a higher minimum wage came out yesterday. The review is fascinating reading, but I would draw attention to little-noticed caveat at the end: “any future NLW increases should be combined with adequate funding in sectors reliant on public funding”…

…which is in practice saying that adult social care and childcare companies who mainly deliver public contracts, many of whose employees are paid the minimum wage, are unlikely to be able to bear the cost of higher minimum wages without higher government funding. There is some evidence that care homes reduced quality and switched to more zero hours contracts in reaction to increases in the minimum wage. Which really should remind us, again, that how to fund, and the level of funding for, adult social care is really a question that has to come before we think about lots of the other concerns about adult social care.

Health and Social Care

Labour have started to focus their campaign on the NHS, publishing data which shows that operations cancelled due to staff shortages and equipment failures and up by a third in two years — based on a freedom of information request. In response to Labour and Tory claims and counter-claims, NHS Providers have called on both parties not to ‘politicise’ the NHS. Sally Warren has set out what the Kings Fund thinks are the key issues beyond the NHS which should feature in this election — including public health, social care, and mental health services.

In the policy world, a good blog on the new NHS estates data from Patrick Garratt at NHS Providers — and some interesting survey evidence from the Royal College of Surgeons which found that 69% of consultant surgeons surveyed are considering early retirement because of the current pension rules for high-earners.

The Health Foundation analysts have also been busy working out the distribution of health spending, and how, if at all, that could inform how the NHS provides services to ‘high-cost, high-need patients’. Having more than one illness and deprivation are the strongest predictors of being high-cost, high-need patients, and 9% of the costs of services for high-cost, high-need patients relates to ambulatory services — which suggests that the NHS could improve try to reduce costs by preventing avoidable hospital admissions.

In social care, an interesting report from the Local Government Association considers how to make it easier for councils to share social care data — and the barriers currently in the way.

Children and Young People

A super-interesting report from the Education Policy Institute and the Health Foundation on the relationship between health and educational outcomes for students in further education. Students taking vocational qualifications are more likely to have poor health outcomes over the long-term, and a longer-term funding settlement for Further Education will improve young people’s educational attainment and health outcomes.

More interesting EPI research on school funding and its distribution, showing that (even accounting for eligibility for free school meals) London schools are funded at higher levels. This was something I wasn’t aware of but seems to be common knowledge amongst education wonks on twitter. Can anyone explain why to me?

More nerdy fun from Education DataLab: how do international PISA scores and GCSE results compare, and what does that tell us about England’s exam performance?

Over in election world, Ed Dorrell of SchoolsWeek shares his predictions on what the upcoming general election will hold in the Conservative manifesto. Quite possibly: a renewed commitment to Ofsted, commitments to school “rigour”, measures to ‘enhance access’ to private schools, and possibly more grammar schools and selection in schools. And a sensible blog from Bart Shaw considers what should be in the party manifestos about schools and education — contains policy recommendations for improving accountability, SEND, exclusion, and teacher recruitment and retention.

Law and Order

Ah, a Sunday policy announcement. Your traditional day for, erm, avoiding media scrutiny. Which is odd — because this £156m for prison maintenance is…not a bad news story? Elsewhere, another seven prisons are due to benefit from X-ray scanners and enhanced perimeter security. The ghost of Rory Stewart’s 10 prisons project lives on. As a reminder — that was fairly successful, though improving safety in prisons will require more than just cash injections for some of the prison estate

Probation redesign has…not been successful so far. Good blog from Russel Webster on many of the concerns about redesigning probation contracts — which seem worryingly similar to some concerns expressed about the original proposal to outsource some probation services. Another interesting blog from Russel looks at the falling use of community sentences — which dropped almost 50% over the last decade (while total number of sentences dropped only 12.7%) — a trend that I was not that aware of…

The Government have responded to the Justice select committee’s inquiry into the role of the magistracy. They are committed to publishing data on numbers of failure to appear warrants, which should help assess (some of) the impact of local court closures. Good!

Damning, if unsurprising, Justice select committee report on prisons about the “enduring crisis on our prisons”. On basis of Performance Tracker analysis, I am inclined to agree…

In brighter news, the Legal Education Foundation are pleased that the Justice select committee endorses their definition of access to justice, and that the committee have recommended the government evaluate its reforms against that.

Local Government

New survey of council chief executives and leaders from the New Local Government Network. Increasing pessimism about Brexit and more than three-quarters of respondents have “had to divert resources from key public service priorities to prepare for Brexit”.

Slightly tangential from local public services, but still important to councils, the Treasury select committee have investigated business rates. Worth a read into what has to be (one of) Britain’s oddest taxes.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Graham Atkins

Graham Atkins


Senior Researcher @instituteforgov: public services, infrastructure, other things. Too often found running silly distances in sillier weather.