The Week, 26 February 2016

26 February 2016

The Ministry of Justice took an important decision on Thursday to terminate one element of its tagging contract. As Reform detailed last year, the procurement of electronic monitoring capability has been an expensive and poorly run exercise. Improving the way government purchases goods and services will be the subject of a new Reform report next month.

William Mosseri-Marlio, Researcher

Reformer of the week

Nicola Sturgeon, who confirmed plans to strengthen the link between property value and the amount of council tax levied. Nationwide reform of the property tax would be welcome. The last time council tax bands were adjusted in England was 1993.

Reactionary of the week

HM Treasury, who were found to have requested non-factual changes to Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) reports. As Reform has previously argued, the OBR’s independence should be jealously guarded and its remit expanded.

Good week for…

Welfare reform

On Tuesday, the House of Commons reinstated measures to align the rates of sickness and unemployment benefit. The reforms will only affect new claimants.

Real devolution

On Tuesday, the Local Government Association reported nine out of ten councils will use the social care precept, a new health tax that gives local authorities the right to increase council tax to fund social care.

Fresh starts

On Thursday, the Government terminated their contract to develop a bespoke tagging product. The announcement is the latest in a fraught procurement, costing the taxpayer £23.2 million. The Ministry of Justice will now purchase off-the-shelf products for its offender-management programmes.

Bad week for…

Inspection and regulation

On Tuesday, the Government’s former patient safety adviser Don Borwick criticised the NHS’s reliance on inspection and regulation to improve care quality.

Intergenerational fairness

On Wednesday, the Office for National Statistics reported pensioner incomes have grown by 7.7 per cent in real terms since 2007-08. Over the same period, working-age people have seen their income fall by 3.3 per cent.

Business rate receipts
On Thursday, it was reported that cash-strapped hospitals have applied for business rate rebates. Combined, the 80 NHS Trusts could put a £1.5 billion hole in local authority finances.

Quotes of the week

“Some of the requests made by the Treasury for changes to the December 2014 Economic and Fiscal Outlook strayed beyond the factual. It is concerning that Treasury officials did not recognise that these requests were inappropriate… The OBR’s independence – and public confidence in its independence – is a precious asset that is hard-earned and easily squandered.”

Treasury Select Committee report on the Office for Budget Responsibility

“If we squeeze here, the bubble pops up here… you can’t just keep squeezing. We actually now have to do things which are not department-by-department: now we have to join things up. We have to share buildings. We have to buy centrally and create the economies of central buying. When we do buy centrally, we have to be really good at it. Like every company out there, we have to share the back office services. And we have to create technology platforms”

John Manzoni, speaking to Civil Service World

“In an ideal world, we would all wish for every child to be vaccinated against every preventable disease, and for every sick person to get the very best treatment. In the real world, that would cost the earth and most people do not want to pay the taxes needed to sustain a healthcare system capable of satisfying infinite demand.

And so, alas, decent public health experts and epidemiologists must carry out the thoroughly indecent business of advising ministers on which conditions merit our money and, as a result of balancing the equation, which conditions should miss out. Sadly, social media rarely shows both sides of the equation.”

Anjana Ahuja, writing in the Financial Times

Reform’s week

On Monday Charlotte Pickles, Senior Researcher Director at Reform, appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’ to discuss the Government’s proposal to reduce the rate of benefit paid to people on the lower level of Employment and Support Allowance.

On Friday, Reform’s research on prisoner tagging was cited in an article in the Financial Times.

The Reformer Blog

On Monday, Charlotte Pickles wrote a blog ahead of Tuesday’s vote in the House of Commons on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, arguing MPs should vote with the Government but demand further reform, including investment in back-to-work services.

On Wednesday, Leo Ewbank, Researcher at Reform, wrote a blog arguing greater standardisation in primary care could improve wellbeing and reduce cost.

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