Localised Widening Participation Strategies – a data-based approach

The results of a year-long study by the Southern Policy Centre, supported by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and GuildHE.

The study has used ‘open data’, and data held by local councils, to explore why able young people may miss out on university. The data has been used to suggest possible local widening participation strategies.

Devolution in central Southern England: British Academy Round Table

As part of a series of events across the country organised by the British Academy as part of the Governing England programme, a discussion at Winchester Cathedral visitor centre took place just a week after the new Isle of Wight Council leader indicated his opposition to the Solent Combined Authority proposal despite the recent publication of a consultation which found significant public support for it.

John Denham, Chair of the Southern Policy Centre, chaired the discussion. Its key findings can be found here.

Business rate changes across the central South – essential background to the Budget

A new, interactive, map for the Southern Policy Centre provides crucial background to next week’s Budget when Chancellor Philip Hammond is under pressure to moderate big increases.

The map, showing average increases and decreases by authority and by sector, highlights the places where rates will go up most. But it also shows that, even in this region, there are areas and businesses that are set to gain from falling rates.

How the picture looks after Wednesday will have an impact across thousands of businesses and, indirectly, on the income of local authorities. (Note: the increases/decreases are averages across business premises in each authority. Individual premises may have larger or smaller changes)

To explore the map, use the interactive tabs to delve into the variations.

A few highlights:

While Reading rates soar, other towns in the region look relative bargains

Reading office rates are currently expected to go up by 51% [with an average rateable value (RV) of £193 per m2]. And nearby Wokingham will see average office increases of 36.5% [with an average RV of £157 per m2].

But in Crawley rates are set to decrease by 10.5% [with an average RV of £147 m2]. (Shame about the train service).

Bracknell Forest is also likely to see rates drop by 10.7% [with an average RV of £113 per m2].

Basingstoke could offer an option for businesses looking for lower prices. Rates are expected to go up by 3.7% with the average RV being a low £98 per m2 in Basingstoke and Deane

The islands still look good for industry (despite rises)

The largest rises for industrial properties are likely to be on the Isle of Wight (est. to go up by 15.3%) and Weymouth and Portland (est. to go up by 16.8%); but they’re still relative bargains having the lowest average RV per m2 in the region at £30 and £29 respectively.

The Bicester Bubble?

Average rates for retailers in Cherwell are predicted to go up by 32.6% bringing the average RV in the district for retailers to £262 per m2, making it the highest in the region (it just pips Guildford at £261 per m2). This may be the impact of Bicester Village on average rates across the authority.

What do Hampshire businesses want from local government?

Hampshire businesses have had their say in what they want to see from local government and from any devolution deal done with central government:

Hampshire businesses want to see a single, simple to engage with local authority, with a more ‘can-do’ approach to business.

There is overwhelming support for the devolution of more powers and resources from central government and for a more strategic and integrated approach to economic development, infrastructure, housing, transport and planning. These are two of the headline conclusions of a survey of business attitudes towards local government and devolution undertaken by the Southern Policy Centre for Hampshire County Council. There was no clear consensus on the most appropriate geography for single local government structures. Businesses tended to identify distinct economies and characters of the north and south of Hampshire (including the cities and the Isle of Wight), although there was some support for a ‘single county’ approach. Business also wanted to see better links between the cities and their hinterlands. While there was little support for the current two-tier structure, businesses recognised that large authorities would still need localised democratic decision-makng structures. The interest of small businesses needed to be protected in any change to large authorities. Businesses generally enjoyed a positive relationship with local authorities although concern was expressed that some councils were losing key business facing officer expertise as a result of spending cuts.  The biggest frustration was the inconsistent policy approaches of different local authorities, while there was a perception that within local authorities economic development and planning were often badly coordinated. The majority of businesses support elected mayors, though they stressed the need for strategic leaders rather than personality-based candidates. The report was based on nearly 50 one-to-one interviews with business leaders and six focus groups covering different sectors of the economy and different parts of Hampshire. The report sets out a number of guiding principles that should be taken into account in any future decision-making:

 

  • Business would welcome single-tier authorities, but there was no clear consensus over their size and geography. Any proposals should set out how they relate to recognized economic areas. The key choice would appear to be between a binary structure, based on the southern urban area and the north and more rural parts of the county, and a single ‘county, cities and Isle of Wight’ structure
  • The need for a strategic approach on development and infrastructure favours larger authorities. Any proposals for larger authorities should set out how local democratic decision-making can be retained on appropriate issues
  • Businesses were concerned about the loss of capacity and expertise amongst officer teams in some smaller local authorities. Any proposals for reform should show how sufficient capacity and expertise would be retained and strengthened, and care should be taken not to seek cost savings at the expense of the quality of business engagement with local government
  • Any proposals for larger authorities should show how the interests of small businesses in local decision-making and as suppliers would be protected
  • The retention of business rates can potentially strengthen the relationship between local government and business, but business rates themselves were widely seen as unfair. Local government must plan now to ensure it is far more accountable to its business rate payers once this change is implemented
  • Devolution presents a genuine opportunity to grasp the nettle and become significantly better at planning and delivering transformational infrastructure projects. Any proposals for change must show how a new local authority structure will be able to exercise powers that are now (or in the future may become) available in an efficient, effective and democratic way
  • Any proposals for change must be sensitive to the wider uncertainties affecting business, including potential changes to business rates and the UK’s exit from the EU. Any reorganisation of local government and/or devolution deal needs to be executed as quickly, cleanly and clearly as possible, across an economic geography that ‘makes sense’
  • A majority of businesses would support an elected mayor, and there do not seem to be substantial business objections to the creation of such a post

 

Widening participation in Higher Education

New study sheds light on why Southern students miss out on university

Over 50 young people every year are missing out on university from just five local government wards in Poole, Hampshire, Southampton, Isle of Wight and Portsmouth. And over 100 more should be going to university, according to Government targets.

These stark figures were at the centre of a ground-breaking conference being held at Southampton Solent University on Friday 28th October. The conference heard the results of a year-long study by the Southern Policy Centre, supported by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and GuildHE.

The study has used ‘open data’, and data held by local councils, to explore why able young people may miss out on university. The data has been used to suggest possible local widening participation strategies.

Issues identified include:

• Students who get good GCSE results are less likely to go to university than their peers elsewhere
• In some areas, poorer students get markedly less good results at GCSE
• The number of students going to college at 16 varies widely, as do drop-out rates
• Areas where parents work in less skills jobs or have fewer qualifications have lower levels of participation in higher education

The analysis has been used to suggest local interventions including:

• Targeted support for able students from local areas
• Support for parents to raise aspirations
• Engaging the assistance of employers, community
organisations and social housing providers

Chair of the Southern Policy Centre, John Denham, said:

“This is an innovative and ground-breaking project that suggests practical ways to reduce the number of able young people who may feel that university is ‘not for them’ and are currently missing out on higher education.”

 

The data analysis toolkit is here: hefce-toolkit-october-2016

John Denham’s slides are here: jd-hefce-slides-27-oct-2016

Ceri Nursaw’s two presentations are here: ceri-pres-1 ceri-pres-2

Mark Frank’s presentation is here: the-data-analysis-toolkit-v2

The full report can be read here: hefce-report-october-2016

Tainting a good idea

Combined authorities in the balance

It may be Budget day before we learn whether any part of central southern England will reach agreement with the government on a ‘devolution deal’.  But the chaotic process of recent months may have damaged the credibility of what is, at its heart, a very good idea.

In the past few weeks, the Hampshire and Isle of Combined Authority, widely regarded as the best developed and most widely supported devolution proposal, apparently stalled. Negotiations then opened between some (but not all) of the councils involved in the Partnership for Urban Southampton Hampshire (PUSH)  area. In recent days it seems the Hampshire proposals may have come back on the agenda, though it remains possible however that the south Hampshire deal will remain in play. The process has not been helped by the involvement of two government departments – the Treasury and Communities and Local Government – sometimes in separate conversations with different local authorities.

Southampton City Council leader Simon Letts told BBC South on Sunday that he expected a deal based on Solent councils to be announced in the budget. It appears, however, that this would exclude New Forest, Test Valley and Winchester Councils that are all currently part of the Parnership for Urban Southampton Hampshire, but would include all of East Hampshire including large areas that are currently outside the PUSH area.

Meanwhile in Oxfordshire, which seemed to be moving forward with its own devolution proposals, the row between the Prime Minister and the Conservative Leader of the County Council has spilled over into a radical proposal – backed by the County’s MPs – to break up the County into four unitary local councils.  In Dorset, where devolution proposals were published in September, the debate has also moved towards the abolition of the County Council and its replacement with two unitary councils. Devolution plans for Surrey and Sussex have stumbled on the failure to reach agreement with Brighton, and the rest of the region’s councils are sitting out the whole devolution debate until how it will work is made clearer.

Unlike the northern city regions, southern local authorities enjoyed little history of the close cooperative working and deep relationships that had taken decades to build in Manchester. It was always going to be difficult to build them in a few months, but it was made harder by the lack of any clear ground rules, and changes in central government policy.

Back in the summer, local authorities were drawn together by the prospect of retaining 100% of business rates and the need to reach cooperative agreements between authorities. By October, all local authorities were told they would keep their business rates whether or not they were in a devolution deal,. The rules were also changed so that new combinations and divisions of authorities could be proposed. These changes weakened the glue that was holding deals together and some began to fragment as they have in Hampshire/IoW, Oxfordshire and Dorset.

Further difficulties were caused by the Government’s insistence on the imposition of elected mayors. It seems the near collapse of the Hampshire deal was nothing to do with the quality of its economic development or public service proposals but the rejection by the majority of Hampshire council leaders of an elected mayors. It appears that one reason that the government has enterntained a southern combined authority is the willingness of those council leaders to accept a mayor. If the Hampshire deal is to go ahead it will require a change of heart on this issue.

At this point it looks like the government is willing to trade proper decision-making for the political face-saving of achieving an elected mayor. Yet, the impact of elected mayors can be overstated. Far from all powerful, the  new elected mayor of Great Manchester will be one person amongst a committee of 11 local authority leaders. Their own real powers stretch no further than Policing and Fire and Rescue. We already have Police and Crime Commissioners across the region and, in December, the Government floated plans to give all PCCs oversight or Fire and Rescue. In other words, we are close to getting someone with many mayoral powers whether or not there is a devolution deal. However, the one real advantage of having a fully-fledged elected mayor is the right to raise and keep additional business rates for economic development.

With so much uncertainty and upheaval it’s hard to be confident that we will see any quick boost to economic growth and/or the more efficient public services that are at the heart of the devolution idea. According to our research this is what the region needs, and it’s what business wants.

The vision, of powerful combined authorities cooperating together across the region looks a very long way away. The integration of health and services – perhaps the biggest single prize in terms of more effective and efficient public services – will be hard to deliver in the middle of local government reorganisation and many of the new authorities will be too small to integrate their services with health on their own. The poor alignment of economic development, political and health boundaries highlighted in our earlier report will remain or become worse.

And slowly but surely, for better for worse, the death of the English County Council takes a few steps forward. But that, like all the other issues in this article, has not been the subject of any public debate or consultation. Yet, as our work on the citizens assemblies showed, these are issues that the public and business can engage in and contribute to.

Professor John Denham

Chair, Southern Policy Centre

Assembly South report

Introduction

Assembly South was part of an important new experiment in how to organise democracy effectively. It consisted of a group of 23 citizens and 6 councillors from the Solent and Isle of Wight area who met in Southampton over two weekends in October and November 2015 to discuss the future of local governance. The aim was to select the citizens randomly to be broadly representative of the local adult population. During the two weekends, they learned about the different options, consulted with advocates of a range of views, deliberated on what they had heard, and formed recommendations.

Read the full report here

Assembly South was one of two citizens’ assembly pilots organised by Democracy Matters, a collaboration of university researchers and civil society organisations supported by the Economic and Social Research Council. The second pilot assembly, Assembly North, ran over the same period in Sheffield and has produced its own report.

The main aims were:

  1. To assess whether the creation of citizens’ assemblies could improve the operation of democracy in the UK and to build knowledge on how such assemblies might best be run;
  2. To investigate what members of the public in England think about devolution when they are given the opportunity to learn about and debate the issue in depth.

Participants voted that if there were to be a new devolved body:

  • It should cover the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight area, instead of other options like the South East or Solent
  • Health and social care integration should be the most important priority for the body, followed by public transport, business support and housing investment
  • There was a dead heat on the question of whether participants would vote for or against the current deal on the table

A key finding of the research team is that randomly selected citizens are ready, willing and able to engage with complex policy and governance debates when given appropriate support and opportunity.

This report sets out the background to the creation of Assembly South. It describes the Assembly in terms of its composition and working methods. It then presents a detailed outline of the Assembly’s discussions and recommendations. It concludes by briefly reflecting on lessons learned and next steps.

Year One at the Southern Policy Centre

Why a southern think tank?

We were launched in 2014 by Greg Clark and Lord Adonis to provide public policy focus for central southern England: the area from Dorset to West Sussex, and the Isle of Wight up to Oxfordshire.

The region faces challenges distinct from both London and other English regions. Our public spending per head is low, our landscape is very mixed and we have a fast ageing population.

Average incomes are above the national average but living costs are high. A fast growing population is the context for contentious issues like the need to develop more housing while maintaining sensitivity for the natural environment.

Economic development, though generally good, is uneven and constrained by shortages of skills, infrastructure and finance.

Devolution

Our first major workstream is around devolution policy, working with groups like South East Strategic Leaders to shape a devolution deal that works for the south.

We brought Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, down to Winchester Business School for a series of talks. Here are five lessons we can learn from Devo-Manc.

Our key piece of work looked at the challenges and opportunities for the major devolution bids in southern England, and interviewed important employers in the region to get their thoughts. Read the report on Devo-South here.

For a different perspective see our work on Citizens’ Assembly South, a project with university partners, YouGov and the Electoral Reform Society to better understand the views of non-specialists.

Data

We launched our Open Data initiative in March this year (see the launch video here), becoming an Open Data Institute Node in May. See our ODI Hampshire mini site.

Since then we’ve applied open data principles to studying adult social care in the south, with a BBC South commissioned report showing a collapse in the number of residents receiving the service but alongside a fairly stable level of investment.

We’re also working on a Higher Education Funding Council project to understand areas with lower than expected levels of participation in university in southern England, and to then develop a toolkit that can be applied across the country.

Our latest event brought together open data specialists with policy makers in Hampshire. We showed that a bigger focus on data has already been used to drive improved decision making in public policy, but there’s still a long way to go. See our Storify for a round up of resources and discussion points.

Democracy

Our already mentioned Assembly South project showed that ordinary residents can make a contribution to the devolution debate, but what about even more specialised and arguably more thorny policy problems?

We’ve recently held an event for local residents to discuss housing policy and hear from expert speakers (report out soon, watch this space!), but before that we held deliberative polling seminars on commissioning budgets and migration politics.

Apart from that, we had the pleasure of running an Arnie Graf Tour across southern England. The tour covered local authorities, the third sector and universities, and ranged from Southampton to Oxford. The kick off event in Winchester with Isabel Hardman and Danny Kruger was about community organising; what is it and does the sort of thing that Jeremy Corbyn inspires count?

Partners

We’ve worked on events with private organisations like KnowNow Information, Open Data Aha! and PWC, and universities including Southampton, Bournemouth, Solent, Winchester and Oxford.

Our institutional partners include the Open Data Institute and a cross party Advisory Board of many talents.

Our research projects have been supported by regional organisations like BBC South and Business South, and national bodies like HEFCE.

Plus we work closely with organisations ranging from Hampshire Hub to the Electoral Reform Society.

Want to work with us? Get in touch.