Saturday, June 28, 2008

Some thoughts on 200 blog entries: the FE sector, social housing and the third sector

As I’ve posted 200 entries on this blog, I thought it was time cast a look over my shoulder.

Back in late 2006 when I was setting up I thought that a blog might be interesting as an opportunity to share ideas and information as well as occasionally pontificate. Everyone seemed to have a blog. Many blogs were interesting – either informative or a little weird such as the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Perhaps not everyone had a blog – there seemed to be a lack of blogs on housing and further education – two sectors where I have done a far bit of work over the years.

Since 2006 we’ve acquired a new prime minister – and a fair few commentators speculate that we may have another one before long whether before or after the next general election. Public sector reform is still on the agenda. The language has shifted a bit – away from competition and choice towards contestability and personalisation. Some of the agenda has been adopted by the Conservatives - and taken further as in the case of Michael Gove’s proposals on schools choice. Even the Liberal Democrats are advocating empowering the user of public services. One major change that we have seen in the policy environment is a significant tightening of public finances although the implications of the Comprehensive Spending Review were well-heralded and analysed by the experts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

In social housing we’ve seen a review or two leading to end of the Housing Corporation as we know it – with a de-merger seeing English Partnerships absorbing investment (aka funding of new affordable housing) and a Tenant Services Authority (briefly known as Oftenant) taking over regulation. The TSA might even have a sector-wide remit including all social housing if the government listens. The nature of regulation is a bit of an unknown. Housing inspection will live on at the Audit Commission for the moment anyway – with new short, sharp, shock notice inspections coming in after some years of talk. We’ll probably see some new council houses at long last – although not many. Indeed there is a bit of uncertainty over all house-building after the credit crunch – who worried about sub-prime in 2006? (Arguably not enough people.)

In further education we’ve seen the announcement of the death of the Learning and Skills Council. Its role will be parcelled out – perhaps neatly, perhaps not - among a Young People Learning Agency, Skills Funding Agency, a National Apprenticeships Agency and dozens of local authorities and “sub-regional clusters”. We’ll see how joined-up that is. As a result of the changes we’ll probably see LSC staffers finding new homes – hopefully not too many will compete against me as freelance consultants. Another key development will be sixth form colleges “rejoining the local government family” – a good or bad thing depending where you are. (I won't quote Tolstoy or Larkin.)

Of course, the third sector – particularly social enterprises – are even sexier now than 20 months ago. Politicians are falling over themselves to woo charities and other third sector organisations. The other week it was the Conservatives offering the sector treats including the Office for the Third Sector which NCVO welcomed. Yesterday it was the government promising the third sector a role in service delivery. As always, reality may be less rosy – as seen in the disappointment when the Department for Work and Pensions gave the lions share to the private sector in a major commissioning exercise. Still we have seen actions as well as words – funds for third sector organisations, ambassadors for social enterprise, training for commissioners, new and flexible forms of legal entity for social enterprises.

I am sure that I have missed a few developments. Its seems a lot has been happening even if much of it is skated over in the mainstream media.

I wonder what I’ll be writing about after another 200 blog entries.

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