What do we know about the Boris Johnson government so far?

Boris Johnson enters Downing Street as the new prime minister this week. Theresa May had three years (and eleven days) in the job. She wanted to leave a legacy of tackling the ‘burning injustices’ in society and delivering our exit from the EU. But she ultimately left after months of Brexit breakdown and parliamentary discord.

Johnson’s first speech as prime minister – as well as his leadership campaign- gives us some information on his policy commitments. He has outlined plans for increased spending in public services – in education, health and policing – and a new tax on the over 40s to pay for social care.

But the driving force of policy-making over the coming months will continue to be Brexit. Johnson has assembled a new Cabinet of leave ‘hardliners’. Many of whom were central in the Vote Leave campaign – and a no-deal Brexit is more likely than ever. This blog from NCVO offers some useful analysis on the implications.

Among the new Cabinet, is a new Secretary of State for Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), Robert Jenrick. Jenrick, MP for Newark and the East Mids, is a former Treasury minister. This Inside Housing article has an interesting overview of some of his positions on housing.

Nicky Morgan, MP for Loughborough, has been appointed Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). DCMS is the department responsible for Civil Society. Morgan is a former Education Secretary and former Chair of the Treasury Select Committee.

As more junior ministerial posts are filled, we will continue to engage with these key departments. We will develop our working relationships and advocate for a better operating environment for community organisations.

We will continue to campaign for better commissioning through our Keep it Local campaign, a new Community Ownership Fund to invest in our vital social infrastructure, and greater localism and power for communities.

New ‘Communities Framework’ launched by government

In his last few days in office, previous Secretary of State for MHCLG, James Brokenshire, published a new ‘Communities Framework’. It sets out the government’s vision for building stronger communities.

The framework is a welcome statement of intent from government. It showcases the evidence of what we in the community sector see every day – the transformative impact of the power of community.

It makes a number of commitments, including to:

– Holding a national conversation with communities across England. This intention is to hold a widespread engagement exercise on the future of communities and what local and national government can do to support their community to thrive. This ‘national conversation’ will inform a new ‘Communities White Paper’ on government’s role in building stronger communities. This could be an important opportunity for new legislation and a more ambitious programme of new investment for communities.

– A series of Civic Deal pilots to test the principles of the framework in practice and test a ‘place-based’ approach to funding and support with the pilot areas, in partnership with DCMS. The Deals have committed to ‘putting communities more in control of decision and strengthening local partnerships and civic infrastructure’.
We are encouraged to see the government recognises the importance in investing in social infrastructure and building local capacity in neighbourhoods. We look forward to hearing more detail and working with government to develop the approach.

With a new government now in place, it is vital that this Communities Framework is adopted by the new Secretary of State. It must be used to inform future communities’ policy, as well as by other Departments that have a role in strengthening communities and building local capacity.

Ultimately this Framework needs to be a launchpad for a more ambitious direction with concrete policy commitments and significant funding to match the scale of the task.

You can read our reaction to the Communities Framework in this statement from Tony Armstrong.

Labour publishes ‘Democratising Local Public Services’

Last week, the Labour Party published its ‘plan for twenty-first century insourcing’ in local government. 11,000 charities have contracts with local authorities (according to the UK Civil Society Almanac 2019). This move to make ‘in-house the new normal’ has been interpreted as concerning for organisations across the voluntary and community sector (VCS).

However, it is also reasonable to conclude that much of the proposed approach is designed to push back against the presence of private companies, rather than the VCS, in our public services landscape. When launching the policy, Shadow Communities Secretary, Andrew Gwynne, said:

“We’ve said that where significant capacity barriers exist, or community providers can best manage risks of interacting with at-risk groups, that general presumption [in favour of insourcing] will not apply.”

We’ve been finding this to be the case through our Keep it Local campaign – through which we’re working with councils across the political spectrum.

We’ve been working with a growing number of Labour councils who want to turn the tide on the mega outsourcing contracts. They are committed to bringing services back inhouse where they can – but also recognise the distinctive role community organisations play in the local service landscape, and want to build supportive local partnerships. In a speech to our recent Keep it Local conference, the Mayor of Hackney laid out exactly this approach.

Locality will engage with relevant Labour Party officials to gain further clarity on the implications of the proposed policy. We want to ensure a general presumption in favour of insourcing isn’t at the expense of the vital services delivered by community organisations.

We also want to show that Labour councils are seeing it as an opportunity for a new approach which harnesses local strengths.

From Paternalism to Participation – Labour’s civil society strategy

The last few weeks have been a busy period for Labour’s communities and civil society teams. As well as their insourcing paper, they also published ‘From Paternalism to Participation’ in June.

This outlines the Labour Party’s vision for civil society – and is a piece of work to which Locality’s policy team contributed at various stages. The paper represents a good, albeit, short statement of intent. It states that a Labour government would:

– increase grant funding to ensure smaller charities can benefit

– encourage local authorities to identify and support community anchor organisations that can help local communities participate in decision-making

– establish a new ‘Community Innovation Fund’ will provide a new source of funding and support to renew these places or run community-led activities in them by making available money from dormant assets.

Following a mini shadow cabinet reshuffle, this document represented one of Steve Reed’s final acts as shadow Civil Society Minister. We will be meeting his successor, Vicky Foxcroft, shortly to discuss the detail behind some of these policy proposals.

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)

The PAC published its Local Enterprise Partnerships: progress review last month. Much of the report focuses on the lack of accountability of LEPs. Key findings include:

– LEPs have underspent their funding allocation by over a £1 billion in the past three years.

– MHCLG has no understanding of what impact spending through LEPs has on local economic growth.

– There is a risk that funding allocated on the basis of local industrial strategies may not go to areas with the greatest need.

Locality, alongside a range of partners, has been making the case that there needs to be dramatic increase in accountability of LEPs, especially as they look set to play a major role in the allocation of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

Read more about the Communities in Charge campaign here.