Monday, 28 May 2012

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Energy Policy Changes May 2012

Energy Secretary on Sunday Politics here.

Get Adobe Flash player

The new Draft Energy Bill: A gift for A2 Politics Environment


Guardian Q&As on Energy policy/issues.

All sorts going on in Energy policy. A new draft energy bill is on the way which will mean 5 key developments:
  1. A stimulus to the nuclear power industry. Good news for them.
  2. A 'dash for gas'
  3. Bad news for renewable energy companies
  4. Bad news for environmentalists who want massive investment in renewables and bill payers
  5. Allegedly bad news for Cameron and the Coalition's so-called "greenest-government-ever" image

1. A stimulus to the nuclear power industry. Good news for them.
The government wants to extend the life of old nuclear power stations instead of decommissioning (which was the previous plan). Anti-nuclear campaigners are angry and LDs will clearly be unhappy that their long term anti-nuclear policy has been ignored.

2.  A 'dash for gas'
The Chancellor hailed the 'dash for gas' in the 2012 budget, "Gas is cheap, has much less carbon than coal and will be the largest single source of our electricity in the coming years. And so the energy secretary will set out our new gas generation strategy in the autumn to secure investment. I also want to that ensure we extract the greatest possible amount of oil and gas from our reserves in the North Sea." Though the recent North Sea gas leak has raised concerns that it is not without environmental costs, and ultimatley gas is a finite resource. The opening up of 'fracking' has also caused concerns over tremors and worries over gas getting into the water supply (so say campaign group FRACK OFF - synopticity).

3. Bad news for renewable energy companies
Renewable companies are concerned that they will lose out, because the current system of subsidies will be replaced with a complex new system of support that could favour big companies over their smaller rivals. This new system – known as contracts for difference – would allow companies to sign long-term contracts to supply electricity. But the prices on such contracts could be higher or lower than the price of electricity in the wholesale market – the attraction to companies is supposed to be that the long-term nature of the contracts gives them the stability and certainty they need to invest. However, several renewables companies told the Guardian they thought the contracts would push smaller suppliers out of the market. Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, called for an exemption for small suppliers in order to encourage competition in the market.  Many critics also see the move away from renewables as a missed opportunity to invest in the economy, create jobs and help get the economy growing again.

4.  Bad news for environmentalists who want massive investment in renewables and bill payers
The bill is fatal to the hopes of building a low-carbon economy in the UK, according to green campaigners, and could leave consumers hooked on an increasingly expensive fossil fuel, with the soaring price rises that could entail. The UK's own supplies of natural gas in the North Sea are being rapidly depleted, making consumers heavily dependent on imports and the price volatility that brings. As any new gas-fired power stations would be expected to carry on operating – and producing CO2 – for at least 25 years, this would also make the UK's climate change targets in the 2020s increasingly hard to meet.

5. The greenest government ever?
  • Osborne has made ungreen speeches
  • Subsidies for solar cut
  • Tory MPs rebelled over wind turbines
  • Coalition split over nuclear between Tories (pro) and LDs (anti)
Independent article here.

Excellent Ch4 Video below and article here

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Child Benefit changes 2012

The coalition's policy on child benefit has changed over time.

The original plan:
  • In 2010  Chancellor George Osborne said that child benefit would be cut for high earners. if anyone in a household earned over approximately £42,000 a year, the household would stop getting child benefit (actually they get it but would have to pay it back by the taxman). Cameron defended this plan by saying that it was unfair for high earners to get benefits.

Why was there an uproar about this original plan?
There were two main controversies:

1. The cut was based on household income which would mean that if both parents earnedless than £42,000 (up to a household total of £88,000), they will continue to get child benefit.  However, in families with one earner on the above £45,000 (with a household income as low as £45,000), the child benefit will have to be repaid. Many thought this was unfair.

2. The "cliff-edge". That meant someone earning £42,475 or below would receive the full child benefit. As soon as they earned £42,476, they would lose every penny of the child benefit. Some argued that there should be some kind of gradation of loss.  The government defended the "cliff edge", by claiming that it would be cheaper to implement and some sort of graded loss of benefits.

What changes have been made to the child benefit plan?
Under the new plans, announced in Chancellor George Osborne's 2012 Budget, the child benefit will be phased out when someone in a household has an income of more than £50,000.
The benefit will fall by 1% for every £100 earned over £50,000. That means those earning more than £60,000 will lose the entirety of the benefit. Some 7.8 million families receive child benefit, of which 1.2 million would have lost their entitlement under the original proposals. The number affected will be lower under the renewed plans.

Why did they change?

  • Politically, the original plan was quite damaging.  It angered many Liberal Democrats within the coalition and gave ammunition to Ed Miliband's Labour opposition.
  • Osborne claimed that the expense of organising the more complex cut of 1% of child benefit every £100 and over £50,000, would be covered by other efficiency savings given in the budget.
This has done a lot to quell the political disquiet over the original plan, but it does still equate to an end of the universal child benefit.

Welfare Reform: detail and synopticity. Did the LDs make a difference? DId the government make any concessions?

This BBC Q&A on Welfare Reform was written before the Bill was passed in March 2012 but it is an excellent summary of the key arguments over the bill. Useful for detail and synopticity. You should definitely revise this for Unit 3 paper. I've included the whole thing, but the original is here.

The government's flagship Welfare Reform Bill, applying to England, Scotland and Wales, looks set to "ping pong" between the Lords and Commons. Peers have inflicted a series of defeats but the government says it will use parliamentary rules on "financial privilege" to get it through. Here's a guide to the main flashpoints:
Possibly the most significant Lords defeat for the Bill was spearheaded by a Conservative, Lord Mackay. Peers voted by a majority of 142 to exempt some single parents from being charged between £50 and £100 upfront to use the Child Support Agency.
The government says it costs £460m a year and leaves 1.5m children without effective support. They want parents to agree their own maintenance payments, without relying on the state.
Lord Mackay's amendment exempted parents who had no other choice but to use the agency - if their partner has resisted all attempts to get them to pay maintenance. He was backed by 33 other Tory peers. Lords amendment overturned in Commons by 318 to 257.
The government wants to cap weekly benefits at the level of the average salary of working families - about £500 a week, or £26,000 a year - to encourage people on benefits to work and, they argue, make the system "fair" for the taxpayers supporting them.
Opponents say child benefit should not be included - as it would penalise larger families and is a universal benefit, also paid to working families. They argue it effectively denies child benefit to children in families who have already reached the £500 limit.
The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds put down an amendment - backed by 252 votes to 237, a majority of 15, to exempt child benefit from the cap.Lords amendment overturned in Commons by 334 to 251 votes.
ESA replaced incapacity benefit and comes in two types. There is "contributory" ESA, for people who have paid enough National Insurance, and income-related ESA, paid to those with little income or savings.
The government was defeated in three votes over plans to limit the amount of time people can receive contributory ESA for. Currently, it can be indefinite and is paid regardless of income or savings. The government wants it to be means-tested after 12 months for those judged capable of working at some point in the future. But peers backed amendments extending it to 24 months, exempting cancer patients and rejecting government moves to stop young disabled people who have never worked from receiving contributory ESA. Lords amendments all overturned in Commons.
Ministers had proposed that the new Universal Credit would include an "under-occupancy" penalty for council and housing association tenants living in homes bigger than their needs. Those judged to have one extra bedroom would lose about £11 a week, those with two or more extra rooms would lose on average £20 a week. The government said it was an important part of efforts to cut the housing benefit bill. Critics dubbed it a "bedroom tax" and said it would force teenagers to share bedrooms. An amendment moved by crossbencher Lord Best limited the penalty to those with two extra bedrooms - or one extra, if they had been offered suitable alternative accommodation. Peers backed him by 258 to 190 votes in December. Lords amendment overturned in Commons by 310 to 268 votes.
The seventh defeat for the Bill saw peers back an amendment to protect the amount of money disabled children, who do not require care at night, receive.
Currently poorer families with a child getting Disability Living Allowance can get a payment of £53.84 a week via the "disabled child element" of the Child Tax Credit. Those with children with the highest care needs get an additional £21.73 a week. Under the new Universal Credit, the government proposes that those on the higher rate will get £77 a week - £1.43 more than currently. Children on the lower rate would get £26.75 a week, a weekly reduction of £27.09.
Crossbencher Baroness Meacher's amendment would require the lower rate to remain at least two-thirds the amount of the higher rate. Thegovernment says that although about 100,000 children will have a "lower entitlement" as a result - those currently getting the benefit will get "full cash protection" to ensure they do not lose out. However future recipients will get less. Ministers say they want to "align" disability premiums for children with those for adults. Lords amendment overturned in Commons by 324 to 255 votes.
The bill also replaces DLA, introduced in 1992 to help disabled people with extra costs in their everyday lives, with a new allowance: Personal Independence Payments (PIP). These would be introduced in 2013 for working people aged 16-64 and would involve upfront medical tests and regular assessments.
An amendment from Baroness Grey-Thompson, which would have delayed the introduction of PIPs until further testing was carried out, was defeated. The government narrowly won the vote by 229 to 213. It is unlikely to be debated again.
It's one of the government's flagship bills, applying to England, Scotland and Wales, which ministers say marks the biggest overhaul of the benefits system since the 1940s. It introduces the Universal Credit - a single benefit to replace six income-related, work-based benefits. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith says it will simplify the benefits system and ensure that people are always better off in work. But it also includes other changes - which will help the government meet its target of cutting the welfare bill by £18bn by 2015.
Yes. No 10 says the government has listened to concerns and amended its plans in certain areas:
  • The qualifying period for receiving DLA - the length of time recipients have to show they will be eligible - has been cut from six to three months
  • The mobility component of DLA - which pays for transport and travel costs - will be retained for those in residential care homes
  • Ministers to consider their proposed changes to ESA after recent Lords defeats but have said they will seek to reinstate them when MPs debate the bill.
  • Housing benefit caps delayed for existing claimants from April 2011 to January 2012.
  • It has also spelled out "transitional arrangements" to ease the impact of the overall benefit cap - including a 9-month "grace period" for those who had been in work for the previous 12 months and additional short-term payments to families who cannot move immediately for reasons such as child protection and education.
In the Lords it is crossbenchers and bishops who have led the charge against the Bill. But Labour peers and some Lib Dems and Conservatives - notably former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown and former Conservative lord chancellor Lord Mackay, have also voted against the government at different times.

Social Security update: Welfare reform bill passed March 2012.

Remember to revise the benefits cap of £26,000 and details of arguments for and against, and the ideological reasons for those arguements (good for synopticity).

Peers had inflicted seven defeats on the bill, including imposing a £26,000 annual benefit cap for working age households and means-testing employment and support allowance after one year.
But one by one the votes were overturned by MPs. On Wednesday crossbench peer Lord Best withdrew an amendment on the final point of dispute - the "under occupancy" penalty - dubbed a "bedroom tax" by critics - for social housing tenants in properties judged to have more rooms than they need.

Third Runway updates

Up to date articles on the Third Runway at Heathrow controversy.

Who is winning in the coalition?

The Guardian are tracking the pledges made by the coalition.

May 2012 Update: How did the nature of coalition government affect the NHS Reform Bill

Excellent summary from the BBC on where the government had to compromise on the NHS Bill. Many of which were pushed onto the government by LD backbenchers pressurising their leader. Revise these.
What the coalition wanted:
* GPs to take responsibility for £60bn of NHS funds
* Competition to be extended to more NHS services
* Reduced bureaucracy and fewer managers
* An increased role for the private sector
* Backing from every professional group involved.
What they have had to compromise on:
* NHS professionals such as hospital consultants and nurses given greater say in spending
* Competition limited to quality not price
* More managers to look into perceived risks
* All providers to be assessed for their suitability to run services.
The shape of things to come:
* Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) replace primary care trusts
* CCGs decide on care for patients, advise them where to go for treatment and pay the bills
*Some of the day-to-day control of the NHS passes to the new NHS Commissioning Board, which will manage the CCGs at a national and local level
*Responsibility for public health issues like obesity, smoking and alcohol abuse is handed to local councils
*All hospitals become foundation trusts and compete for treatment contracts from CCGs
*The cap on how much hospitals can earn from private patients rises from as little as 1.5% to 49%.

Education: BBC News - University A-level plan challenged

BBC News - University A-level plan challenged:

Synoptic marks opportunity here. Gove's plan is to hand over A-Levels to Universities rather than being run by the boards (like yours, Edexcel).

Teaching Unions and student groups are sceptical.

'via Blog this'

Academies update May 2012 - the shift to Primary Schools

Education Update May 2012 England's schools revolution: a progress report, two years on | Education | The Guardian

England's schools revolution: a progress report, two years on | Education | The Guardian: "The landscape of education in England is changing fast, and the pace of change has accelerated since the coalition came to power nearly two years ago. From being a tool to turn around failing schools, the option of academy status has been extended to all schools. Last week, the Department for Education confirmed that more than half of England's secondary schools are, or are about to become, academies."


2000 The education secretary, David Blunkett, announces the Academies Programme. Academies were intended to replace existing failing schools or create new schools in areas of educational under-achievement. They would be state-funded but run in partnership with sponsors such as churches or businesses. The sponsor was expected to provide financial backing for the school.
2002 The first academy opens. The Business Academy, Bexley, is followed by several others including Mossbourne, in 2004, on the former site of Hackney Downs – once called the "worst in Britain". Mossbourne becomes the most high-profile success of the programme. Last summer, 82% of its students achieved the benchmark of five good GCSE passes including English and maths.
2010 Labour leaves office with about 200 academies open. The coalition's Academies Act 2010 allows all schools to apply for conversion to academies. They do not need to have sponsors. The legislation also authorises the creation of free schools, which can be set up by parents, teachers or charities.
2011 The first 24 free schools open their doors, including one in west London where the journalist Toby Young is chairman of the governors; a Sikh school in Birmingham; and a Hindu school in Leicester.
2012 At the start of March, there were 1,635 academies in England. By April, more than half of all secondary schools are academies or due to convert.

'via Blog this'

"What is the financial value of public services to the private sector and who are the chief beneficiaries?"

Public services, big earners: a sector-by-sector analysis | Society | "What is the financial value of public services to the private sector and who are the chief beneficiaries?"

Good synoptic stuff here.

'via Blog this'

NHS Update May 2012

100 NHS voices | Society | The Guardian:

 Primary care trusts (PCTs), which currently commission and fund patients' treatment, will be replaced by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) – local groups of doctors, who are mainly GPs. They will gradually be handed responsibility for £60bn of NHS funds. They, rather than PCT managers, will be the ones who decide what care is right for patients, advise them where to go to get the best treatment and pay the bills. But many GPs are worried that this dramatic extension of their power could also damage their relationship of trust with patients because they will become responsible for rationing care, which will generate inevitable tensions.
• The new NHS Commissioning Board will manage the CCGs and try to drive up quality of care. It is meant to be handed much of ministers' day-to-day control of the NHS, to reduce political involvement. Critics fear, though, that the board's regional offices will be very similar to the strategic health authorities (SHAs) that will disappear next year. Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, has said he intends to streamline the NHS but the new system will contain many thousands of new bodies.
• Public health – tackling problems such as obesity, smoking and alcohol abuse – will transfer from the NHS to local councils. They will have a specific remit to narrow widening health inequalities between rich and poor.
• Any hospital which is not already a semi-independent foundation trust will have to become one, ideally by 2014. They will compete for treatment contracts from CCGs. Health policy experts predict that CCGs could over time force the closure of units, or even entire hospitals, if they do not rate the care given there.
The "cap" on how much hospitals can earn from private patients will rise from as little as 1.5% to 49%, prompting fears of a two-tier service in which NHS patients have to wait longer than those who pay.
• Competition will be extended, and non-NHS groups – charities and private healthcare firms – will be able to bid for increasing amounts of work currently done by NHS staff.
"Any qualified provider" will see nine NHS services, including treatment of neck and back pain, opened up to competition from next month, with other areas to follow later.
• Campaigners fear a "rush to the bottom" on quality of care as new providers of services put in unrealistically low bids to win contracts, leaving patients dissatisfied. Ministers deny they want to privatise the NHS but health leaders fear growing privatisation is inevitable.

'via Blog this'

NHS after the reform

Hinchingbrooke hospital: three months into treatment, what's the prognosis? | Society | The Guardian:

'via Blog this'