New faces, new policies, old themes

June 01, 1997

With the new government in office, here are the main issues of interest in community affairs, with the key personalities and the legislation promised in the Queen’s Speech.


David Blunkett MP is secretary of state for education and employment. Andrew Smith MP is minister for employment and welfare to work. Alan Howarth MP is parliamentary under-secretary for employment and equal opportunities. Kim Howells MP is parliamentary under secretary of state for lifelong learning.

Responsibility for disabled people has switched from Department of Social Security to the DfEE.

The key measure is a youth unemployment and welfare-to-work programme, funded by a levy on the excess profits of privatised utilities; for young people unemployed for six months, the options are: a job with a private sector employer receiving £60 a week wage rebate; a job with voluntary sector employer for benefit plus a fixed sum; work on a new environmental task force; or full time study.

Also proposed are a University for Industry and individual learning accounts, with an initial public contribution of £150, to promote lifelong learning.

The government will also propose a National Minimum Wages and opt into the EU Social Chapter.


David Blunkett is in overall charge, with Stephen Byers MP as minister of state with responsibility for standards and school-industry links.

Two education bills are planned, to reduce class sizes and raise standards, but companies are not implicated directly

A numeracy task force, with private sector representation, has been set up on best ways to achieve improvements in school and beyond.


Margaret Beckett MP is president of the board of trade, with personal responsibility for competitiveness. John Battle MP is minister of state, overseeing environment issues and Barbara Roche MP is parliamentary under secretary of state for small firms and regional policy. David Simon, former chairman of BP, is ennobled to become minister for European trade and competitiveness, with membership of Cabinet committees above his theoretical status as a junior minister. Geoffrey Robinson MP, paymaster general at the Treasury, has oversight of windfall levy, welfare-to-work, public-private partnerships and small firms.

A bill will be introduced for a legal right to claim interest on late payment of commercial debts, with large companies required to report practice record in annual report.

Also promised is extensive consultation on competitiveness and measures to promote small business, with a White Paper in 1998.


John Prescott MP is deputy prime minister and secretary of state for the environment, transport and the regions. Michael Meacher MP is minister of state for the environment and Richard Caborn MP minister of state for the regions, regeneration and planning. Nick Raynsford MP is parliamentary under secretary of state and minister for London.

Legislation comprises a network of nine regional development agencies including London, coming into effect in April 1999, to promote inward investment, help small businesses and coordinate regional economic development; an elected body for London after a referendum.

The fourth round of Single Regeneration Budget bidding is going ahead, but projects are to be focused on the causes of social and economic decline including employment, crime and housing and are to target the most deprived ares.


Robin Cook MP is secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs. He has introduced a new ‘ethical’ mission statement for the Foreign Office, pledging to protect the world’s environment, and spread democracy and human rights.

Clare Short is secretary of state for international development. A White Paper on promoting sustainable development and tackling global poverty is to be published in the autumn.


Chris Smith MP is secretary of state for national heritage and becomes chairman of the Millennium Commission, with Mark Fisher MP as minister for the arts. In the Department of Health, Tessa Jowell MP is minister of state for public health responsible for the White Paper on measures to reduce tobacco consumption, with legislation to follow on banning tobacco advertising including the sponsorship of events. ABSA has warned of practical difficulties and the likely effects on the arts, where much sponsorship is not equivalent to the brand promotion seen at mass sporting events.


Responsibility for volunteering and the voluntary sector is transferred from the Department of National Heritage back to the Home Office, with Alun Michael MP as the senior minister of state. Dawn Primarolo MP, financial secretary at the Treasury, is responsible for payroll giving.

A White paper followed by a bill will enable the proceeds of the mid-week lottery to be used on education and health, likely to involve voluntary sector; priorities are IT training for teachers, after-school clubs, healthy living centres and a National Endowment for Science and the Arts.


Among government appointments from the business community are: Peter Davis, chief executive of the Prudential and chairman of Business in the Community, to head a new welfare-to-work task force; Martin Taylor, chief executive of Barclays Bank, to lead a task force on reform of the tax and benefit systems; Peter Jarvis, chief executive of Whitbread, to head the body advising on the minimum wage; Brandon Gough, chairman of Yorkshire Water, De La Rue and National Power, is stepping down as chairman of the Higher Education Funding Council, as does Lord MacLaurin of Tesco from chairing the UK Sports Council; broadcaster Trevor Phillips is appointed to the Arts Council and as chairman of the London Arts Board.


The new government’s relations with business got off to an unsteady start. Putting senior business leaders in charge of key task forces sends one message. Bullying the lottery ‘fat cats’ and the rail and water industries sends quite another. The overall direction is clear, but individual ministers, once in post, have plenty of scope to set their own tone.

Of all the changes and plans for the future, two stand out as immediately relevant to community affairs managers. The first is the ambitious youth employment and training programme. Will this simply be a make-work scheme with people returning to the dole queue once the windfall tax runs out? Or will it achieve a quantum leap in the skills level of Britain’s under 25s work-force? The former will have a short-term ‘register effect’ only. The latter could result in a more productive economy and higher long term employment levels, with more goods and services sold in the competitive global economy.

So the focus must be on training, rather than on job creation. At present, there is too much ‘churn’ in the youth labour market: over 60% of young people unemployed for six months already find work within another six months, but it is often in low paid, low skill, short term jobs, followed swiftly by another period of unemployment.

What role should the private sector play (in addition, of course, to paying for it all through retrospective taxation)? Programmes which mix the unemployed with people in work succeed best, as shown by schemes like Prince’s Trust Volunteers and mentoring. With Business in the Community chairman, Peter Davis, leading the thinking, here is a golden opportunity to build a scheme which really draws in companies, fits with existing programmes especially in the TECs, and achieves a lasting effect.

The second issue is the regional development agencies, on which private sector representatives will sit. The details are not yet settled, but the only available money is in existing SRB budgets and European regional grants, currently decided by central government alone through their regional offices. The previous government constantly exhorted companies to get involved in partnership but did not give the private sector a direct say over how these public funds should be spent. If (and it’s still a big if) central government does relinquish control to RDAs, companies will rapidly need a coherent view on regional economic and social development as a whole, and their role not simply as part-funders of a few local schemes. Are community affairs departments equipped for this broader, policy-making role?

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 34 – June, 1997