Author Archive

Love food, hate waste?

by Claire McEneaney

It’s no secret that we at the Innovation Unit are a bunch of foodies. There isn’t a week goes by without a tale of someone’s latest culinary invention or dining experience. Many of grow our own vegetables and we’re always swapping tales on how to get your veggies to have more va-va voom (tip: get a wormery!). We are also ardent recyclers, encouraging our building to go green, swapping all our printer paper to recycled paper, and using Boris bikes to get to meetings. So, when I discovered Love Food Hate Waste I knew I had to blog about it.

Love Food Hate Waste campaigns to raise awareness about the need to reduce the amount of food we waste. From all that off milk, mouldy bread, slimy bagged salad, and forgotten yoghurt pots, we throw away almost 8.3 million tonnes of waste food, which is a pretty astonishing amount. (more…)

May 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm Leave a comment

4Children launch ‘Sure Start census’

by Claire McEneaney

Families charity 4Children has created a census to track the changes in services run by children’s centres across the country, as the removal of the ring-fence of funding kicks in. The online survey, sent to all Children’s Centre managers is part of 4Children’s ‘Shout out for a Sure Start’ campaign, which is dedicated to prmoteing the work done by Children’s Centres to support young children. Data collected by the survey will see Children’s Centres providing information on the number and type of staff they employ, the number of childcare places on offer, the balance of universal versus targeted servcies, and the extent of charges for services. Centres will then complete the survey annually, every March, and 4Children will track the changes. (more…)

May 5, 2011 at 9:01 am Leave a comment

The big AV vote: have you made up your mind?

by Claire McEneaney

To AV or not to AV, that is the question. Tomorrow’s referendum sees UK citizens have their say in the kind of voting system we’d like to use going forward. As voters, we have a choice: either we keep the current system, first past the post, or move to a new voting system, the alternative vote.

This referendum has been hugely political, with various parties supporting either the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ campaigns. I can’t help thinking that all the political wrangling has muddied the waters around the vote on AV, making it a party political issue. Many people are surely going to be influenced the stance of the party they usual vote for, but even that isn’t clear-cut, with members from the different parties taking up individual stances on the issue. This is one referendum which certainly isn’t already straight-forward. (more…)

May 4, 2011 at 11:24 am Leave a comment

What can we learn from jury service about engagement with public services?

by Claire McEneaney

Last week I fulfilled my civic duty by undertaking jury service at my local Crown Court. Despite comments from friends and family about it being onerous, dull, and something to get out of (!), I was actually really excited to have the opportunity to see inside the criminal justice system and understand how it worked. I wasn’t disappointed.

Despite a fair bit of sitting around on the first day waiting to be selected for a jury, the whole experience was fantastic. The case I sat on was complex but interesting. The judge, prosecution, and defence were all very clear communicators and presented the evidence well. The judge in particular was brilliant at engaging the jurors in the whole process, clarifying points for us, giving us directions in law to think about, and doing a very objective summation of the evidence at the end, which really helped us jurors pick out the salient points and details from 4 days worth of evidence to ultimately reach our verdict. Before anyone starts making 12 Angry Men assumptions, I’d like to say at this point that my fellow jurors were a very diverse mixture of people, who all took their job very seriously, and brought much balance and common sense to the process of justice.

Before I went on jury service, John Craig told me that jury service consistently has the highest satisfaction rating of any public service interaction. Reflecting back on my experience, I feel very satisfied with my experience, privileged even, and it got me thinking about what it is about jury service that means that interacting with it is so much more a rewarding experience than so many of our other public service encounters? (more…)

April 20, 2011 at 3:09 pm 5 comments

Closing date for intern applications is this Friday

by Claire McEneaney

Just to remind all our potential interns that the closing date for intern applications is this Friday, 25th February at 5pm.

For more information and details of how to apply just visit our intern page.

We would recommend you read our top ten tips for interns before submitting your application.

February 21, 2011 at 10:13 am Leave a comment

Probably the most innovative song in the world: The Beatles ‘A Day in the Life’

by Claire McEneaney

Let’s be honest here, no compilation of innovative songs is complete without a Beatles track. That much is a given. My problem then really presented itself – which song would I choose?! There are so many that could be classed as ‘innovative’: I am the Walrus and its use of words for their sounds, rather than their meanings; Eleanor Rigby and one of the first examples of telling a story through popular music; Strawberry Fields Forever and its use of recording and mixing techniques that were incredibly new…I could go on. In the end, however, I decided to plump for A Day in the Life.

A Day in the Life appears on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, as the final track. Sgt Pepper is arguably one of the most important albums in popular music history, using an enormous variety of musical styles and recording techniques. The cover is iconic and the whole thing is probably the closest that the Fab Four ever got to a concept album. A Day in the Life is my song of choice for the innovative way it evolved from something quite simple into a complex piece, that was banned by the BBC! (more…)

February 14, 2011 at 2:51 pm 2 comments

Costs of childcare are rising

by Claire McEneaney

A recent report by the Daycare Trust shows that the costs of childcare are rising at a rate much higher than inflation. The average cost for a weeks childcare for a child under 2 is now at £167. Typical costs in London and the South East were higher, an average of £226. Some parents surveyed reported paying up to £400 per week. Many families are spending over a third of their weekly income on childcare. Currently, the government’s free childcare scheme only covers childcare from age 3 until school age. This means that many parents are having to dig deep into their own pockets to pay for childcare places.

On the flip side, we equally know from our work on Transforming Early Years that many families are simply not using paid-for childcare. One site commented that:

“We had a huge shock when we interviewed 32 families (92 children) and none of them had ever paid for childcare. Many are doing part-time jobs but they all use sisters and aunts etc.”

The figures from the Daycare Trust begin to shed light on this. If a family has people out working part-time or in low-paid work, then childcare costs are now prohibitively high, meaning they have little option but to use family members and friends to provide childcare for them. This is also true for many families in full-time work, where salaries are remaining static or rising below inflation, whilst childcare cost rise above . Many families are actually entitled to free or reduced cos childcare for children under age 3 through the tax credit system. However, it becomes clear that this system is not working for many families as childcare costs make returning to work not financially viable. A lot of families also don’t know what their childcare entitlements are, as the system is confusing and counter-intuitive in many cases.

We know that Children’s Centres and Sure Start can have real impact on some of the most vulnerable families, so for many families it is vital that childcare is affordable for all families, especially those more likely to be doing part-time or lower paid jobs. Given the Government’s drive to return people to get off benefits and back into work, as their way of tackling the ‘benefits culture’, this presents a very practical challenge. We need to listen to families to understand the real challenges that they face, to understand what we can be doing to better support them, as they return to work, with things like access to good quality, affordable childcare.

February 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm Leave a comment

Lambeth publishes co-op council report

by Claire McEneaney

Lambeth Council have just published their report The Co-operative Council – Sharing Power: A new settlement between citizens and the state. Their vision is about giving residents more control and involvement in the services they use, by putting council resources in their hands.

As a Lambeth resident, I’m really heartened to see this bold move by my local council. I’ve watched the development of the idea with great interest, and participated in community consultations. I think its incredibly encouraging to have a council that sees community involvement as more than volunteering.

The Innovation Unit also believes wholeheartedly in the power of co-operatives and mutuals as a route to transform public services and staff and citizen engagement. Check out our thinkpiece The Engagement Ethic for more.

January 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm 1 comment

Frank Field and Graham Allen are right to champion early intervention – but our work shows we need to go one step further

by Sarah Gillinson

The ideas emerging from the six localities we are working with on the Transforming Early Years Programme, in partnership with NESTA, feel very zeitgeist. They are all working on different, better, lower cost models of support for families with very young children. They all share Frank Field and Graham Allen’s belief that by supporting families effectively in the very earliest years of a child’s life, it is possible to break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage. They also share the belief of both reviews that existing services, including children’s centres, are still not reaching the families who are most in need of support.

Many of the recommendations from both reviews are very welcome. They chime strongly with what our localities are learning from their communities. We should be measuring, monitoring and responding to indicators of family well-being that can help us predict children’s life chances. Parenting support should be available to all families, with intense support targeted at the families who most need it. Professionals around families should work together, complementing each other’s expertise and responding to families’ whole lives, rather than duplicating their offers. Commissioners should support community and voluntary organisations to contribute to local services.

But proposals from our localities suggest that both reviews should go one step further.  Otherwise they could fail to realise their critically important aspiration to support all families during the early years. (more…)

January 28, 2011 at 11:08 am 5 comments

How much do we really believe in early intervention?

by Claire McEneaney

I couldn’t help but let out a big sigh as I read the news that Westminster Council is set to cut Sure Start funding. We know that the early years is vulnerable to cuts, and as I discuss in a previous post, this doesn’t always have to spell doom and gloom. However, the repeated attack that early intervention is under is worrying.

Making the case for early intervention has always been complicated. Logic tells us that it must work and, indeed, there are numerous studies that demonstrate this robustly. However, for local councils it is a tricky one to manage. Successful early intervention can require significant investment upfront – both in terms of people and cold hard cash. But the cost-savings are not realised for many years, and the savings are not always redeemed by those who fronted up the money in the first place but by the prison service, benefits system etc. This presents a dilemma for local councils. There is a clear social and moral imperative to fund early intervention services, but justifying the financial return on investment is difficult. In this environment of cuts, perhaps it is not suprising that early intervention falls victim.

However, Michael Little, director of the Social Research Unit, said early intervention has slowly attracted more attention and money from politicians over the last seven years.

“I think with the huge economic downturn there is a sudden interest in this kind of information…there is going to be a reduction in expenditure on children’s services of around 25% in the next five years. In that context I think it would be very difficult for any politician, any civil servant, any LA policy-maker or manager to ignore he information that is now before us about the economic benefits of prevention and early intervention.”

The government is shortly due to publish a review of early intervention services, chaired by Graham Allen,  and it will be of great interest to see if this prompts more protection of early intervention in local councils, or whether we continue to hear it talked about in the same in relation to the cuts as we are at present.

January 13, 2011 at 5:28 pm Leave a comment

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