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Think tank highlights IT risk to courts



Institute for Government warns against ambitious legislative programme for Wednesday’s Queen’s speech

This week’s Queen’s speech has been widely trailed as David Cameron’s last chance to shape his prime ministerial legacy with a “social justice” agenda (plus driverless cars). However a leading non-partisan think tank warns today that a combination of budget cuts and a wafer thin parliamentary majority will make a radical programme impossible.

In a briefing paper titled Government under pressure: the 2016 Queen’s Speech, the Institute for Government says the main public services under pressure are justice, health and social services.

It says that much depends on the implementation of new IT systems to make the justice process work in the face of court closures, but that this is an uncertain bet.

“Justice secretary Michael Gove has announced the closure of a fifth of courts, with an associated programme to improve digital access by extending the use of video for prisoners on remand, for witnesses and victims, and managing fines online," the report says. "But the courts have a mixed record of introducing digital technology, partly because improvements require making changes in the way that independent professionals work.”

Budget cut

HM Courts & Tribunals Service has had its budget cut by more than a quarter since 2010. “The risk is that court closures proceed but that the digital programme does not improve or even maintain access to justice.”
Draft legislation to reform prisons is one of the “social justice” measures expected to feature in the Queen's speech.  

On social care, the report notes that in 2013 the institute warned that “funding levels are clearly inadequate to achieve the government’s stated objectives” - and that funding has declined further since then.

It casts doubt on the remedy, announced in the 2015 Spending Review, of allowing local authorities a 2% council tax increase to fund social care, saying not all of them will do so. Meanwhile, the promised £1.5bn from the Better Care Fund will come into effect only in 2019-20 “leaving several very lean years in the interim”.


The report points out that with a majority of only 12, the government will have to work hard with backbenchers to gain momentum for new policies. “Filling the Queen's speech with controversial measures will harm the programme as a whole. Less but better legislation - introduced firstly in draft, where possible - would lay the parliamentary groundwork as well as contribute to government effectiveness.”
Daniel Thornton, the report’s author, said: “To be effective, the Government must recognise the enormous challenges it now faces. It is making big spending cuts and attempting far-reaching public service reforms, and the strain is showing.

"As a result of divisions over Europe, its small majority has become no majority at all. It must consult and build alliances before rushing ahead with more ambitious reforms in the Queen’s speech.”



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