Inflation rises by half a per cent

CPI now stands at 2.7 per cent.

The ONS has released the inflation report for this month. It's up. A lot:

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) annual inflation stands at 2.7 per cent in October 2012, up from 2.2 per cent in September. The main upward pressure came from the education sector (university tuition fees) with smaller upward contributions from food & non-alcoholic beverages and transport. These were partially offset by downward pressures from the housing & household services, recreation and miscellaneous goods & services sectors.

The Retail Prices Index (RPI) annual inflation stands at 3.2 per cent in October 2012, up from 2.6 per cent in September.

That's the highest since May for the CPI, and 0.4 points higher than the consensus estimate (which was for 2.3 per cent for RPI and CPI). The fact that the main upward pressure came from tuition fees means that this rise is almost entirely due to the government's own decisions – and also that it is all-but-guaranteed to fall by an equivalent amount in a years time.

The extent of the effect of rising tuition fees is clear in this chart, which breaks down the various contributions of different spending categories on inflation:

This is a crisis of a sort: It is also important to point out that this now leaves inflation again racing ahead of wage growth, by a full percentage point (wage inflation stood at 1.7 per cent in the last estimate); and the idea of a "misery index" - compounding the effects of inflation and unemployment together to see the pain the economic climate inflicts on the typical person - indicates that this rise will wipe out recent goodwill gained from the falling unemployment rate. But it is not a macroeconomic crisis; without the government's short-sighted actions in 2010, this rise would be just 0.1 per cent, easily enough to argue that low inflation is here to stay. We'll see next month what happens to the overall trend.

Andrew Goodwin, senior economic advisor to the Ernst & Young ITEM Club, comments:

This is a very nasty surprise. We had expected inflation to pick up in October because of the rise in tuition fees and food prices, but the scale of the increase was surprisingly large. 

Further out we are still confident that inflation will slow back towards the target. And because of the causes of the October increase, it could be argued that these figures aren’t quite as bad for household finances as they may first appear. They represent a significant squeeze for those affected directly by the tuition fee increase, however the vast majority of people will not have been impacted. 

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the inflation target is a symmetrical one. The Bank of England's mandate is to bring inflation to 2 per cent, and it must write a letter to the chancellor explaining why it has failed if it is more than one point away in either direction. If inflation does stay below three per cent, then it remains not much to worry about.

Updated 9:53 and 11:29 with further analysis.

 

A student walks through St John's, Cambridge. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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A good apprenticeship is about more than box-ticking

The political apprenticeships arms race, promising ever increasing numbers of apprenticeships but with little focus on quality, is helping nobody. 

The political apprenticeships arms race, promising ever increasing numbers of apprenticeships but with little focus on quality, is helping nobody. Playing a numbers game often means the quality and the personal touch that turns a placement into a career opportunity can be lost. The government has set a target of three million new apprenticeships by 2020. In London Boris Johnson set a target for 250,000 apprentice starts, but fell short by over 100,000. Both targets miss the point; any target should focus on outcomes, not just numbers through the door.

Policy makers need to step back from the rigid frameworks and see what works on the ground.  For me this involved eating a bacon sandwich, which is arguably a risky exercise for politicians.  I was seeing how the owner of the Bermondsey Community Kitchen and Café, Mike, has transformed the space above his café into a training kitchen teaching young unemployed people the skills they need to gain qualifications to work in restaurants.

The posters on the wall spell out the choices available to the young people. They make it explicitly clear that there is an alternative to a life in prison, which some of the trainee chefs have already experienced, with pictures of celebrity chefs including Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith and Gordon Ramsay outlining how they worked their way to where they are now. None of the young people have had an easy start in life. Barriers they face include autism, lack of literacy skills, insufficient funds to pay the fare to the café and criminal records. But Mike and the team running the kitchen are determined to give them the chances every young person deserves. From City & Guilds qualifications, work placements and ensuring they have a job at the end of the process, this is the type of grass roots project that the government could learn from. With two groups of eight students over three half days, this is skills training that is about as personal as it gets. The young people are enthusiastic about the course, the practical skills they are learning and optimistic about the future.

The project is funded partly through the café, but mainly through grants and donations (including pots and pans from Raymond Blanc and funding from trusts as well as the local council). Mike has plans to expand. He wants premises with space for a nursery so young mothers who might otherwise struggle to complete a course can attend, he has a vision for two or three more similar enterprises across Southwark. I have no doubt he will achieve this but the challenge for policy makers is making it easier for people like Mike who are delivering flexible qualifications and delivering better results. Bureaucratic processes, lengthy forms and refusals would have put less determined people off. As the funding for skills is devolved, there is both an opportunity and a challenge to look at how innovative models can be supported. Unless more is done to ensure groups that might be defined as ‘hard to reach’ get opportunities, there will always be significant numbers falling through the gaps in a sometimes impersonal system.

Over 60 per cent of the apprenticeships in London focus on low level qualifications with little prospect of employment upon completion. Many skills based apprenticeships fail to match demand, the booming construction industry for example is crying out for skilled workers and with all parties agreeing new homes are a priority its surprising to learn that in London only 3 per cent of apprenticeships are in construction.

Apprenticeships need to focus on leading to work, and work that is skilled and pays enough to live on. They should be about opportunity not opportunistic employers. In a report published in October 2015, Ofsted was critical of apprenticeships saying too many of them ‘do not provide sufficient training that stretches the apprentices and improves their capabilities. Instead they frequently are being used as a means of accrediting existing low-level skills, like making coffee and cleaning floors.’

The new apprenticeship levy charged to businesses with a wage bill over a certain amount could be a useful way of enhancing opportunities but the definition of apprenticeship needs to be refined. On a recent visit to the iconic Brompton Bikes factory, the London Assembly Economy Committee was told that although the firm has to pay the new levy as a result of its size, they have a bespoke way of training their apprenticeships so they have the skills to get jobs with Brompton Bikes at the end of the process. Because this tailored training doesn’t meet the narrow government criteria they aren’t formally accredited apprenticeships and thus Brompton are unable to claim any funding back from government despite their excellent work.

I am increasingly frustrated that the most exciting and inspiring projects I visit don’t always meet the criteria for funding. We are doing something wrong if people are asked to fit something that works into a form that meets criteria rather than rewarding their successes. Instead huge amounts of public money are being put into funding low quality low skilled apprenticeships that sometimes appear to be more about avoiding the minimum wage. This is not just a waste of money; it is a waste of the lives of the young people. As the Bermondsey fishmonger we bumped in to on the way out of the café told us, sometimes what works is smashing the box, not ticking the box.