Troubled families plan gets cautious welcome

NEW DRIVE ... Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
NEW DRIVE ... Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

A NEW drive to tackle so-called ‘troubled’ families has received a cautious welcome from a senior South Tyneside Council leader.

Latest figures show there are an estimated 3,970 families with complex needs in Northumberland and Tyne and Wear – including 450 in the borough.

Now £450m has been made available in a cross-government drive to turn around the lives of 120,000 of some of the country’s most troubled families.

It comes as new figures show that such families cost the taxpayer an estimated £9bn a year, the equivalent to £75,000 a family.

This is spent on protecting the children in these families and responding to the crime and anti-social behaviour they perpetrate.

Now a new Troubled Families Team, based within the Department for Communities and Local Government, has been established to provide expert help to local areas.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles yesterday announced the Government will offer up to 40 per cent of the cost of dealing with these families to local authorities – but on a ‘payment-by-results’ basis when they and their partners achieve success.

The main aims are to get children back into school, reduce criminal and anti-social behaviour, put parents on the road back to work and reduce the costs.

The programme will also fund ‘troubleshooters’ appointed by councils. Today, Labour’s Coun Jim Foreman, the lead member for children, young people and families for South Tyneside Council, welcomed the announcement in general terms.

But he said its success would depend on how effectively the cash was spent.

He added: “Labour introduced the council-run Family Intervention Programme, which had multi-agency input involving the police, fire service and other public service bodies.

“Through that, there was a person, a bit like a social worker, who looked after the family and guided them through what they were doing wrong.

“It had an element of success, and this would have continued if the funding had not been pulled. This new drive could be just be another name for that.

“Every government, when it comes into power, recognises that a way of saving money is to tackle troubled or complex families in a multi-agency way. If it is done properly, savings can be re-invested in other services.”

Coun Foreman questioned the statistic of 450 ‘troubled’ families in the borough, adding: “It depends what is meant by troubled families. Is it because of problems with the law or because of problems with drugs and alcohol? It’s a hugely complex area.”

He said: “I’d welcome any financial input into tackling complex families, but it will depend on where the cash is going to go.

“I see the Government’s reference to ‘payment by results’. Does that mean we must show our results first before we receive cash?”