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DWP was 'too mechanistic', says minister

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Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has said his department took “too much of a mechanistic approach” to a £200m European Social Fund programme to support troubled families.

Mr Duncan Smith made the comments after being criticised for not involving councils more closely in the scheme, under which private and voluntary sector providers offer employment support to families with multiple problems. It runs alongside a £448m troubled families programme that local authorities control.

Merle Davies, head of community and early intervention at Blackpool Council, told Mr Duncan Smith at a conference in London this week:  “The biggest silo we face is the Department for Work and Pensions and the biggest waste of money is the European Social Fund programme.” She said councils should be more closely involved with the programme because it could overlap with their own support for troubled families.

In response, Mr Duncan Smith said: “I’m not going to defend the DWP in this. My sense is that there has been too much of a mechanistic approach from the department.”

Louise Casey, head of the £448m troubled families programme that will be run by councils, said at the event: “There are clearly problems with the ESF money, but it is £200m that is coming into this country with the tag of troubled families on it. Let’s not walk away from it. That would be mad, and it would be unfair to the families.”

Also at the event, Mr Duncan Smith said he was in talks with the Treasury about ways to fund local public services with “social bonds from the private sector.”

He said this approach would involve “bringing the money that’s been made elsewhere back into the most deprived communities.”

“I’m talking to the Treasury about it at the moment,” he said. “In due course, this will allow councils to identify their real problems then create a vehicle of investment. I think this is a big change that will free up local authorities to make some long-term investments.”

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