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Families progress stymied by semantics

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Councils will see a final definition of ‘troubled families’ only weeks before the new financial year starts, leaving minimal time to plan for the new programme.

A letter sent to top-tier councils, by Nick Burkitt, a deputy director at the Department for Communities & Local Government and seen by LGC, said: “We are working hard with colleagues in government to finalise a definition of families and the success measures against which payments from central government will be released, bearing in mind the need for simplicity and to use existing measures and administrative systems.

“This will need ministerial approval before we can give you detailed guidance, which we hope to do in the next few weeks,” the letter added.

Louise Casey

Troubled Families Team director-general Louise Casey, left, gave councils figures in December on how many such families - from the 120,000 total - resided in their area.

Ms Casey also inidicated the equivalent entitlement out of the available £448m.

However, those figures were extrapolated from a now-discontinued 2007 survey and the department is seeking a new definition of troubled families.

One source close to the programme said: “Louise Casey wrote to councils saying ‘you have X troubled families’ but if they have still not defined what a troubled family is, how do they know how many there are?

“It is six weeks until the new financial year. There is no doubt some Whitehall tension delaying this.”

A DCLG spokesman said: “As the letter states, we hope to finalise a definition in the next few weeks that focuses on employment; children in school; reducing crime and antisocial behaviour; and reducing costs to public services; and that will enable work to begin in the coming financial year.”

Mr Burkitt’s letter also said there would be “light touch” monitoring of councils’ performance.

The source said: “A payment-by-results system is in itself a performance management system, so it should mean they do not want to build a large new monitoring system.”

Paul Raynes, head of programmes at the LGA, said: “Louise Casey has said her work would be based on efforts councils are already making and this latest update confirms they should press ahead rather than wait for instructions from on high.”

The letter urged councils to quickly appoint troubled families co-ordinators, for which half the money has been earmarked.

Some are understood to be coming from corporate teams rather than social services.

Mr Burkitt said: “It is vital they are sufficiently senior to grip local delivery and radically boost the pace and scale of work to turn around the lives of the local families.”

He added that it “would be unwise” for councils to divert this funding into operational posts.

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