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Westminster urges troubled families changes

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An influential Tory authority has called for a rethink in the way the government funds its troubled families programme.

Westminster City Council wants ministers to adapt their payment-by-results model so councils get paid when they fulfill local as well as centrally set criteria.

Authorities could get paid when schemes improve individuals’ mental health or reduces domestic violence, for example, it says. Under the government programme, councils are paied when they see improvements in three areas: unemployment, low school attendance and crime and anti-social behaviour.

Nickie Aiken (Con), cabinet member for children and young people at Westminster City Council, told LGC she backed the changes, but thought they would require an extra tier in the payment model.

“Every council would ask the troubled families unit [at the Department for Communities & Local Government] to pay them based on their own local factors”, she said. “The local authorities would set their own success criteria and it would be audited by DCLG.”

Under the troubled families scheme, launched by Prime Minister David Cameron last year, councils are paid to work with families that face multiple problems including unemployment, low school attendance and crime and anti-social behaviour.

Local authorities receive payments for making improvements in these three areas of a family’s life. The payment-by-results part of the funding makes up 20% of the funding in the first year of the scheme, rising to 40% then 60% in the second and third years.

However, Cllr Aiken said councils needed more funding to address other problems. “If you try to help families by finding them work or getting them back into school but you don’t address the underlying issues, you’re just putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound”, she said.

“We are finding that dealing with the underlying problems that troubled families face is placing more and more of a strain on the council as we face budget cuts”.  

Westminster City Council is an influential council because the design of the national troubled families scheme was based in part on a family recovery programme that the authority piloted in 2008. However, Cllr Aiken said the government had not given any signals that it was likely to introduce her proposed changes.

Asked whether it was considering the proposals, a DCLG spokesman declined to comment.

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