Action on problem families

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version. The moment some children are born their life chances are simply written…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Lord Pickles

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.

The moment some children are born their life chances are simply written off.

From day one their lives are defined by the problems that surround them.

Drugs. Alcohol. Crime. Mental illness. Unemployment. They grow up in chaos and their own lives are chaotic.

During the summer riots the common refrain was, where are the parents? Why aren’t they keeping their kids indoors? Why weren’t they with them in court?

The whole country got a sudden, unwelcome insight into our problem families. The ones that make misery in their communities and cause misery to themselves.

Any local politician worth his salt will already know the family members by name - along with the police, the social workers, the courts, the schools, the A&E. And they will be known and avoided in their local neighbourhoods.

There are 120,000 plus of these problem families.

And there hasn’t been a lack of interventions. A lack of money spent. Less than one per cent of the population, they cost the economy over eight billion pounds a year.

It’s a story of futility and waste. Waste of money. Waste of people.

And it has simply got to stop. We are going to stop it.

We can no longer afford the luxury of fruitless, uncoordinated investment. The damaged lives and communities.

The Prime Minister has set out an ambition of turning the lives of these families around by the end of Parliament.

I’m in charge of delivering this across Whitehall.

And someone’s got to show local leadership to deliver this on the ground. And that should be you in local government.

So don’t dither or fret. Um and ah. Don’t pass the buck. This is it.

Last week the Prime Minister announced a Troubled Families Unit in my Department led by Louise Casey.

She will be working on an action plan for what needs to be done nationally and locally to deliver this ambition. That will include cutting the bureaucracy that gets in your way.

And she’ll be supporting and talking to you. To ensure that all across the country, councils and their partners are prioritising the activities and interventions which work.

If you’re wondering is this a threat to your independence - the answer is yes, it is a threat. It is a threat if you don’t get on with things.

Think of this as a race to deliver by 2015. If you motor along then we’ll play catch up. But if we get there first - you’ll find yourselves behind the agenda.

And I’m sorry about people who tell me they’ve already got a programme that deals with this. Well, if it was all dealt with we wouldn’t be here.

One or two projects along the right lines isn’t nearly enough to solve this problem.

So be in no doubt - we are in a hurry, we mean to deliver.

You don’t need to talk about it or show empathy. I want you to get on with it.

And I know local government can get results. But understand - this isn’t either or. We are going to deliver on this.

So get moving.

Louise is starting at the end of this month.

And you need to be well on your way to getting a plan worked out by Christmas.

Don’t think even think about putting up your Christmas tree unless you’ve got that plan - not a single bauble. If Santa’s already come calling then it’s too late.

You need to know:

  • Who are your families?
  • What do they cost?
  • What are your interventions?
  • What is working?

You won’t get off a first base if you don’t know this.

You’ve got to dare to share.

That’s what they say in Salford. Where you’ve got the doctors, the dentists, the social workers, the Job Centres, the police all agreeing to share key information.

This is a massive, crucial culture change - sharing data automatically. And it’s got to be driven from the top.

And don’t moan to me that people won’t co-operate, just do it. Don’t say there are bureaucratic obstacles - we’ll remove them.

For too long everyone from the police to the social workers to health care professionals have worked in isolation.

Up to twenty local agencies are involved with the same family - costing local services up to £330,000 per family every year.

It’s expensive. It’s ineffective. Agencies overlap and pull in different directions. Families get pushed from pillar to post and feel like no one’s on their side.

It’s a bad deal all round.

In contrast one co-ordinated and integrated intervention that’s better for families - can cost around £14,000. Meaning yearly costs plummet by around £70,000 for each family.

The message here is simple: stop throwing money away and get coordinated.

And don’t just tick the boxes. It’s not about just getting in touch with a family. Engaging with them.

We need action and results - not endless restating the problems.

You don’t get answers by repeating the question enough times.

We know we’ve got a problem. We’ve analysed. We’ve seen it. Now we’ve got to do something about it.

Like getting kids back to schools, adults into employment, stopping criminal behaviour.

I’ve heard about an approach where intervention can start in the dentist’s chair when a fistfight leads to broken teeth. It’s a great dentist that cares about your family life as well as your teeth.

I’m glad to see over 70 of you have signed up to use a Community Budget approach to problem families which is all about bringing the people and the resources together. Fitting the solution around the problem instead of visa versa.

I know my colleague Baroness Hanham has done some intensive work with many of you over the summer. Looking at what barriers were getting in the way of ambitious Community Budgets.

Look online today and see their work. Including a definitive and practical data sharing guide - led by Greater Manchester partners to point you in the right direction.

This is a tough agenda - tough for me and tough for you.

But when you look at the pictures in your municipal halls of your predecessors, think - you’re going to do what they couldn’t.

They couldn’t crack this but you’re going to crack it.

I believe that you can deliver on this agenda.

And that’s because I know when you unchain local agencies from Whitehall bureaucracy - it adds up to local energy, local initiative and local innovation.

I also want to talk to you today about the next stage of the localism agenda. The next phase of Community Budgets.

This is about putting you in a position to really deliver your ideas.

It’s money and power to you.

We’ve always said in order to make localism a reality, greater legal freedom needs to go hand in hand with greater freedom over finances.

So we’re supporting the creation of four locally led pilots:

Two Community Budgets for neighbourhoods. That will be co-designed by local people. Looking at what public services from safety to health can be managed at neighbourhood level.

And two Community Budgets for a whole area. That bring together all funding for local services into one place. A single budget. That will get to the heart of what barriers stop you from controlling the purse strings.

We’ve published a Prospectus today and you might be thinking this looks as dull as dishwater.

That’s because it is as dull as dishwater.

You see we didn’t want to frighten the rest of Whitehall off. If they’d given me something more exciting I’d have had to tell them to dull it down.

But you can take it and run with it. Flesh it out, give it bones, put blood in its veins.

In fact make it the thumping heart of your community.

Because this is your opportunity to change the future of the way public services are funded.

Test your ambitions to the limit.

And the old hands in Whitehall won’t realise they’ve lost control until it’s too late.

If you need to ask how to use this then you’re not up to it - stand down and let someone else try.

But bid for this and it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever done.

And while these places forge ahead - the rest of you need to make sure you’re not left behind.

If you have ideas to organise services better - let’s hear them. If you need more freedom over budgets - make your case.

I can’t guarantee that Government will give you everything you want but I can guarantee we’ll listen.

Nothing is off the table.

Push us.

Challenge us.

Make us an offer we can’t refuse.

Published 17 October 2011