It is perhaps a measure of the disconnect between those responsible for the development of the Troubled Families Programme (TFP) and the daily lives of the families it purports to help, that the government expected local authorities to ‘turn around’ 100% of their allocated ‘troubled families’ within the timescale laid down by the Prime Minister at the start of the programme. Failure to do so, local authorities were told, with a year remaining of Phase 1 of the programme, would result in them not ‘being eligible’ for the expanded Phase 2 of the programme.
None of the official DCLG documents relating to either Phase 1 or Phase 2 of the TFP mention anything about the need for local authorities to meet the targets set out for them by government. Another way of putting it is that there is nothing that has been made public about the government ‘encouraging’ local authorities to achieve 100% ‘turn around’ figures.
In August 2014, nearly three years after the launch of the programme and just 9 months before the end of Phase 1, local authorities were informed, via a letter from Louise Casey, that, in order to be eligible for the national roll out of the TFP, the Troubled Families Team (TFT) in DCLG ‘will need sufficient assurance that areas are likely to hit their existing commitments to turn around all of their current allocation of troubled families by May 2015′ (original emphasis). She went on to write that the this target was not achieved ‘then we do hope that there will be an opportunity for you to join the expanded programme at a later point but, at this stage, I am unable to reassure you that this will be the case’.
Then, in November 2014, Joe Tuke, the Director of the TFT wrote again to local authority Chief Execs and told them:
‘I’m writing to you, however, to urge that you maintain your support for this work because I remain worried that your council may not meet the levels of performance required in the current Troubled Families programme that will allow it to participate in the expanded Troubled Families programme when it is rolled out nationally from April 2015′ (my emphasis).
Tuke then goes on to lay any blame for the alleged poor or unsatisfactory performance at the door of the local officers by stating ‘I’m sure you’ll be aware of the considerable efforts we’ve made to support your team’s efforts on this programme, as we have done with all other areas, both individually and alongside other areas’.
So, shortly before the end of Phase 1 of the TFP, local authorities were told they wouldn’t be eligible to take part in Phase 2 of the TFP if they didn’t ‘play ball’ and make the PM look great. None of this was included in official guidance documents, either at the start of the TFP in 2011 or at any time since. It took an FOI request to obtain the information. The DCLG response to my request can be found here, in full.
The Guardian today reported that around 8000 of the 117,000 ‘turned around’ families never received any kind of intervention from the TFP. They somehow managed to turn themselves around and found their way into the stats for the TFP through data matching exercises carried out by local authorities. This practice involves local authorities scouring historical data to find families that might once, within the last 12 months have met the criteria for being a ‘troubled family’ and checking their current ‘data’ to see if they still met the criteria. If they don’t, if something has changed within the family which means, in the government’s eyes at least, that they are no longer ‘troubled’, the local authority can claim ‘success’ for them. This practice is fairly widespread with at least 40 local authorities admitting that some of their families were ‘turned around’ in this way. It should also be noted that the design of the Payment by Results (PbR) process for the TFP allows this practice. Local authorities were not doing anything the guidance for the programme said they shouldn’t. My guess is that the government knew about this practice. I was made aware of it in April 2014 and have heard it mentioned many times since. DCLG have also introduced measures to prevent this practice occurring in Phase 2. But they probably turned a blind eye to it in Phase 1 because it helped them to achieve the targets and timescale set out by the PM. Does anyone still believe the near perfect success story of the TFP?