The Troubled Families Programme headed up by Louise Casey was established by the Government to coordinate services for families whose lives seem very chaotic and who require interventions from a range of different statutory organisations (eg Social Services, Housing, Health and often also the Police). Rather unhelpfully but perhaps inevitably the Government presented their approach in a way that suggested that the ‘fault’ was that of the families themselves, and this activity is seen as a way of reducing the financial burden that these families place on the state. In practice it would be much better if this was seen as an attempt to deal with seperate local services working in complex situations. Many of these agencies are expected to respond to nationally set priorities, each created by different Whitehall Departments that do not themselves appear capable of working together. This leads to local services working to often conflicting agendas and can impose unintentional barriers to joined up activity. Inevitably there can also be local organisational sources of incoherence which simply adds to the challenge. The Trouble Families Programme creates an opportunity for the local agencies to set a more cohesive strategy and reduce duplication of effort. Ideally lessons learnt will help reshape the way we deliver all services in a given community.
If the Troubled Families Programme is an attempt to join up services in local areas I believe that the Government needs to apply the same principle to its own activities and give someone a brief for joining up Whitehall Departments. Perhaps they need a Troubled Government Czar to remove incompetence from Whitehall and the Government itself. Several examples have emerged over the last days that could fill the workplan for the Czar for starters and these are all based on issues that are the domain of individual departments only.
The first is the Work Programme and the Poundland Ruling involving Cait Reilly who not unreasonably could not see the benefit of her two-week voluntary work for Poundland. The ruling against the Government has been based on the failure to follow process by the Government in setting up the Work Programme itself. This simply adds to the anger by those who are already opposed to the scheme and will make it much more difficult for those trying to implement this rather questionable policy.
Then we have an update on the failure by Eric Pickles and his team at CLG to legally dismantle all 8 of the Regional Spatial Strategies including the South East Plan which I personally worked on. He announced their demise within minutes of entering his CLG eyrie but to date (nearly 3 years later) he has only wound 2 up. At this rate 4 or 5 will still be in force when the next Government arrives to overturn his strategies. In the meantime Local Government has followed his edict and are working as though this previous planning guidance was not actually legally binding.
Finally there is the debacle within Department for Education in trying to set up the new EBC replacement for the GCSEs which led to the awarding of contracts two months ago for something Michael Gove has just announced he was simply consulting on, and will not now go ahead. Much worse is the confusion for employers, students and parents who are being asked to focus on exams that two weeks ago were deemed worthless!
I fully applaud encouragement for joined up local services and here in Sussex have detected no resistance to such an approach. However we need Governments and Whitehall Departments that focus on their own activities and collaborations with at least as much effort as they have asked Louise Casey to apply to local situations.