Good in theory

JUST over a year ago David Cameron announced that the Government was going to turn around the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families in the country by 2015.

It is a very laudable policy especially when you consider that up to 50,000 of these families include vulnerable children, many with behavioural problems or special educational needs.

The majority of these families have some of the most complex needs and worst prospects in society and it has been estimated that many of these families can cost the public purse more than £300,000 per year due to the large number of different agencies that work with and support them.

As with most of this Government’s new policies, however, the idea is a good one but the substance behind the policy and the plan to deliver it is flawed and a disaster waiting to happen.

The Government has identified that Hartlepool has 328 of these families and has said we need to get at least 80 per cent of the “customers” on to a specific, “back to work” programme for a minimum of six months and at least 25 per cent of customers into full time employment.

This is all great in principle but the killer blow comes in that the Government will only pay by results.

In other words, the council won’t see a penny until someone has voluntarily completed at least 95 hours over a minimum period of six months on a personalised programme or has been in work for six months.

What makes this even less likely to work is that the council is not the main contractor to deliver this programme.

An extremely complicated arrangement has meant that the council is a sub-contractor to deliver only 50 per cent of the overall contract for Hartlepool.

The Shaw Trust will deliver the other half of the contract.

Herein lies another problem.

Both the council and the Shaw Trust will undoubtedly be going after the same clients and the same organisations to supply the jobs.

This looks like a recipe for trouble from the beginning and I’ve yet to see how potential conflicts will be overcome.

The aim of this Government initiative is to get people who are unskilled, uneducated, unmotivated and a general drain on the public purse into work.

The problem is that the Government is not offering any financial incentive at all to businesses to take on extra people, particularly those to whom this scheme is targeted.

I cannot see many businesses at all being able to afford to give up the time and resource to support someone on the programme unless they are getting funded for it.

From a council point of view, somehow we will have to find the funding and the capacity to be able to deliver this programme despite the facts that there are huge cuts to our economic development department as part of this year’s budget proposals.

With absolutely no guarantee of any funding at the end of it, the risks seem to far outweigh the benefits in financial terms.

That said, it is Hobson’s choice as to whether we sign up or not as there is no other chance of Government funding to tackle worklessness.

We would be cutting our nose off to spite our face if we turned it down and leave ourselves wide open to criticism from the Government particularly when we are one of the areas most in need of interventions like this.

It is inevitable that we will have to sign up to the Government’s programme and, as with everything that comes out nationally, we will make sure it works for Hartlepool.

The aims behind the policy are good ones but I fear the whole process is fraught with risk and danger and I’m certain there are better ways of getting the outcomes the Government are seeking and they could start by paying us the cash up front.