The £1.3bn Troubled Families initiative was the government response to the 2011 riots.
But Newsnight claimed a critical report on the project was suppressed, although this is denied. A leaked copy concluded the programme had ‘no discernible’ effect on unemployment, truancy or criminality but the government countered that the final report had yet to be completed.
Each local authority was given a target number of families to identify and recruit for the scheme – getting a payment of £3,200 for each household they signed up. There was no intention to identify families involved in rioting.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) said in July 2015 that 100% of the 525 targeted families across the borough had been turned around between April 2012 and March 2015. But CWaC now admits it had to cast its net wider to support more than 525 families to ensure the government target was achieved.
The 100% turn-around rate meant all children within an identified family had been back in school for a year when they were previously truant or were excluded, or youth crime and anti-social behaviour has been ‘significantly cut’ across the whole family or an adult in the home had moved off benefits and into work for three consecutive months or more.
Cllr Nicole Meardon, cabinet member for children and families, said at the time: “I am delighted with the results. This is due to the hard work of our staff across our Integrated Early Support partnership.”
A further 123 families were later identified when the Troubled Families programme was expanded.
But Newsnight alleged success criteria were very vague. Families could be deemed ‘turned around’ even while the children were still persistently truant or committing crime, as long as they did so less frequently. And councils received a further payment of £800 when the family met certain criteria that meant they were deemed turned around.
So local authorities had strong incentives to declare successes and lots of councils claimed to have had 100% success rates. Nationally, 98.9% of the 118,000 families in the scheme were deemed ‘turned around’.
In a statement to The Chronicle following the Newsnight show, Cllr Meardon explained how the 100% success rate was achieved.
She said: “In Cheshire West and Chester, the programme turned around 100 percent of the government-set target of 525 families between April 2012 and March 2015, having identified more families than this figure to ensure the target was met.
“All Troubled Families in West Cheshire receive a holistic package of bespoke support from our Integrated Early Support Service to help them to improve their lives and all results from the programme are internally audited and externally verified by the Department for Communities and Local Government.”