Summer Shorts : The Heat is On

Green Belt Eric 008

In the absence of His Lordship we are titling this series of brief posts as ‘Summer Shorts’!

This truncated story comes courtesy of several readers who were startled to see a picture of shy and (hopefully) retiring Wirral Council CEO Eric ‘Feeble’ Robinson on the front page of this week’s print edition of Wirral Globe .

Whilst most of our readers were startled to belatedly discover the identity of our reclusive ‘Council chief’ (no laughing at the back!) especially when the mischievous Globe dug out the infamous picture that introduced the charismatic ‘Stressed Eric’ to us all when he got the top job at Wallasey Town Hall.

However one particularly perceptive blog follower reader asked us whether this ‘exclusive’ was the death knell to Stressed Eric’s ‘Reign of Error’ as having kept a profile lower than a rattlesnake’s belly he suddenly finds himself thrust into the public gaze.

Feebly pointing the finger at ‘guvmint’ for threats to the local Green Belt because Wirral Council’s failure to meet the statutory  requirement to have a ‘Local Plan’  is somehow the fault of Whitehall mandarins (huh?) , Stressed Eric appears to be dubiously entering the political arena in which local authority CEOs are required to remain resolutely neutral.

With the increasingly unpopular ruling Labour administration currently being under fire from the Wirral public over parking charges and their retention of litter Hitlers Kingdom Security, the cowardly bullies seem to be reverting to type . Historically, when the heat is on they like to throw a CEO and sundry senior officers into the furnace. From Maddox to Wilkie to Coleman to Burgess – especially Burgess who had the temerity to try and mark his territory and stand up to leader of Wirral Council Frank Field, sorry , we mean  Cllr Phil ‘Power Boy Pip’ Davies  –  there has been a scorched earth policy where highly paid public officials are burned at the stake and the politicians rise up like a phoenix from the flames.

We are left asking ourselves how long can Stressed Eric stand the heat before he’s all burnt out?……..

Eric Gut

Living off the fat of the land : Is Eric Robinson morphing into Eric Pickles?

 

Wirral – Where Public Service Went To Die …

Human Nature

This week we were quite happy taking a sentimental journey round the septic isle until Dr Robert diagnosed us with ‘Sandie Shaw Syndrome’ . No , we’re not in the words of the barefoot singer’s Eurovision winner ‘Puppets On A String’ (we leave that to others). As fellow sufferers of the syndrome know  : “There’s Always Something There To Remind Me” and it messes with your head.

So whilst it’s vaguely concerning/amusing/appalling that other local authorities are equally inept and corrupt, let’s be reminded of Wirral Council’s rap sheet courtesy of ‘The Good Doctor’. Although as we replied to our esteemed commentator the sleaze (there is no other word) that lies behind the bare reported facts doesn’t bear thinking about!

WIRRAL COUNCIL… WHERE PUBLIC SERVICE WENT TO DIE…

It is 2011, and Wirral Council is in serious trouble. It is on the brink of Government intervention and has received a damning report1 from consultant Anna Klonowski (AKA Associates). The report paints a graphic picture of Wirral Council’s corrosive and bullying corporate culture, failures in corporate governance, and of Wirral as ‘the insular peninsula’. The Council is vividly described as an inward-looking organisation where the abnormal had become normal. The Council Leader and Chief Executive unreservedly accept the devastating assessment, and all the consultant’s findings.

In April 2012 the ‘window dressing’ started. A politically-expedient decision reportedly taken by Frank Field MP and Eric Pickles (then-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government), established a Local Government Association (LGA) Wirral Council ‘Improvement Board’. Called ‘sector-led improvement’ by the LGA, a review of Wirral Council’s corporate governance was undertaken by an ‘expert’ (peer review) panel. Its role was to identify the embedded detrimental issues and agree a corporate improvement programme.

In November 2013 the ‘Improvement Board’ produced a 63-page draft report congratulating themselves for enabling ‘the fastest turnaround2 in local government history’. Its job deemed complete, Wirral Council was unleashed from supervision.

Once unleashed, Council Leader Phil Davies guaranteed the casting vote on all Council committees. Replacing all opposition-councillor committee Chairs with ruling group councillors was in direct contravention of the Improvement Board agreement. The Council and Cabinet has had no effective political opposition since.

November 2014 saw a presentation given by Cllr Phil Davies and Graham Burgess, who appeared to have moved seamlessly3 in 2013 from Improvement Board member to Wirral Council CEO. The judging panel for this presentation, comprising primarily LGA members, judged for the first and only time, the Local Government Chronicle’s (LGC) ‘Most Improved Council in Great Britain’ award. Never awarded before, never awarded since. Without warning, Mr Burgess, described as a ‘leading light’ of the LGA, ‘retired’ from Wirral Council at the end of 2014.

It was March 2015 when Wirral residents awoke to media headlines announcing “From ‘abnormal to inspirational’ – Wirral wins ‘Most Improved Council in Great Britain’ award4.” In Wirral the question on everyone’s lips… is it April 1st?

A new Wirral CEO5, Eric Robinson, a former social worker from Staffordshire CC, was appointed in April 2015. Cllr Phil Davies stated… “Eric is the ideal appointment to take us forward towards my ambition for Wirral to become an outstanding council.”

In 2012 Wirral Council had agreed with findings that it was an ‘inward-looking organisation’ where ‘the abnormal had become accepted as normal’. In November 2015 it still was, as a very low-key peer review revealed. That was, if you could find it.

Also in November 2015, almost absolute power lay in the hands of the Council Leader when Wirral Council Cabinet agreed constitutional changes6. Coupled with the ruling group en-bloc voting7 and abstention regime, any decision could be bulldozed through. This change effectively negated any political opposition and scrutiny, Ward, community8, or resident9 representation.

Political, individual and council organisational survival were now the priorities. Residents were paid lip-service with endless ‘consultations’, as infrastructure deteriorated10, and public services reduced dramatically.

As local criticism grew, Wirral Council Leader took to ‘reputation management’. Described in the media as ‘cronyism’, in February 2016 Martin Liptrot, a self-proclaimed ‘reputation manager’, was appointed. This elicited headlines such as “Emails give extraordinary insight into Wirral Council’s controversial hiring11 of former Labour spin doctor”.

In September 2016, CEO Eric Robinson described Wirral Council’s ‘improvement journey’ as moving from “from the brink of intervention to the pinnacle12 of local government”. With his background in Children’s Services, was all well at the pinnacle of all pinnacles?

‘Most Improved’ Wirral Council’s Children’s Services were rated ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted in September 2016. Hidden away was a Serious Case Review into the grooming of teenage girls13 in Wirral Council care over a 5-year period. In a desperate attempt to deflect criticism and accountability, the oft-quoted ‘austerity-hit, cash-strapped’ Leader initially promised £2m additional funding. Then a promise of £10m. Then a promise of £20m, to ‘demonstrate Council commitment’.

With ‘Most Improved’ Wirral Council’s reputation in tatters, Martin Liptrot was then fast-tracked to ‘Investor Development Manager’ with ‘no questions asked’14, and immediately sent to Cannes to attend MIPIM, a ‘property market’, with the Council Leader, Council CEO and others.

…and it goes on…in November 2017 following the 2016 Serious Case Review, two brothers were jailed for a combined 40 years after being convicted of 27 sexual offences against girls as young as 14. The Children’s Services Improvement Board Chair, Eleanor Brazil, resigned15 citing Wirral Council’s “shoddy treatment” of Julia Hassall, the then Director of Children’s Services, and “…some significant corporate issues…”

… and on…Jim Crabtree, a (now ex-) Councillor and Chair of Audit & Risk committee was convicted in January 2017 of making death threats16 towards fellow Councillor Louise Reecejones, regarding an unidentified sum of £19,000. In March 2018 the threatened Councillor resigned to free herself from “the noose”17.

Without Local Government Commissioners’ intervention, ‘Most Improved’ Wirral Council is the graveyard of the 7 ‘Nolan Principles’18 of public life, viz.  Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty & Leadership.

In Wirral you won’t hear the ghosts of the Nolan Principles wailing and roaming the streets at night. They left long ago.

 

Weblinks 1-18

 

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/9263981.Chief_executive_and_political_leader_accept_responsibility_for_council_failures/

https://www.lgcplus.com/home/lgc-awards-2017-the-shortlist/lgc-awards-2016/lgc-awards/lgc-awards-2015/most-improved-council/5083096.article

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/chief-executive-graham-burgess-wirral-3325136

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/11851526.UPDATED__From__abnormal_to_inspirational____Wirral_wins_Most_Improved_Council_award/

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/former-social-worker-appointed-wirral-8595400

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/13944494.Sweeping_changes_will_see_Wirral_s_cabinet_councillors_given_extensive_new_powers/

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/time-for-an-intervention/

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/wirral-school-parents-fought-tooth-14516957 

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/14601265.Girtrell_Court_closure_row_reignites_with_claims_council__misrepresented__carers/

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/15179685.Who_put_the_lights_out__Call_for_urgent_action_to_repair_Wirral_s_2_200_broken_street_lamps/

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/14306240.Emails_give_extraordinary_insight_into_Wirral_Council_s_controversial_hiring_of_former_Labour_spin_doctor/

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/the-big-lie-gets-even-bigger/

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/five-years-shame-how-wirral-13045435

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/15022687.UPDATED__Wirral_Council_agrees_to_create_new___80k_management_job___with_no_questions_asked_/

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/15325055.Leaked_resignation_letter_shows_Wirral_s_child_safeguarding_improvement_board_boss_was__shocked_and_appalled__by_director_s__shoddy__treatment/ 

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/ex-councillor-sent-drunken-death-9612068

https://wirralleaks.wordpress.com/2018/03/10/lrj-an-unofficial-announcement/

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-7-principles-of-public-life/the-7-principles-of-public-life–2

 

Wirral Leaks Weekly Dispatch #6

Hey! people of Wirral – we’re supposed to be semi-retired here! But in the mean time keep ’em comin’……

CONDUCT UNBECOMING 

This is a postscript to our Intimidation and the Hypocrisies of Public Life post where earlier this week we witnessed Cllr Moira ‘Matron’ McLaughlin desperately querying whether a particular website was intimidatory. Hey , Matron – we pay for your taxis , it would appear you now want us to pay for your phone. As Her Ladyship said : ” It’ll be bad dye jobs and manicures next !” Can we just pitch in that we agree with a recent Guardian report (that’s a first for us) where ex- Tory minister Sir Eric ‘Who Ate All The Pies’ Pickles gets a deserved kicking (or this being the Guardian – a mild riposte). It was Frank Field’s mate who dismantled the external scrutiny of Councils with the abolishment of the Audit Commission and Standards For England and my goodness haven’t councillors at Wirral Council taken advantage of the fact since? For more read here : Blame Eric Pickles for councillors guzzling high on the hog

It is apparent that electors on Wirral don’t or at least don’t in any coherent way police the conduct of councillors. So we try to instead – and if that’s ‘intimidatory’ Matron we make no apologies! Just sayin’

HUBWATCH  

Maritime_Knowledge_Hub

Her Ladyship turned to me the other day and said :

What the world needs now
Is hubs, more hubs
It’s the only thing
That there’s just too little of
What the world needs now
Is hubs, more hubs
No not just for some – but for everyone

Lord, we don’t need
Another mountain
There are mountains
And hillsides enough to climb
There are oceans
And rivers enough to cross
Enough to last – ’til the end of time

What the world needs now
Is hubs, more hubs

And who was I to disagree? So in honour of Her Ladyship we are introducing a new Wirral Leaks feature – Hubwatch. This week’s hub is the ‘Maritime Knowledge Hub’ exclusively featured in Wirral Council’s favourite website Insider Media Ltd. 

The ‘Digital Staff Writer’ for this exclusive for this is one Matthew Ord. Now we’re not being rude here Matthew but your profile pic makes you look slightly deranged. We suppose that’s what happens when you have to cut and paste press statements from various interested parties into a vaguely coherent article so that it doesn’t read like complete BS for a living. Just sayin’

WIRRAL WINDFALL 

The latest contribution from regular Wirral Leaks contributor ‘The Prof ‘ may be a bit controversial but we’re a broad church and we like to encourage debate and dispute

It was good to read in the February Wirral View that according to Cllr. Phil Davies Wirral is now the centre for ‘Offshore Renewable Engineering’! Orsted’s new ‘flagship’ site for windmill maintenance is apparently the best thing since sliced bread ! Phil must have read the piece in Renewable Energy News, etc, which reported that several hundred offshore windmills supplied by Siemens, including those of Orsted, have suffered unexpected problems including severe blade erosion requiring expensive repair or replacement. That should keep Orsted’s base busy in the short term. But, as to the medium term,  did Phil not also read the Financial Times piece (23.02.18) :’Global Renewable Energy Sector Faces Enron Style Collapse’. With the end of cheap money and subsidies and the US shale gas revolution ,the ‘windmill era’ may be ending again just as it did when coal and oil arrived in the 19th century. If Phil wants economic renewal for Wirral he should forget politically correct fantasy, embrace reality and talk to Cuadrilla.                                                                        Professor D P Gregg (retired)

 

Juergen Maier is Siemens CEO and North West Business Leadership Team (NWBLT) Chairman

Emma Degg (ex Wirral Council, Wirral Leaks passim) is CEO of NWBLT

Oh and DLA Piper, Grant Thornton, Orsted and Unilever have representatives on the NWBLT board. Have you all worked out how this shit works yet?

NWBLT Members

Just sayin’

STIR IT UP
Marley's E-cigs
Now you know we don’t judge here at Wirral Leaks and we fully support local businesses and recognise you gotta do what you gotta do to make a living these days. However from time to time who question the appropriateness of some sponsorship deals . We say this as we’ve been sent these pics and comment from a local resident :
Good to see Somerville Medical Centre being sponsored by the cheapest e cig shop on Merseyside……sponsored by Marley’s where (if you zoom in on this photo) you will also see that you can buy ‘spliff boxes’, ‘bongs’, and associated drug taking paraphernalia ……. ha ha
Spliff box
Perhaps Julie Webster Head of Public Health at Wirral Council could comment on the matter and at the same time confirm she has an MSc and therefore has the authority to do so. Just sayin’
AND FINALLY 
We’ve been sent this picture and asked  ” What does this former party political leader and his partner have in common with a Wirral political power couple?”
Henry & Jo
We were stumped – perhaps Wirral Leaks readers can enlighten us………

‘Never let facts get in the way of a good story……’

AFrank-WIRRAL-LEAKS

We’ve just clocked that on the day that we reported on Birkenhead MP Frank Field’s toerag tirade against Anti-Social Behaviour All That Glitters  

that Wirral Council announced the creation (inevitably) of the The Safer Wirral Hub

So can we all now rest easily in our beds ? Facts ,conveniently omitted from the business case for Frankenfield’s monster would suggest not – and although his agent , Cllr George Davies fronts it , it is undoubtedly Field’s creation.

But as the saying goes, never let facts get in the way of a long running story about the appalling behaviour of ‘toe -rags’ . Indeed we were dismayed to discover that a letter written by one of our Wirral Leaks regulars , who we know affectionately as ‘The Prof’, was deemed to be not fit for publication in response .

Whilst we publish the response below it appears there is an alarming and increasing tendency to control the ‘narrative’ , which admittedly is a hateful word  but it seems most apt.

With the continuing publication of Wirral View  , the prospect of Wirral Council filming their own meetings and sidelining our beloved Mr Brace , councillors receiving media training  to support them with party political broadcasts to a captive audience on social media , it seems to us it is becoming more and more difficult to counter the dominant local political narrative with either facts or opinions.

 Frank Field has called for an explanation of why why the Wirral Council Antisocial Behaviour Unit has not clamped down on the ‘toe rags’ turning Birkenhead into ‘Beirut’. He seems to have forgotten that the ASBO Crusade, invented by Tony Blair, was totally discredited several years ago after the courts and senior police accepted its ineffectiveness and governments abandoned it nationally. It missed the ‘toe rags’ but targeted and punished people with mental health and disability problems ncluding attempted suicides, homeless alcoholics and autistic teenagers. Frank seems to be having several memory problems.

In 2015 he congratulated DCLG Minister Eric Pickles in the House of Commons on the fantastic success of the sanctions based, Troubled Families Programme in ‘turning around’ Frank’s antisocial ‘families from hell’. He thanked Pickles  ‘on behalf of my constituents, many of whom now have a more peaceful existence…’ thanks, allegedly to the TFP. Unfortunately the government sponsored National Evaluation of the TFP proved that it had NO impact on criminal and antisocial behaviour in the families …including in Wirral.
The Evaluation also concluded that NO money was saved on the state support costs of these families. Yet remarkably Wirral claimed that 99% of their families were ‘turned around’ successfully! In 2012 Wirral claimed the average ‘troubled family’ cost us £75K per annum. In 2016 they claimed £76K per family had been saved….all of the cost! But the government Evaluation says the TFP had NO impact and saved NO money…anywhere.
Since this project locally, cost and is costing us, several million pounds, perhaps Frank should investigate this? But what about the gang ‘smashing up’ bus stops in the North End? Well, stop calling it antisocial behaviour…it is serious criminal damage…and call the police to account. If they catch the perpetrators throw the book at them.                     

Green/Field & The Napoleon Complex

Frank_nap

We couldn’t let  yesterday’s Parliamentary debate on the stripping “Sir” Philip Green of his title for alleged “asset stripping” pass without comment.

Whilst we witnessed Birkenhead MP Frank Field plough the fertile Green fields , what you don’t see below is the question raised by the Labour MP for Hartlepool  who asked about the role played by Green’s advisors in the BHS debacle and specifically Grant Thornton ( who also just happen to be Wirral Council’s auditors) .

Of course Frankenfield moved swiftly on – not wanting to deflect from the pantomime villainry being played out in Parliament and pursuing the frankly lame Napoleon figure comparisons. We couldn’t help commentating that it takes one to know one .

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0801xbl/thursday-in-parliament-20102016

Now I think we can all agree that “Sir” Philip Green is bad to the bone – the ugly face (and boy do we mean ugly) of capitalism. But beyond the political grandstanding is he any worse than the hypocrites in the Houses of Parliament all too ready to denounce his decadent ways?

Let’s remember , as far as we know, Green has not broken any laws . Can Frankenfield say the same ?- as far as we’re concerned he’s definitely aided and abetted one.

And let’s also remember who makes the laws  – yes that’s right MPs !. So what if  Green played fast and loose with the Companies Act – who’s fault is that?

It is well to remember that we live in a complex world and that traditional notions of good and evil no longer apply . It is your solemn duty to always, ALWAYS challenge the perceived notion of who are the good guys just as ‘The Professor ‘ reminds us in a postscript to his erudite report which we published earlier this week:

The official National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme
, suppressed for over a year, has just been published after threats from the House of Commons  Public Accounts Committee. The current claim locally and nationally is that over 90% of ‘families from hell’ had been ‘turned around’ from lives of crime, addiction and worklessness. But the evaluation concludes that :
‘There were no impacts identified for housing, employment and job-seeking, 
anti-social behaviour and crime, school behaviour and attendance, health, 
drug or alcohol abuse, family dynamics or well-being.’
Neither was there any reduction in family benefits claimed… no money was 
saved. Yet Coalition and current government claims are that 99% of evil families
were successfully ‘turned around’ and £1.2 billion pounds was ‘saved’. In March 
2015 the minister responsible, Eric Pickles, bragged about this TFP ‘triumph’ and 
several MPs rose to congratulate him…and to remind him that sanctions based 
Family Intervention was a New Labour invention. Guess who joined in? Yes, that 
hounder of the undeserving poor, Frank Field. He said
‘On behalf of my constituents, many of whom now have a more peaceful existence, 
may I also, through him, thank the front line workers who have brought about 
these changes? …[Locally] there were other scallywags who could not be bothered 
to feed their children.’
                                                           Hansard, March 10th 2015 , column 163
Recall that a majority of these families living in poverty had serious mental and physical 
illnesses and disabilities but only ~6% of adults had ASB reports before project entry. 
Only 1.2% of children had ABCs. More to the point perhaps, the official report found 
no evidence for reductions in the already low incidence of crime or ASB or 
truanting  yet Frank says ‘many’ of his constituents now have ‘a more  peaceful 
existence’. Clearly Frank is hallucinating yet again. Perhaps Frank is ‘troubled’ and 
needs help? If he had a family we could sign him up to the TFP phase 2 which locally 
will cost us several million pounds …but the official evidence says it would do him, 
or any others among the local ‘troubled’, absolutely no good at all. 
  
                                                                                        The Professor

 

The Hunger Games 3 : Still Blaming the Victims

 

1a-frank-hg

Following the current vogue for movie franchises Wirral Leaks proudly presents The Professor’s third instalment of The Hunger Games saga starring Frank Field. The series of hunger reports associated with  Field  including ‘Britain’s not so hidden hunger’ published in May 2016 are considered in the context of Field’s written work and his most recent (and frequent) media pronouncements.
‘The liberation from the Victorian approach – or so it is interpreted – came when the poverty debate began laying the blame for poverty on society and its institutions instead of the poor themselves’

Frank Field, Neighbours from Hell

Nearly two years has passed since Frank Field’s ‘Feeding Britain’ report appeared in a storm of media controversy. In addition to rightly condemning this government’s rabid policies towards the ‘deserving‘ poor, Frank’s team decided that the ‘undeserving’ poor, who could not budget and cook properly, who wasted their benefits on non-essentials, only
had themselves to blame for their hunger. These feckless, ungrateful people should be sent to the State Troubled Families Gulags for ‘reprogramming’. As Frank’s co-author, the posh Tory, Lady Jenkin, famously said: If they can’t cook, let them eat porridge. A bowl only costs 4p.

The issue of these ‘undeserving’ poor people was framed not as one of intellectual and social inadequacy but as a matter of personal irresponsibility and lack of moral sensibility. Frank has long had a clear and fixed view of the coping differences between the deserving and undeserving poor in the underclass

‘How can these different circumstances be explained if personal character and its view of responsibility are written out of the script?’ – Frank Field, Neighbours from Hell

Nothing has changed two years later. Frank’s second hunger report, ‘A Route Map to ending hunger as we know it in the UK’, was launched at the end of 2015 and the 3rd , interim report, ‘Britain’s not so hidden hunger’, in May 2016…and somewhat more circumspectly than the first report. The 2nd report is based on submissions from a sample of the 420 UK food banks which are now active according to the Trussel Trust. The sample evidence involved narrative observations from 115 food banks. This is a sample of 27%. Seven of the submissions were said to be anonymous. The second report still rightly sees a major factor in hunger creation as rabid government welfare policies and their deliberatively destructive implementation. However we will see that sadly, underlying attitudes to the ‘feckless’ poor in the report have not changed. Turning to page 79 of the ‘evidence’ we read that

‘A sizeable majority (is it 20, 30, 40%?) of submissions attributed the onset of, and constant vulnerability to hunger in some families to their inability to cook and budget from week to week. ‘

Several food banks are quoted. Liverpool’s HOPE+ centre allegedly said

‘while it might not be a popular observation… many people do not spend their limited budget wisely in respect of food…this is due to a lack of basic budgeting skills and an inability or unwillingness to cook.

Frank concludes that therefore, school curricula must include compulsory ‘home economics and life skills courses’. A good thing surely? Well, yes but we must be careful when Frank becomes prescribing in the area of social policy. Things may get out of hand. Consider his views on the wider state control of UK society in his book, Neighbours From Hell:

‘Moral and civic duties provide the very foundations upon which civilised life is built and are a proper area for legislative prescription and if necessary sanctions’

Moral duties? Who is to decide on these …why Frank, of course. We must therefore be careful where Frank’s nostrums are involved. Other food bank correspondents took less condemning stances on the hungry. Financial Action and Advice, Derbyshire said

‘Many people have poor budgeting skills and prioritise wrongly…some have poor literacy and numeracy and don’t understand contracts…’

The issue here is primarily one of low IQ and poor education, not moral turpitude.

On page 80 the report turns, in earnest, to the theme of waste and the irresponsible use of resources by the poor. We are told that

‘The financial benefit of being able to use one’s resources more efficiently could make a huge difference to household budgets. The average cost to all households of the food and drink they throw away each week is £9 or 14% of the average weekly shopping budget.’

Presumably we are invited to assume, without evidence, that these figures apply equally to the poorest in the UK and without any caveats. It’s hard to throw away food from an empty fridge…or preserve food when you have no electricity to run it. It is interesting that the average shopping budget implied above is £64 while job seekers allowance and employment and support allowance (in the WRA Group) for the sick and disabled, is just £69 per week. (By the way the author knows from his professional career with a large multi-national that food processing and transport losses in the supply chain are often in excess of 25%. Perhaps the well off, throw away, middle class and the food companies should be condemned rather than the, desperate, hungry poor?)

Having set up the poor as ‘wasters’ we now move on to allegedly wilful misuse of benefits. We learn according to Frank, that

‘Even if wages and benefits were high enough to provide a subsistence minimum, we fear some of our citizens still would fall below our national minimum because of the havoc wreaked on their budgets by addictions to drink, smoking and gambling.’

This is based on two condemning reports from (unidentified) food banks. One allegedly said

‘…we are anxious that by giving them food we are freeing up money for some of them to fund other habits. Most of them smoke, many of them have drug or alcohol dependency…
We are trying to cap the level of benefit which entitles clients to come to us.’

The second allegedly said

‘Fags are ever present among poor people. They [fags] hoover money out of the pocket
…the addictive and damaging aspect of smoking is awful. It is a major factor in taking money for food and spending it on addiction…’

Of course government has the power to ban addictive and health damaging products as it does with illegal drugs. But then think of the outcry if popular ‘drugs’ were banned outright …and the loss of tax revenue. No, it is easier to further raise unit costs and impose more tax, which penalises the poorest ‘addicts’ and has no effect on the middling classes, while appearing virtuous. The poor should not be smoking and drinking anyway should they?
Addiction is a ‘lifestyle choice’…but only if you are poor.

It is interesting that in comments on other ‘hunger creating factors’ in the report, the food banks are always identified…but not in this case. In other areas of concern several food banks are typically quoted. In this case only two. Is this because dependency and misuse of benefits is not a major issue and few correspondents reported it as such? Well apparently only 2 out of 115 submissions, or 1.7% of submissions, took this strong
stance. Why are these 2 not identified? Were they by coincidence, 2 of the 7 anonymous submissions received in total? Should we give equal weight to opinions which are anonymous? In other research fields, data of unknown provenance would be deleted.

In fact under the earlier ‘debt’ section of the report, the County Durham food bank takes
a directly opposite view on this matter.

‘Our debt advice service is increasingly seeing people who are simply on low incomes rather than those who have been unwise in how they spend their money. Single parents, working but on low incomes, are being seen especially [frequently].’

This view is not referenced in the ‘addictions’ and ‘benefit wasting’ section although it is clearly relevant to the issue at hand and its origin is clearly identified.

Although ‘dependency’ and ‘addiction’ are recognised medical conditions we see no discussion of accessing serious medical treatment, but we see again a concern for the risk of creating a ‘moral hazard’, implied in supplying food to the hungry. It is the same apparent ‘hazard’ which persuades many to not give money to beggars…they will only waste it.
This was an argument frequently used by Iain Duncan Smith, DWP minister, to justify cutting benefits. As the report says, we should do all we can to combat smoking and other addictions. We must not however ‘punish’ desperate people in the mean time …which clearly a small minority of food banks is ready to do…with the implicit endorsement of Frank’s report. But then Frank has long established views on ‘dependency’ and lack of moral fibre as his earlier utterances show. And as he said in the Wirral Globe on 22.05.15

‘The Victorians [or rather the evangelical Christians] were not wrong when they called alcohol the demon drink’

Of course many food banks are run by Christian church groups. Perhaps the two pro-Frank food bank quotes (out of 115 ) share his views and are able to apply them to the unfortunate hungry who come to their doors? Surely Frank and his moralising friends should be campaigning to ban the ‘demon drink’ in general …beginning by closing down the House of Commons bar and imposing sobriety checks on MPs entering the chamber.
Surely MP and peer ‘allowances’ should be reduced in case they are misspent on booze and cigars…and much worse. And what about the alcohol, tobacco and legal high infested middle class, not to mention the coke snorting metropolitan elite? Well, Frank et al, lack the levers to compel moral compliance in such groups.

The fact is the ‘hungry poor’ is the last minority where ideological governments intent on rolling back the Welfare State can justify rabid cuts by labelling powerless citizens as ‘scroungers’, ‘benefit cheats’ and addicted, moral degenerates, unworthy of support. It is doubly sad when ‘charity’ groups, supposedly opposing government benefits policy and ‘supporting’ the hungry poor, use the same moralising arguments to try to impose their views on how the poor should behave. Persuasion or rational argument and education is one thing but using hunger as a weapon for (supposedly) moral and social reform is quite another. Is this perhaps an overly harsh view of some in the ‘charity’ sector? If we examine other attitudes and recommendations in Frank’s report we will see that it is not.

Chapter 4 is about ‘rescuing Britain’s wasted food’. Frank tells us

‘Earlier in this report we outlined a series of uncomfortable findings around some families lacking skills that were once passed from one generation to the next; namely how to be good parents and be able to cook decent meals on a limited budget…the absence of these skills can impact badly upon one’s self worth.’

Hang on there…where did the issue of ‘being good parents’ sneak into the debate on
poverty and hunger? Well Frank has long had feckless, inadequate parents in his sights. That is why in the first Feeding Britain report he tried to get hungry, mentally impaired parents sent to the abusive, ineffective, Troubled Families Projects. As he has said many times

‘As an ever increasing number of families becomes dysfunctional an ever increasing supply of socially offensive individuals results’- Neighbours From Hell

Frank would like to see Citizens’ Contracts imposed by the state which would enforce his views on ‘moral and civic duties’ and behaviour …at least on the dependent poorest. Citizen ‘duties’ would be linked to ‘benefit entitlement’. As he said in NFH

‘New boundaries need to be drawn…Benefits provide such a boundary as between them they provide universal coverage for those most likely to commit antisocial behaviour [the undeserving poor]’

Frank, who has attacked the Conservative government for cutting benefits to the poor, is ready, for those who fail to abide by his model of society, to…well…cut their benefits!
Not only this, but the imposing of sanctions should be seen as a criminal justice matter!

‘The agency deciding what action should follow a repeated failure to meet a [citizen’s] contract should be the police and only the police. Once the police have the required evidence to levy a sanction…[it] should automatically come into operation on the appropriate benefit.’

The hungry poor appear to be trapped between a rock and a hard place. On the one side
a rabid government: on the other, some in the ‘charity sector’ with a moral utopian agenda. The only difference between Frank and this Conservative government on benefit sanctions is the reason for them, although in both cases those reasons are ideological as we have seen. So how will Frank use the issue of food waste to promote his utopian aims? He will use so-called Social Supermarkets along the lines of the Community Shop model. In the report he recommends, grandly that

‘A next phase in Britain’s fight back against hunger must encourage the growth and evolution of social supermarkets. Here we have an accessible source of affordable food that also comes with so much more in the way of practical and emotional support…’

The Community Shop website itself says

‘CS is a social enterprise that is empowering individuals and building strong communities by realising the social potential of surplus food’

That is some claim. The idea is to buy ‘surplus’ food from manufacturers at ‘ten pence in the pound’ and sell it at ‘thirty pence in the pound’ to a defined subset of the poor. The CS chairman has told the media

‘CS is tackling the problem of food surplus while giving it a real social purpose. Not only do we offer high quality, low cost food to people experiencing tough times, but we provide them with the chance to take up support services…because they are [then] motivated to do better.’

Surely this time Frank is correct to enthusiastically support such a positive model? The author looked more closely at the scheme some time ago. Their jolly website once listed the wide range of means tested benefits which enables ‘those on the cusp of poverty’
to access the Community Shops. The author was surprised to note that sick and disabled people on long term employment and support allowance were excluded…yet these are amongst the most disadvantaged benefit recipients in the country. Well it turns out that CS is only for those on in work benefits and the unemployed and the ‘real social purpose’ is ‘training to get them back into work’ and ‘motivated to do better’.

So these Community Shops actually, do not support the most vulnerable in the Community, nor those in a state of urgent need. No doubt the social supermarket model is worthy but it seems peripheral to the problem of immediate, urgent hunger in families. Why is Frank so keen on it then? We will see.

Surely helping the unemployed is still a good thing? Well according to The Independent there is a catch: to get the ‘cheap’ food the applicants must sign up to a compulsory development and mentoring programme called the ‘Success Plan’…nothing is left to ‘chance’ despite the chairman’s claim. This appears to be rather like many state schemes available through Job Centre Plus. So why the ‘charity sector’ duplication? Well ASDA,
the Co-op, M&S, Morrisons, Tesco, etc, who supply the food get good public relations coverage …doing their bit for the poor. What does the company get? We do not know …perhaps just a warm glow? Well in 2014 the Community Shop won the ‘Community Partner’ award of the powerful Food & Drink Federation whose members had supplied the surplus food. Warm glows all round. CS won the award in competition with famous social activists and philanthropists like General Mills, Mars Foods and Siemens. Anyway, at least the potentially hungry CS members ‘are motivated to do better’ …or they don’t get any food. Certainly Frank can’t get enough of this scheme. We might suspect it takes Frank back to those heady Victorian days when the feckless poor could be turned around in their lazy, immoral ways in return for bread or workhouse shelter. After all there is a moral imperative here as benefits ‘rot the soul’, according to Frank in 2012. As he also said about means tested benefits

‘As we now have a welfare state based on meeting need, this encourages individuals, not unreasonably, to try to ensure they qualify under this guise. It therefore pays to lie about one’s earnings, to cheat, or to be [economically] inactive. The worst side of human nature is encouraged…’ – Neighbours From Hell

‘It’s our fault as politicians to have put temptation in front of people. If the system pays people more on incapacity benefit [than job seekers allowance], it’s human nature to claim the higher amount. We have to remove the incentive’ – Guardian, 2006.

What this means is taking £30 per week off genuinely disabled and chronically sick people
rather than increasing incapacity and ESA applicant screening efficiency. Frank has forgotten that the welfare state was founded precisely to support people in need and ‘for as long as the need lasts’ according to Lord Beveridge himself. As the author suggested earlier, Frank and his like minded friends, appear to be ideologically as concerned with avoiding ‘moral hazard’ and ‘soul rot’ as feeding the urgently hungry. At the very least the above statement makes very clear what Frank really thinks about the poor he says he is championing. Is that so different from the views of rabid Tories like Eric Pickles, then Communities minister, who commanded a ‘less understanding approach’ be applied

‘ We have sometimes run away from categorising, stigmatising, laying blame…It’s time to wake up to that…to realise the state is no longer willing to subsidize a life of complete non-fulfilment on just about every level.’

In March 2015 Eric declared the supposed triumph of his Troubled Families Projects in
‘turning around’ the dysfunctional, feckless, lazy, cheating families we have discussed.
Somehow getting somebody back into work in 8.9% of the 75% of families who began the projects with all adults unemployed, and marginally reducing truancy, defined this triumph. In Frank’s home territory on Wirral just 2.6% got jobs. Even these modest results were exaggerations since Eric’s own department tells us that

‘It is likely some of the improvements in outcomes would have happened in the absence of [project] intervention’

It should be noted that the council survey data used by Eric to make his claims are not recognised as official government statistics and have not been audited by any independent body. Eric’s claims were defined by the director of the National Institute for Economic & Social Research as
‘Completely meaningless’

Some MPs expressed doubts on the veracity of the success claims in the House of Commons, including Hilary Benn MP. However Frank still rose to congratulate Eric, whose approach to dysfunctional families was clearly as policy nectar to Frank, and put in his two pence worth, based on his expert observations of the dysfunctional poor

‘There were other scallywags who could not be bothered to feed their children.’

Sounds familiar? Meanwhile in Eric’s TF projects, 33% of the families had adults with long term, debilitating, physical illnesses or disabilities and 45% had adults and 33% had children with serious mental health problems. 39% had children with special educational needs statements and 28% had children in special schools. 97% were in social housing. 27% were in rent arrears. They were very poorest. Now that’s feckless for you. Only 3% had members receiving treatment for drug or alcohol dependency. 93% of the adults had no involvement in crime and anti-social behaviour. We do not know how many families had to resort to food banks.

There is much that is worthy in the second Feeding Britain report and particularly in the dissection of the roll out of Tory government ‘welfare reforms’ in creating hunger in the UK.
Recommendations for reform of government welfare reforms are well targeted. The simple innovation of having a (hopefully independent) benefit adviser sit in the food banks to try
to resolve benefit problems is excellent : the so-called Food Bank Plus model, although
the echo of ‘Job Centre Plus’ is disturbing and mission creep should be watched carefully.

There are some recommendations, possibly, equally well meant but unlikely to be practical. The idea of budgetary advisers in JC+ encouraging desperate claimants, already in dire straits, living from hand to mouth, that they really should save for a rainy day is quaint, to be polite. It is a reasonable strategic aim but out of place in an emergency context. It very much reflects Frank’s root conviction that the feckless poor simply need reprogramming to behave more responsibly and so escape poverty. Frank’s concept of downplaying ‘relative poverty based on median income’ as the key indicator of UK poverty and substituting social or ‘life chances’ indicators has been very popular with Tories who
want to take the heat off the benefits and poverty debate. Concentrating on ‘life chances’
might correctly highlight the need for social (unlikely under Tory austerity) investment in several areas but it also turns the spotlight onto the supposedly feckless behaviour of the poor themselves. If that ploy was successful the way to a new Frankensteinian Utopia is opened!

Some of the analyses and recommendations we have examined need to be looked at very carefully and if implemented, monitored very closely. At least the ideological basis of this government’s actions is crystal clear: the reduction or elimination of the welfare state. The ideological basis of some of Frank’s proposals is not overt and should be spelled out. If one wants to try to build a new, Moral Jerusalem on the backs of the poor and hungry do so openly so that the community may debate it. But then Lady ‘Porridge’ Jenkin raised a storm of protest at the first Feeding Britain report launch when she crudely blamed the ’feckless’ poor for their own hunger. Let us hope the media and the British public will remain on the side of unconditional compassion for these vulnerable, hungry families, and particularly for their children who are indisputably innocent, and equally, be vigilant in future about damaging policy innovations by the state and by self-styled ‘do-gooders’ with an agenda.

I completely support Archbishop Welby’s key question in his introduction to the second UK hunger report

‘How can we take part in a wider debate about the nature of our society?’

We have to give Frank credit for consistency of purpose and sheer, brass balled cheek.
In May 2016 the interim Feeding Britain report, ‘Britain’s not so hidden hunger’ came out…
fairly quietly. But locally Frank could not resist using it in the press to push his socio-religious-political agenda. Under the title ‘Hunger stalking primary schools’ Frank ascribed the problem as resulting from

‘a breakdown in parenting and a rise in the number of families on low incomes.’

Given the priority position of the ‘poor parenting’ claim I expected to find significant new evidence in the report. However the only mention of poor parenting is in Frank’s report forward. The evidence and conclusion sections focus exclusively on the impact of low incomes i.e. on poverty. Yet Frank mentions irresponsible parents

‘spending too much on drink or drugs’

as one reason for hungry children, but then immediately says

‘we do not know [if this is so]’

Having then described his assumed model of parental neglect, based on what he calls ‘impressions’, he continues

’We have too few facts to give any numbers.’

This is a continuation of the evidential style of Frank et al, in the first and second hunger reports, where as we noted earlier, Lady Jenkin blamed malnutrition on poor parents not knowing how to cook. After all, as she said

‘A bowl of porridge only costs 4p.’

But what do you do if you have no money for the gas or electricity? Jenkin was blaming the victims and two years later so is Frank Field.

The Professor

July 2016
P.S. Frank is always ready to attack minority groups who lack the intellect and resources to
defend themselves. But sometimes enthusiasm carries him away and he forgets that
some people, such as traduced retail billionaires, will sue him to hell when falsely
called a ‘thief’ in the media. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the BHS scandal there
are many who will watch with interest as Saint Frank either climbs down or is ripped
apart in court for his loose talk and inaccurate claims.

Troubled Minds

Frank and Cameron 2

Wirral’s ‘Troubled’ Families Project

‘As an ever increasing number of families become dysfunctional

an ever increasing supply of socially offensive individuals results’

Frank Field MP -‘Neighbours From Hell’

‘They [the troubled families] are the source of a large proportion of the problems

in society. Drug addiction. Alcohol abuse. Crime. A culture of disruption

and irresponsibility that cascades through the generations…a small number

of these families cost an extraordinary amount of money’’

David Cameron MP Oldbury Speech; 2011

This is the story of how central governments and compliant local authorities like Wirral, have wasted vast sums of tax payer money in failing to ‘re-programme’ poor, vulnerable families in the underclass via ineffective, sanctions led, interventions. There is a very long history in this country of the middle class political establishment defining the poorest elements of the underclass as ‘folk devils’: costly nuisances, threats to social and ‘moral’ stability and even as an existential threat to racial purity and survival.

‘Some [of the underclass families] are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment. The balance of our population, our human stock, is threatened’ Sir Keith Joseph intellectual godfather of Thatcherism; 1974

In the early 20th century such thinking led to an active eugenics movement in western democracies justifying the sterilisation or confinement of social misfits including unmarried mothers, the disabled, beggars, homosexuals, addicts, prostitutes and problem children. Herr Hitler, learning from the eugenic engineers of the democracies, spun the unacceptable cost of the disabled German ‘useless mouths’ and with the help of doctors and the local authorities, quietly began to murder disabled children and adults. By 1942 all were gone. The SS Aktion Gruppe T4, who had developed the necessary murder technology, then went on to new triumphs at Belsen and Auschwitz.

Of course today we would not countenance such horrors…would we? Yet the underclass is still projected as a major threat …’crime, drug and alcohol addiction’…’a culture of disruption’…’socially offensive individuals’…’scroungers’…’benefit cheats’…’ASBO yobs’…’families from hell’: familiar descriptors in the propaganda of the last four governments.

By denigrating ‘troubled families’, the last and current governments have eliminated any sympathy for these people, justifying harsh, sanctions based, interventions against them and general reductions in unemployment, sickness, working tax credit, and child tax credit benefits. Now, in summer 2015, we find that the Conservatives will limit child related benefits to two children. Are we seeing here the rebirth of eugenics motivated social policies? After all, why should we fund their ‘lifestyle choices’? Our very own Frank Field has proposed combating poverty by sending poor,’ irresponsible’ parents who can’t budget, who supposedly spend money on non-essentials and so fail to feed their children, to the Troubled Families Projects for re-programming.  In fact we will see that the families targeted for ‘The Troubled Families Programme’ have ‘lifestyles’ which heavily feature long standing physical and mental illnesses, genuine inability to work and children with learning disabilities. These are families in hell, not families from hell. Very few are criminal; very few are drug or alcohol addicted, despite the false claims of Cameron. We will also see how the public has been shamefully hoodwinked by equally false claims of project success in ‘turning families around’ and saving money. We will use data obtained from the official Dept. for Communities & Local Government website and Freedom of Information Act requests to Wirral Council and the government.

Nationally 120,000 families were targeted, supposedly for being lazy, criminal drug addicts but actually for having multiple forms of deprivation. In Wirral 910 were targeted. In the TFP local authorities like Wirral were paid a bounty of £3,200 for each family signed up. Additional bounties were paid by results. That is for

* an adult who gains continuous work for 6 months                                        £800

* a family meeting the ‘crime/ anti-social behaviour/ education’ target            £700

So what did the Wirral project achieve? Overall locally, 910 families were ‘reprogrammed’.

In March 2015 a conference at the New Brighton Floral Pavilion ‘celebrated’ the ‘remarkable success’ in ‘turning around’ the lives of these families. Cllr. Tony Smith, Cabinet Member for Children & Family Services, said (in www. wirral.gov.uk/news/17-03-2015)

We have seen a hugely successful outcome thanks to close partnership working between public sector bodies and Wirral families’

The close working partnership included ‘assertive, non-negotiable interventions’ and ‘tough sanctions’ for non-cooperation. The government has repeatedly stressed the role of sanctions e.g.

‘Sanctions are key. The threat of sanctions and the use of sanctions provide both a way of curbing bad behaviour and also a lever for persuading people to co-operate fully

…families need an intensive, persistent and if necessary coercive approach’

This approach was applied to the many families with mental health problems and learning disabled children as we will see. The council claimed that

‘67% of participants re-engaged with or stayed in employment, education or training in 2013/14…’

Er?…clearly those who stayed in work, or education, or training  may have done so without project interventions. In fact at entry 74% of households were workless. The key question is: how many families got somebody back into work over the duration of the project? The answer is 2.6%. Of course these people may have got jobs anyway without the project. It would have been useful to know what % got a job in the year before project entry, would it not? However no such data is collected in the TF projects. Neither are there any control groups of similar families run in parallel with the projects which would have provided a solid baseline. Strictly speaking, as the DfC&LG admits in the appendices of it’s reports, out of sight of the media, claimed family changes cannot objectively be attributed to the project interventions. Even if we accept the 2.6% change in employment this leaves 71.4% of households workless. Can this truthfully be described as ‘hugely successful’?  Surely our Council is either shamefully careless and numerically incompetent in its reporting or deliberately lying to tax payers? Surely either explanation is unacceptable?

The Council claim is that family turn around in the ‘crime / anti-social behaviour / education’ arena was also a great success. We are told of a

‘95% reduction of ASB across all families engaged with the service’

In fact, for the Wirral, the DfC&LG database tells us that 77.2% of the families had met the ‘crime/ASB/education’ improvement target …not quite 95% but still an apparently impressive result. However there is a slight problem. My FoIA request to Wirral Council yielded additional data. It turns out that at project entry 93.5% of adults had no reports of ASB; 89.6% of children had no reports of ASB; 87% of minors had no proven offences; only 1.2% of the children had an ASBO or Acceptable Behaviour Contract. By the way local authorities were not obliged to record the frequency and severity of supposed ASB. The pattern is similar across the country. This is surely a long way from government spin that all our families are criminal and anti-social.

So how can we explain the claim that 95% or 77.2% of families had met the ‘crime / ASB/ education’ target?  If most had no ASB or crime to start with the ‘turn around’ must be in educational issues. We find that 13% of children had three or more temporary exclusions from school at entry. 42% of children had 15% or more unauthorised absences in three school terms. It appears that our Wirral project reduced truancy…a useful result surely? However looking at the official success criteria we discover that a ‘turned around’ child could be regularly absent for 1 day in 7 and still be claimed as a success ! A child could have fixed exclusions at 66% of his entry rate and still be claimed as a success ! By the way the work and crime cluster claims were based on a period of only six months. Cllr. Smith transformed this into ‘effects’ lasting into ‘future generations’. I suggest these are rather low success thresholds for claiming Smith’s ‘hugely successful outcome’ on behalf of the Council.

Perhaps more importantly, by reporting ‘success’ for the ‘crime / ASB / education’ aggregated cluster, a deliberately false impression is given to the public of high initial levels of crime and ASB in the families then successfully reduced by the projects. In fact what has been achieved is a modest, partial reduction in truancy. There is rather a big difference between adult crime and truancy.  Coupled with the mere 2.6% claimed fall in unemployment the TF project results for Wirral are ‘remarkable’ only for the way the tax payer has been misled by the Council and nationally by the government. The Council also proudly records the praise of Louise Casey, the Troubled Families Tsar, who told them it was

‘a fantastic performance’ from a ‘tremendous team’

Given the actual results in Wirral this is an astonishing conclusion, but then Casey has a long history of fantastical outbursts, recommending ministers to come into work ‘pissed’ and threatening to ‘deck’ anybody at No. 10 if they mention ‘evidence based policy one more time’. (This was at a Home Office / ACPO formal dinner in 2006 when she was Blair’s Respect Tsar, as reported by what she calls the ‘friggin Guardian’; see below).

Let’s look at costs. Cameron claimed that the 120,000 troubled families nationally cost the state a horrific £9 billion per annum. The promise was made that the TF Programme would eliminate these costs. So how much was saved? Supposedly by March 2015 117,910 families had been processed. 8.9% allegedly met the employment criterion (compared with 2.6% in Wirral). 80.6% met the ‘crime / ASB / education’ criterion (compared with 77% in Wirral). The average family allegedly cost a computed £26,000 per annum to support at project entry based on benefits, social service costs and criminal justice system costs. Conveniently this was also the total benefits cap set by the Coalition government. The DfC&LG claims that £11,200 per annum per family was saved by the projects giving a total of £1.18 billion per annum. However these are not delivered savings but hypothetical estimates based on complex assumptions about sustained changes in family behaviour into the future. Remember the ‘changes’ had only been monitored for six months while the families were under close supervision. Many years of evidence on previous family intervention projects suggests a rapid decay when support is removed. Also please note that local authority data on ‘success’ was not audited by any outside body and the project data are not recognised as official government statistics. The reader may find all this highly suspicious but I could not possibly comment!

You will recall that Cameron claimed that £9 billion, not the highly doubtful £1.2 billion, would be saved. This was noticed in some places. On March 10th 2015 Eric Pickles, Communities Minster, reported to the House of Commons on the TFP ‘triumph’. He was challenged by Hilary Benn MP about the claims. He replied

‘ The Rt. Hon. Gentleman made a number of points on how we can demonstrate success and square the £1.2 billion [savings] with the £9 billion [we promised]…this is notoriously difficult territory because governments of all types are absolutely terrible at measuring outcomes’

And I suggest, normally good at deliberately stacking the deck to maximise the appearance of policy outcome success. Even so £1.2 billion is a long way from £9 billion …even with fiddled data. This time the state was tripped up by its own spin and lies. Look at the data released again. The average saving per family was £11,200 compared with a £26,000 starting cost. This means that the remaining cost per family is 26,000 – 11,200 = £14,800 per annum. This is 56.9% of the starting cost. But 89.5% of families were ‘turned around’. Does this mean that the 10.5% of unreformed families now carry 56.9% of the starting costs? In fact it tells us that the ‘turn around’ criteria’ are not strongly linked to the actual costs generated by the families. Remember that only 8.9% of families got a member back into work. We can also show that success on the ‘crime / ASB / education’ criterion has little effect on costs. For example, nationally only 10% of adults had a proven offence. In Wirral only 6.5% of adults had an ASB report.

So where do the costs that lead to the £26,000 per annum troubled family total come from? We know that the average troubled family has 1.7 adults and 2.5 children. DfC&LG survey data tells us that the children had high levels of disability and illnesses. 39% had a statement of special educational needs; 33% had a mental health problem; 19% had a long standing physical illness; 46% of families had one or more adults with a mental health problem; 33% of adults had a long standing illness; 83% of families received out of work benefits; 97% were in social housing or temporary accommodation. These are very poor, very sick families. If we consult the various state benefit websites we can enter the average demographics and health profiles for our families and calculate the benefit and service costs they would attract. Depending on assumptions we get a range of £21,000 to £29,000 per annum. This compares with the claimed average cost of £26,000 per troubled family. My calculation did not include an estimate of criminal justice system costs for the 10% of adults who had at some time offended. The match is still good.

The bulk of our families are costly because they are unemployed, with chronically, physically and mentally ill adults, and larger than average numbers of children, many of whom are learning disabled and ill. If the families cannot work and many children are disabled it is difficult to see how a significant reduction in the average £26,000 cost could be achieved other than by stopping unemployment and the additional benefits currently associated with those disabled children. Threats, sanctions and parenting classes delivered by the Troubled Families Projects cannot affect these costs in any significant way. The TFPs are simply a cynical fraud on the public. However, the harsh denigration of the families opens the way to justifying drastic cuts in current benefits as we are beginning to see. Even so the government’s £9 billion savings target is a fantasy figure…unless sterilisation, euthanasia and other eugenic measures are indeed back on the table for a significant section of the underclass. This Conservative government’s aim now is to re-programme a further 400,000 troubled families.

Let’s go back to Cameron’s spin and compare it with what we have learned.

‘They [the troubled families] are the source of a large proportion of the problems in society. Drug addiction. Alcohol abuse. Crime. A culture of disruption and irresponsibility that cascades through the generations. A small number of these families cost an extraordinary amount of money.’

Surely any state action against such people is justified? Yes, they cost a lot, but they are long term unemployed with remarkably high levels of chronic physical and mental illness and learning disability in the children, as the official data show. But aren’t they are also criminals with irresponsible life styles? The DfC&LG national evaluation of the families tells us that only 3% of adults in the families had been treated for non-prescription drug dependency; only 3% had been treated for alcohol dependency; 90% of adults had not offended; 93.5% of adults had no ASB; 89.6% of children had no ASB; the under 18 conception rate was only 2%.  We shrug off political rhetoric and spin these days …politicians lie, that’s all…but in this case that lying rhetoric has lethal consequences for vulnerable, poor families across the country.

One more time, let’s say again that the Troubled Families Programme has not worked and cannot work. In fact let’s listen to Louise Casey, Cameron’s Troubled Families Tsar, who was also Blair’s ASBO and Respect Tsar and who ran the state family intervention apparatus for many years and still does

‘As hard as it is to accept, the truth is despite our best efforts over many years – and I include myself in that – we just haven’t got it right. We haven’t succeeded in getting these families to change or in stopping the transmission of problems from generation to generation – we just haven’t’

Casey came clean privately at the Reform right wing think tank on 12.06.14. So there you have it from the horse’s mouth. In public her stance on these vulnerable, sick, helpless families was

We should be talking about things like shame and guilt …we have lost the ability to be judgmental because we worry about being seen as nasty to poor people’

Her boss, Eric Pickles, was of a like mind

‘We have sometimes run away from categorising, stigmatising, laying blame. We need a less understanding approach’

Since Pickles had over a decade of evidence at his disposal and commissioned the national survey of troubled families characteristics he was well aware of their true nature. Pickles and Casey deserve the highest level of contempt from anyone who believes government is obliged to tell the truth to citizens; anyone with an ounce of compassion.

So what did this latest farce cost us nationally and locally? The central government TFP cost was £462 million to date with local authorities spending an additional £153 million.

The pro-rated cost for a project of Wirral’s scale with 910 families would be £4.75 million. Was a modest reduction in truancy and getting less than 24 adults back into work for 6 months,that is at £198,000 per job, good value for money? Cllr. Smith remember, calls all this ‘a hugely successful outcome’. By the way Smith et al were only celebrating ‘phase 1’ at the Floral Pavilion. Nationally ‘phase 2’ will re-programme a further 400,000 families at a cost of £800 million to £1.6 billion. If Wirral processes the same share of families as in phase 1 it will cost the local tax payer a minimum of £6.2 million up to £12.3 million. Do you really want to spend this money on a discredited, abusive, politically motivated, voodoo social engineering project?

Wirral Council cannot use the Nuremberg defence: I was only following orders. Phase 1 of the TFP was voluntary. Like many councils Wirral was seduced by the easy money of a £3,200 bounty for just signing up a family. Phase 2 pays only £1,000 up front and appears to be compulsory. The administrative load in data gathering and reporting will be much higher, costing us more locally. Wirral chose to dance with the Devil and now the tax payers here will pay for the second, grander dance.

At the same time the National Children’s Bureau, using the Freedom of Information Act, has discovered that funding for ‘early intervention’ on children needing help, has fallen from £3.18 billion in 2010/11 to £1.44 billion in 2014/15, a fall of 54.8%. Many scientifically valid studies (unlike the invalid TFP evaluations), including the Allen Reviews, have demonstrated the cost effectiveness of real clinical / educational interventions. For example the Centre for Mental Health in February 2015 found that school based treatment aimed at ‘conduct disorders’ (yes, the mentally disordered kids from our families excluded from school) cost ~£108 per child but later returned nearly £3,000 per child ‘turned around’. Tackling aggressive adolescents returned less than £27,700 per child for a treatment cost of £1,260. There is also much evidence that simple changes in nutrition can have massive positive effects on child behaviour. But with current family benefit cuts and sanctions this government is moving in exactly the wrong direction to improve child behaviour and learning. Let us hope that the local food banks can blunt some of the inevitable child malnutrition. There is also growing evidence that damaging epigenetic factors related to childhood deprivation can indeed ‘cascade through the generations’.

If multi-generational deprivation, not ‘irresponsibility’, has cursed our families’ genes then Cameron’s demonising comments become even more offensive and misguided.

This has been a short summary of the current position. If the reader wants to know more about the history of failed intervention in ASB, dysfunctional, chaotic, troubled families and the evidence for how we can help these families through professional medical interventions, remedial education and improved nutrition, please see

‘Troubled Families: State Lies, Demonisation and Voodoo Social Engineering’, David P Gregg; Green Man Books 2015; ISBN 978 – 1514170588.

If you wish to learn more about New Labour thinking on dysfunctional families, which started eighteen years of abuse, the hysterical role of Frank Field MP in that thinking,and the rational counter-arguments against it, please see

‘Politicians From Hell’, David P Gregg; Green Man Books 2015; ISBN 978 – 1507610275.

See also ‘Uncle Frank’s Hunger Games’ on Wirral Leaks.

The Devil Reads Pravda

LEAKYPRAVDA
Now Wirral Leaks and Eric Pickles are not natural bedfellows but we have a degree of sympathy for his directive about the prevention of the publication of what he calls “Town Hall Pravdas” – that is Councils printing nothing more than propaganda sheets funded with public money.

Now if this wasn’t Wirral Council we’d say “well what’s wrong with telling local people what’s going on ?” – but this IS Wirral Council and we believe openness and transparency will never be the motivation behind such a publication. This is the place where secrecy is the modus operandi and which has been further demonstrated this week with the forced publication of yet another secret report,

SEE HERE

The recently constituted Birkenhead Constituency Committee is proposing such a publication under the guise of “improving communication” and was included in last night’s meeting (27th March).

SEE HERE

Based on a highly dubious ” consultation ” it was claimed the publication will be the perfect vehicle for delivering the “unbiased political reporting” which apparently is so desired by the people of Birkenhead – well according to their “survey” of 250 people out of a population of 60,000 anyway! After all we can’t have those award winning pesky local newspapers and ‘disgraceful’ blogs exposing WBC’s darkest secrets. We need balance, we need happy clappy POSTIVE news. And as a good spin doctor will tell you everyday is a good day to bury bad news . Distract the bovine herd with rainbows, lollipops and the sort of inspirational stories that make Upworthy’s news model read like “The Bell Jar”. But never, EVER let them get at the truth.

SEE HERE

But don’t worry the proposed publication complies with their famous ABCD principles:
“The long term development of a community led news hub would involve community connectors to ensure the publication remains community developed and focused”.
WTF?..I don’t know about foreign language translators but we do wish Wirral Council would provide translators for bollocks such as this.

Meanwhile we at Wirral Leaks, being a much valued vehicle for disseminating Council business, have received an exclusive press release announcing the arrival of this exciting new development in the publishing world:

PRESS RELEASE :

“Birkenhead is Super-Fab” publication

Editor: The Ministry of Spin

Coming soon ! – A new super-fab magazine were we discuss how SUPER-FAB Birkenhead is….and how it’s super-fabness is all down to Frank ,Pip and the gang.
Why read those those poisonous and insulting blogs when we have the real super-fabness that’s going on in YOUR AREA ? – Our crack team of arselickers ( geddit?) will be reporting on dog crap and potholes and the environmental threat of empty crisp packets .We bring you the stuff that WE SAY matters to YOU!!!

There’ll be absolutely super-fabulous fashion spreads featuring what TOP Council executives have in their wardrobes – so you can expect plenty of pictures of customised football shirts, mayoral bling and of course Australian fashion boots typically made of twin-faced sheepskin with fleece on the inside, a tanned outer surface and a synthetic sole. 

There will also be exclusive pictures of our future first citizen and his consort opening foodbanks with FUN captions like : ” Leave those dented tins from the back of the cupboard Foulksey they’re for the poor folks NOT poor Foulkes – you cheeky scamp !!!”

There will be pictures from that golf tournament thingy with Foulksey being Wirral’s ambassador of FUN! Imagine perhaps Mr Blobby on Ketamine -with his delightful informal cheeky chappy persona he will not be making a holy show of us AT ALL!!

But there’ll be no pictures of Foulksey’s “high jinks” at Tranmere Rovers hospitality suite. NO that’s just NOT super-fab. Not super-fab AT ALL!  Because we’re all about super-fabness here as we believe that “Birkenhead is Super -Fab” ….and soon YOU WILL TOO! We don’t want bad news bears with sore heads in our petting zoo !!! – No! We want kittens and puppies and butterflies and meerkats – Super-fab FUN animals that don’t rip your fucking head off or disembowel you or other such unpleasantness.

WE believe in the words of Improvement Board member and Local Government Association official “Visionizer” Haysi Fantayzee and his SUPER-FAB affirmation : “SHINY,SHINY bad times behind me….” – so get your copy of “Birkenhead is Super Fab” NOW!

Only £48,000 from your nearest gutter !

Here is the planned presentation from the postponed Committee meeting at Birkenhead Town Hall.