Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)

TUESDAY 25 MARCH 2003

MR BOB AINSWORTH MP AND MS LOUISE CASEY

  20. Presumably some of those who are already specialist foster carers will be the ones you would want to recruit to this new scheme.
  (Ms Casey) Absolutely.

  21. What is the training and cost implications?
  (Ms Casey) It costs around £2,000 a week to foster somebody in this situation. I do know that the Department of Health are doing this very, very carefully, want to make sure that it is done properly and will be very thorough about it.

Chairman

  22. Two thousand pounds a week?
  (Ms Casey) Yes.

  23. How is that spent?
  (Ms Casey) It is a phenomenally intensive programme. It is probably running the whole four pilots and that is the total average.
  (Mr Ainsworth) It is for infrastructure and backup as well as the individual foster.

  24. Two thousand pounds per week per head with 26 cases?
  (Ms Casey) I have to say that that is still cheaper than local authority secure units and it is still cheaper than probably other places that you could think of. If we get this right, I know it seems like a lot of money but I could look the taxpayer or a donor for a charity in the eye and say, "If this works, it will be worth it." Think of the investment you are making in the longer term if you keep them out of all those institutions, you get them into jobs and you let them get on with their lives. We have to cut the cycle between people growing up in awful circumstances and going out and doing awful things and we have to try some things.
  (Mr Ainsworth) If the root of the behaviour is in the home, then what alternatives do we have? We either leave those people in that home environment, put them into some kind of secure accommodation or we try alternatives like this. In those cases where the root of the behaviour is clearly in the home, why not seek these kind of fostering measures? We are talking about the hardest end of the job here. We are not talking about the kind of job that many foster parents are able to undertake on a regular basis. People will have to be capable of taking on the duties that they are taking on with these kind of individuals about whom we are talking.

Mrs Dean

  25. I think we can understand the value of it, it just seems difficult to understand how the £2,000 is put together.
  (Mr Ainsworth) Shall we provide you with some details afterwards as to how we see the costs panning out on this?

  Mrs Dean: Yes, that would be useful.

Miss Widdecombe

  26. Are you able to tell us now what part of that is the fee to the foster parents?
  (Mr Ainsworth) No, I am sorry.

  Chairman: We will come to that later. Mrs Dean has the floor.

Mrs Dean

  27. How will pupils who truant benefit from their parents being fined or imprisoned?
  (Mr Ainsworth) I do not think we can accept a situation continuing where parents effectively condone—and some do—ongoing truancy. There is a very high incidence of people who are found in the community with their parents who are absent from school without permission. That is something that has grown up and it has to be turned back. Where does the responsibility lie? It does not lie with the child, it lies with the parent, and the parent has to accept the responsibility. There is a duty on the parent to send the child to school when there is not good reason for the child not being at school. There are facilities for schools to allow people time off appropriately, but people just take time off without any consultation and without any notice, sometimes alarmingly often with their parents' consent and approval.

  28. Is it not likely that it will further alienate parents from schools?
  (Ms Casey) Again, if you look at what we are trying to do here, the first start is to try and find out why this is happening. So, throughout the White Paper, what we are talking about is parenting contracts, trying to talk to parents about what is going on, trying to offer them support if they need it and getting them to enlist into a contract. We are promoting those very, very strongly at every single stage because the idea of saying, "Yes, I will sign up to getting my kid into school . . .". I have met a parent only recently who said that being on a parenting contract made her be able to say to her son, "Listen, I have signed up for this. You are going to get there tomorrow morning. There are no excuses." That is the first start and, at every single level, we are going to try and promote the idea that actually it is better that they just get their kids to school because school is important and, if they do not get to school, they are not going to get on in life. It is very straightforward stuff. They sign up to a contract and move towards parenting orders if that does not happen. Again, it is the line and we think we need to take a stand. Eighty per cent of truants discovered on the street in truancy sweeps all over the country are discovered with adults. So, we know that some of this is happening because actually their mothers are lonely or their parents are lonely or feckless, one or the other, and they end up wandering about during the day and we cannot let that happen. I know it is unpalatable to some people. There was publicity surrounding a particular case of a woman and her kids going on national TV—I could not believe it—and saying, "If I had not been imprisoned, then I would never have got the message." Actually, in that particular parenting class, they were all talking about that. As somebody who works in the public sector, I do not like that those things have to happen in that way, but if the message gets out that we will take action against people who do not get their kids to school, then I think that tightens things up because tightening things up is what we have to do with this thrust on anti-social behaviour in order that it is understood that there will be consequences for people in society who break the rules and people need to know what those consequences are. So, we will put the support in place and we will put the contracts in place. We are encouraging those all over the place. There are already almost 4,000 parenting orders that other officials and other ministers and other lives are responsible for that are working very, very well. The Youth Justice Board thinks that parenting classes are the best thing that ever happened. Most of the people who go on these parenting classes say, "I wish you had asked us to do it before. If you had not forced us to do this, we would never have done it." The success rate is phenomenal. It is fine but we need to draw the line and if there are a few FPNs or a few more serious things happen, then we will have to live with that because we need to get the message out that this is not going to happen anymore.
  (Mr Ainsworth) And where are we now with truancy? The only deterrent at the end of the day involves tying up the courts' time. The availability of fixed penalties may well bring about effective enforcement in this area and a lot more preparedness to become involved in enforcement than there has been to date.

  29. Are teachers going to be willing to take on the responsibility?
  (Mr Ainsworth) We have consulted with people regarding these powers. There is a desire to have easily accessible ability to enforce measures like school attendance and we are not going to get to that situation if people are talking about having to take a case to court. There is not going to be as early intervention as there is going to be if we make fixed penalty notices available and such measures as that. So, I would have thought it would be an aid to people doing their job rather than a deterrent for them doing it.

  30. You mentioned earlier about youth services and the need to provide extra facilities for young people. How much new money is going to be made available for a programme of summer activities and also for the evenings during term time?
  (Mr Ainsworth) There are a number of programmes available and I think Louise gave the Committee a figure on the amounts of new money that have gone into programmes over the last couple of years. What we need to ensure is that those programmes are engaging people effectively and engaging the people who are potentially a problem in our community as well. They are sometimes not as well targeted as they ought to be.

  31. Do you have any details of the breakdown of those figures?
  (Ms Casey) From April this year, over £25 million is going into what is now being called positive activities for young people, which is actually trying to bring together—it is one of the joined-up bits—the Department of Education and Skills money, the Home Office money and the Youth Justice Board money. All the different pots that were available to people to undertake youth and summer activities are being brought together into one single pot to make it easier for local authorities and community groups to apply for that money. This is called positive activities for young people and, after April, it will be over £25 million. In 2003-04, £513 million has gone into youth services and into local authorities. So, they are quite significant funds in my view.

  32. In terms of looking at sanctions for the most serious cases of youth offenders, in the relatively rare cases where parents refuse to take any responsibility for the behaviour of their children under the age of 16, is it not likely that the family environment is severely dysfunctional?
  (Mr Ainsworth) Yes, of course it is. What do you want me to say other than to agree with you?

  33. You have answered the question. If so, is punitive action not likely to make the relationship even worse?
  (Mr Ainsworth) If the punitive action is put in place alongside support, then I do not accept that that is so. The alternative is to just allow those situations to continue. What we have to make sure of is that we are not only seeking to punish people but that there are effective measures to help them get over the problems that have developed over a period of time. If they flatly refuse to engage with any of those, then, yes, there has to be a punitive side. I would suggest that there have often been the support mechanisms there and available but the kind of families at the most severe end about whom we are talking are just not prepared to engage and they are not prepared to pick up the services that are there and available for them. So, we need both. We need the support mechanisms to be available, but then we need powers to oblige people to become involved with them. If, at the end of the day, they are not prepared to do so under any circumstances, then action needs to be taken rather than just to allow a situation to continue.

Bob Russell

  34. Minister, I understand that the existing powers for dealing with excessive noise give local authorities the power to issue a fixed penalty notice of £100. I wonder whether, although that obviously will be warmly welcomed, local authorities will be given the resources and financial support to undertake that additional work because one assumes that there will have to be officers available in the evenings and in the early hours of the day?
  (Mr Ainsworth) We have been talking to local authorities about these powers and they are powers that local authorities want in themselves. Obviously they would like moneys to go with them and we are still considering with DEFRA what moneys are attached to these powers, but the powers in themselves will make a local authority's job more effective and make local authorities able to respond to the needs of their community.

  35. Who will get the fine money?
  (Mr Ainsworth) The fine money is for . . .?

  36. The fixed penalty of £100 for late night noise? Who will actually get the money when the fines are imposed?
  (Mr Ainsworth) This is a matter that is still under discussion at the moment.

  37. Would you not agree with me that unless local authorities are given the financial resources to implement this, this will be nothing more than just a headline-grabbing statement and that there will not be anything there of substance?
  (Mr Ainsworth) I do not accept that. There are local authorities who want effective powers to be able to apply their priorities in dealing with their communities. Local authorities are local government; they are not local administration. They can apply their resources where they see fit within certain statutory requirements that there are upon them to meet local needs. So, they want the powers themselves but, yes, we would like to see incentivisation of the use of these powers by local authorities and others and that is an issue that we are discussing with the Government.

  38. I sincerely hope that there will be additional financial resources because otherwise I do not think that many local authorities would be able to go down that path other than by cutting something else.
  (Ms Casey) At the moment, 80% of local authorities already provide out-of-hours noise nuisance services of one kind or another. Obviously we would like to close that gap but 80% is not bad. The streamlining of what we are doing in the White Paper will make it quite clear that there is a 10 minute warning and, if you do not do it, then a fixed penalty notice will be issued. Discussion is taking place as to who will keep the money from those fixed penalty notices. Obviously DEFRA and ourselves are keen that local authorities retain that money or at least some of it, but the main thing is to have a clear process that is simple, effective and straightforward and certainly some of the environmental officers who do this think this is probably no bad idea.
  (Mr Ainsworth) Local authorities can only use the powers that we have given at the moment where they are providing a round-the-clock service. That was put in place in order to try and encourage them to do that, but it is not appropriate for every local authority the length and breadth of the country to provide such a service. In the White Paper, what we are doing is giving them the powers even where they do not believe that it is appropriate to provide such a service. So, potentially we are saving money for local authorities in that area. There is no requirement on them to provide that round-the-clock service and yet have access to the kind of powers to shut down places that are emitting noise.

  39. I appreciate the answers and certainly the measures will be welcomed but it is the implementation that we will have to watch and see how it happens. If I may now move on to fireworks. What is the problem with the current regulatory regime dealing with fireworks?
  (Mr Ainsworth) I do not know what your postbag has been like over the last few months from 5 November going right through to Christmas, but there is a deep dissatisfaction with the level of regulation that is in place with regard to fireworks. We have given a commitment to support the measures that are in the Private Member's Bill at the moment and I hope that they will bring about tighter regulation. We believe that they are justified and we believe that they will be widely welcomed.


 
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