An award-winning company that has received more than £1m in public money has been taken over by Blackpool Council and Lancashire Police after getting into financial trouble.
Five senior officials from the two public bodies have been appointed as directors of Blackpool-based Jobs, Friends and Houses (JFH) amid fears for the community interest company’s financial viability.
JFH was set up in 2014 to help people turn their lives around and has been praised for its work to reduce re-offending.
The low-key shake-up of the JFH board-room was done without the knowledge of some resort councillors but now sees Blackpool Council chief executive Neil Jack join police chief superintendent Stuart Noble as a director.
Leader of the Conservative opposition on Blackpool Council Tony Williams vowed to find out if public money has been used to bail out the struggling firm.
He said: “I am always sad to see a good cause having money problems.
“But I was not made aware that the council had, in effect, taken over the company. I will now be looking into the issue to find out what the authority’s potential liabilities might be.”
JFH was launched two-years-ago in a flurry of publicity. But it can now be revealed that talks began last summer that led to Blackpool Council and Lancashire Police stepping in to save the community interest company from financial collapse – in effect a public sector takeover.
Three senior officials from Blackpool Council and two from Lancashire Police, now make up the five-man JFH board. Blackpool Council director of governance and partnership services Mark Towers, the council’s director of public health Dr Arif Rajpura and Lancashire Police director of resources Ian Cosh were all appointed as directors of the company, along with Mr Jack and Chief Supt Noble, at the same time in October.
Former director and public face of the company Steve Hodgkins has left. He resigned his role in August last year.
His fellow director Justin Nield is also no longer with the firm. Matthew Idle remains at Jobs Friends and Houses but is no longer a director
Today Lancashire Police made clear the changes were made to protect the long term viability of the community interest company, which has been given more than £1m of public and charity cash including a recent National Lottery grant of nearly £500,000.
Company accounts submitted in May showed the firm had made a loss of more than £40,000
In response to questions from The Gazette, Lancashire Police said steps had been taken to ‘ensure that JFH does continue to operate’. It refused to say whether public money had been used to do that.
The business has also shut its offices in Church Street, Blackpool with remaining staff now working from the offices of Blackpool Coastal Housing, an arms-length company owned by Blackpool Council.
A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “The commercial lettings arm of JFH will close down but all present tenants will be offered support in moving to new letting agents.
“JFH will strengthen its construction arm and specialised recovery housing function with the new arrangements and will continue to enable ex- offenders and those in recovery to change their lives around through the opportunity of stable employment, supportive networks and affordable quality accommodation.
“This is an important point in the JFH journey and the steps recently taken are essential to securing JFH’s future.”
Lancashire Police said that as a result of the changes 71 tenanted property would be transferred to other agents.
There is no policy in place to manage the changeover but Lancashire Police said JFH would work with landlords to ensure a ‘smooth transition’.
Talks between Lancashire Police and Blackpool Council, over the future of JFH began in the summer and a decision was made in August to take control of the firm. Three staff have been made redundant as a result of the changes.
Neil Jack, chief executive of Blackpool Council, said: “The model of Jobs, Friends and Houses succeeds in its main goal of helping ex-offenders to get their lives back on track, helping them find employment, friendship and purpose, and therefore reducing re-offending rates.
“In order to continue this good work, we are working with the police and our wholly owned company Blackpool Coastal Housing to share offices, experience and knowledge of the local housing market so that it can continue to have a positive impact on the local community.”
John Donnellon, chief executive of Blackpool Coastal Housing, said: “Jobs, Friends and Houses is a project which we are proud to support.
“The outcomes for ex-offenders are excellent and it is showing really good results to reduce re-offending. As well as helping ex-offenders, the project is also helping to clean up some of the poor private housing stock that had previously been left in a state of disrepair.
“Between the two companies we share a common objective of improving the housing stock for people in Blackpool, and at the same time helping the local community, so it should prove beneficial to both parties that we are able to share our offices, knowledge and experience to make sure that the community interest company is a success across the town.”
Work to change lives carries on despite changes
Jobs Friends and Houses was founded in 2014 as a project to help drug addicts and long-serving prisoners turn around their lives.
Sgt Steve Hodgkins was seconded from his post with Lancashire Police to lead the new community interest company which was established as a property development business.
The company attracted more than £1m investment in its first 10 months of operation with cash coming from a range of publicly funded bodies - including the Department for Communities and Local Government, Arts Council England and from Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner’s budget.
It also worked in partnership with Blackpool and The Fylde College to offer apprenticeships to employees and with the NHS to ensure workers’ good health.
Celebrities including former Blackpool captain Charlie Adam lent their support to the firm.
JFH was named most inspiring business at the 2015 BIBA awards and last year told its own story on the Grand Theatre stage at a special event attended by Arts Council chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette.
The firm recently received a £499,114 grant from the National Lottery for a project to support and sustain the wellbeing and lifeskills of people in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, substance dependency, family breakdown, mental health problems, homelessness and issues around re-offending.
Lancashire Police has assured those who remain with the firm it has a viable future.
A force spokesman said: “We would want to reassure our employees, stakeholders, funders, suppliers and most importantly our tenants that the constabulary and the council are committed to JFH continuing to help change lives.
“Jobs Friends Houses has delivered fantastic results to individuals who otherwise would be resigned to a life of addiction and crime. There are immeasurable benefits to those people but also to communities and agencies that would have been affected by their actions should they have been unable to break free from the cycle of re-offending.
“Lancashire Constabulary and Blackpool Council are committed to the company, and will continue to work hard to support it, and the people it helps, in the future.”