Wednesday 13 May 2015


Perhaps Emma Harrison should have waited before selling A4e.  The Tory victory in the election sent the price of shares in outsourcing companies skywards.  G4S's rose by 7.35%, Serco's by 5.95% and Capita's by 6.72%.  Ah well, £20m will have to do.

Friday 8 May 2015


Since the demise of A4e I've waited to formally close this blog until after the election.  It's been a hard day; but not as hard for me as for the people who can now see no end to their misery.  There were only three bright spots in the results; Galloway, Farage and, of course, Esther McVey.
So what do I do now?  There is no point in my blogging about "welfare reform".  There are lots of blogs and websites out there, and active groups too, which fight that more effectively than I can.  If you have any (sensible) suggestions for another challenge I can take on via the internet I'll be glad to consider them.
Meanwhile I want to say thank you.  To the journalists who, usually without their knowledge, helped me, but especially to Solomon Hughes of Private Eye and Job Rabkin of Channel 4 News.  To the many commenters, some of whom posted harrowing stories and left us wondering what happened to them after that.  And to the faithful regular readers and commenters who gave me encouragement, links to stories and perceptive comments.  Some of you have been with me from the very beginning.  Thanks especially to Ian.
Bye for now.

Tuesday 28 April 2015

A4e sale - the reactions

Some more reactions have appeared on the sell-off of A4e.  Of the mainstream media, only the Financial Times reports it.  They say that Emma Harrison owned 87% of the company, whereas others say 85% and City AM says 85.5%.  All agree that she gets £20m out of the deal.  All the reports point out that Staffline already owns EOS and Avanta, and will now control a large chunk of the market; City AM says 23%.  The FT says: "The 16 private sector suppliers of the government’s welfare-to-work programme have been engaged in a wave of consolidation as they seek to bolster their position ahead of the next round of contracts in March 2017".  It also says that A4e employs 3,000 people, but the Yorkshire Post says the figure is 2,200.  The newly enlarged company will hold 9 WP contracts, two more than Ingeus (which is now owned by an American company).  No one seems to think this is a problem.
The financial websites naturally focus on the money.  Investor Interactive reports that Staffline's shares "shot up by 18%" on the announcement and is very chirpy about its future profitability.  The Yorkshire Post looks wider.  They do call Harrison an entrepreneur, which I have always maintained is untrue; and they quote the boss of Staffline on why the name A4e will not be retained, unlike that of Avanta.  He says that the A4e brand is "unfortunately too tarnished".  The paper also tries to get a comment from Emma Harrison herself; but when contacted all she would say was "I’m sure you’ve had all the press releases. Thanks for calling, bye."  Charmingly, they add "It is thought that she will devote her time to charity work."  

Monday 27 April 2015

That's it, then. A4e sold

Yes, it's confirmed (and thanks to my correspondent for the early tip-off).  A4e has been sold to Staffline Group for £34.5m.  The story is here.
Staffline has acquired the entire issued share capital for £23.5m.  That's almost £20m for Emma Harrison, who owned 85% of the shares.  There are more complications, but that's basically it.
Staffline reckons A4e is a "profitable, cash generative business" and the acquisition is good for the company.  Remember that all that cash is straight from the pockets of tax-payers.
A4e's staff have been told by email this morning about the deal.  They now face waiting to hear about their future.  Andrew Dutton and the entire group board will also be looking for work.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

A4e sold?

I've had a tip-off that A4e has been sold and the staff will be informed on Monday.  Since I can't confirm that, I won't go into any more detail.  If it's true it raises some interesting questions.

Last night on Newsnight there was supposed to be a debate about "welfare" with representatives from Labour and the Conservatives.  Labour's Rachel Reeves and Stephen Timms were already on their way when they were told it had been cancelled - the Conservatives had pulled out.  It seems that Mark Harper, minister for the disabled, had withdrawn with two hours notice.  So, since we're now under election rules, the producers couldn't empty-chair him.  Instead there was a "panel" on which Fraser Nelson spouted egregious Conservative tripe and Will Hutton talked sense.  Also there was Deirdre Kelly ("White Dee"), because the media now treat her as some sort of representative of the unemployed.  It was terrible.  The Daily Politics has been holding a series of debates among party spokespeople on various areas of government, and on May 5th there's to be one on "welfare", including Iain Duncan Smith.  The editor assures me, via Twitter, that IDS won't withdraw and, no, it isn't already recorded, it goes out live.  We'll see.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

The Daily Mail's take on the sentencing

Daily Mail readers apparently need pictures.  So the paper's report on the sentencing in the A4e fraud case comes with lots of pictures, including two of Emma Harrison.  But accuracy, not a quality conspicuous in the Mail at any time, has deserted it today.  Harrison is called "David Cameron’s millionaire former jobs tsar".  Er .... no.  She was "family champion", which meant little.  They do acknowledge this later, but it doesn't excuse the initial lazy mistake.  Then, after an accurate account of the sentencing - they couldn't really get that wrong - there's a box entitled "How the Mail exposed fraud against taxpayers".  "The scandal of the massive taxpayer fraud at A4e was exposed by the Daily Mail three years ago," they say.  They do talk about the whistle-blowers, but the claim that it was the Mail which exposed the fraud is ludicrous.  The whole story of Harrison's downfall is re-told.
Let's not allow the Mail to re-write history.  Yes, it was their story which brought the £8.6m payout to the attention of many more people than had read this blog, Private Eye, the Guardian or the Telegraph.  The reports they ran for nearly a week were probably responsible for Harrison's humiliation.  But the Mail didn't "expose" anything. 

Tuesday 31 March 2015

Sentencing in the fraud case

The sentences have now been handed down on the 10 A4e employees convicted of fraud, forgery and conspiracy.  The longest sentence is on Charles McDonald - 40 months imprisonment for 6 counts of fraud and one of conspiracy.  Five other people got prison sentences; the rest got suspended sentences, various lengths of "unpaid work" and costs.  You can read the full list on the Thames Valley Police website here.  
A4e has issued a media statement on its own website.  They say :"We note that the judge in her sentencing remarks dismissed claims that a culture of dishonesty existed within our business.  We also note that those who made these claims raised no concerns about workplace practices or culture until they were confronted with the proof of their own dishonest behaviour."  (Well, they wouldn't, would they?)  However, they still claim that "we uncovered" the "irregularities", despite the fact that it was a whistle-blower who drew their attention to what was going on.
So that's over.  I can't summon up much sympathy for these people, but for all of them it's a huge price to pay.