Basically, it alleges that A4e had contacts with the most influential politicians before the bidding process started for the welfare-to-work contracts there. The implication, of course, is that the private meetings influenced the destination of the contracts. Perish the thought! A4e wouldn't do anything like that, would they? Despite all the meetings that went on, the government department denies that there was anything wrong. But the article, which points out that "A4e has strong links to the British Labour Party and is being investigated by the UK Government for alleged fraud involving work placement contracts" also draws attention to an intriguing fact. "A4e executives met Ms Gillard's [the Employment Minister's] deputy chief of staff, Tom Bentley, in February last year to discuss the Government's plans to reform employment services for Australia's unemployed. A4e had no contracts in Australia at this time." Now, this same Tom Bentley "worked in Mr Blunkett's ministerial office as a special adviser on school reform and social inclusion" in 1998/99. It's worth reading the whole article. A4e's reputation has travelled, and the Australian press is saying things that the British press daren't.
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Some recent blog posts
Here is a selection of the most recent News & Comment posts from the old website:
On 30 June the first lot of bids for allocations from the Future Jobs Fund will be considered. This is a £1 bn fund aimed at creating real jobs, mainly for young people, and the government is stating that it wants local authorities, regional bodies and the like to lead, in partnership with public sector and "third sector" bodies. No mention, you notice, of private sector companies, so A4e can sit this one out. But no. A4e is attending the Local Government Conference in Harrogate next week and "we'd like to hear from anyone who would like to partner with A4e to maximise the impact of the Future Jobs Fund to benefit your local community." (A4e's website) After describing what the Future Jobs Fund is, they say, "As a market leader of Welfare to Work services, A4e has capacity and capability to design, develop and deliver front line public services that benefit individuals, organisations and communities. This includes partnership working with the private, public and third sector organisations." We shouldn't be surprised, of course. Just by chance I came across a quote from Emma today: "There are three things that you should spend you time doing: Marketing, marketing, marketing. It is the most important thing that someone growing a business should be doing. If you are not prepared to do that, then everything else is irrelevant." Yes, if there's public money on offer, A4e will be there.
A4e is at the centre of a fraud enquiry, the Observer reports today. "The DWP started its investigation into A4e's Hull office in May 2008, after discrepancies emerged in "confirmation of employment" forms submitted by the company. Two recruiters filled in forms meant for employers who agreed to take on workers. In some cases, employers' signatures were falsified. One of the recruiters had also entered into a fraudulent deal with a local temp agency. In January, the recruiter was sacked, while the other resigned. "It had the smell of a conspiracy," a source close to the company said. An A4e spokesman said it had found only 20 fraudulent claims. It remained unclear last night why the DWP investigation has been going for 13 months, when A4e was a bidding for major government contracts. A4e is expected to repay £15,000. Another recruitment company has been asked to repay £48,000 following a DWP inquiry." Wow! It's small-scale stuff, but the Observer points out the government's "individual learning accounts" fell victim to the same sort of fraud and had to be scrapped. The article says that Yvette Cooper, the new DWP secretary, has said that the multi-million pound contracts could be cancelled if widespread fraud is discovered. Don't hold your breath.
Tonight Channel 4 News carried a report which will dent A4e's image even further: The piece sets out to show that fraud is common in the New Deal programmes, but that the DWP doesn't publish the results of its investigations so it's hidden. The first part of the piece concentrates on Working Links, who forged clients' signatures and paperwork in Glasgow in 2007. Since that investigation, more fraud has been uncovered in Brighton, North Wales and Hackney. Then they turn to A4e, which is decribed as one of the biggest names in the industry. The fraud that the Observer reported on yesterday is mentioned, malpractice which took place over a 4 month period in 2007. But, says Channel 4, there was another case towards the end of 2008, also in Hull. An A4e employee was found to be colluding with an employment agency to state that factory jobs were intended to last for 13 weeks, and therefore attract a payment, when they were only ever meant to be temporary. A4e says that this was a "rogue operator" and two members of staff have been sacked. (In fact, it's common practice.) Terry Rooney MP, who is the Chair of the Work & Pensions Select Committee, said he had no idea that investigations had taken place, and wants the National Audit Office involved. Jim Knight MP, employment minister, says there's no evidence of systematic fraud. But the piece has shown that significant amounts of public money are being wasted on fraud which is being covered up. Not a good few days for A4e!
The local BBC TV news in Hull has carried a piece which will cause A4e more grief. Vicky Johnson talked to two clients, Simon and Steve who said they spent more time doing quizzes than developing their skills. They retraced one of the quizzes, out on the streets in the city - one way of getting rid of the clients for a while. The two said that the programme was a waste of money and they were very disappointed. The only useful element had been the updating of their CVs and being able to give A4e as a reference. Jonathan Davies, the local A4e manager, said that they had just had an Ofsted inspection and had some "very positive feedback". We'll await this report with interest.
But no doubt A4e are regretting the proximity of their Hull office to the BBC Centre.
It hasn't taken long for A4e's dealings in Australia to be called into question: