Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Corrections, Private Eye and complaints

The poor old Guardian got it wrong the other day in describing A4e as a "social enterprise" and the twittersphere was quick to point it out - as was the Social Enterprise Mark company. Today the Guardian has issued a correction: 'A panel that accompanied a report on the England riots, profiling Emma Harrison, chairman of A4E (Action for Employment), incorrectly referred to A4E as a "social enterprise". A4E describes itself as a "social purpose" company. The Social Enterprise Mark company asks us to make clear that the government defines social enterprises as "businesses with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community."'

Private Eye has another go at A4e in its latest edition. It's good to see the Eye catching up with this blog in looking at its Ofsted results and pointing out that it has never got a rating better than "satisfactory". They also look at the unsatisfactory results of "Train to Gain", another of A4e's contracts, and at the Pathways results - also described as unsatisfactory. Why then, asks the Eye, "does the government put so much faith in busted benefit-busters like A4e?" Good question. But we've pointed out before that the procurement process forbids taking into account previous performance. That would, anyway, exclude nearly all the contractors. And for the Work Programme only the biggest companies could bid; that was part of the design of the contracts.

I came across a post on the Consumer Action Group website in which a client currently with A4e complains long and loud about the "adviser" who drew up her CV (I just assume the poster is female, with no evidence!). She describes it as "illiterate and untruthful". The poster is clearly educated and articulate, so why would the "adviser" insist on writing the CV of a client who was better able to do it than him? A comment under the piece says that at Working Links the adviser let the client write her own CV but told her not to use the word "I". This seems to be the fashion now, at least according to these providers, and I don't know why. Your CV is your description of yourself; write it in the first person. That's how I wrote mine and it got me several jobs. However, this problem of advisers with much worse language skills than their clients has always been there, and it's becoming more acute as more people are being forced out of professional jobs. Expect more howls of anger.


  1. “I came across a post on the Consumer Action Group website in which a client currently with A4e complains long and loud about the "adviser" who drew up her CV...”

    Just Bing’d this article to see for myself. Shocking stuff on the one hand but entirely predictable on the other.

    I was thinking to myself, what I would do in such a situation.

    I am in two minds over this. I’d be tempted to show this A4e employee up for the incompetent fellow he is. Perhaps be pointing out his glaring spelling mistakes and other grammatical errors. On the other hand, I’d be tempted to let him create his shoddy CV and show to as many people as possible. The poster has done this in a way I suppose.

    I’d also be tempted to take it to the Job Centre and show it to an ‘advisor’. If they can spot any errors, I’d ask them what value they thing providers such as A4e bring to the table.

    This post about constructing a CV highlights one of the issues with W2W providers compiling CV’s for their ‘clients’ as they simply produce template driven identikit CV’s which is no good at all.

    Think about it. A local employer (who may have already received 200+ applications for one vacancy) has a pile of CV’s on his desk and email inbox. If say 50+ are from a W2W provider, then they will all have near identical wording, fonts, and layout. In short, a template, bog standard CV. How is this at all helpful? All of those CV will be the first to be binned and deleted.

    There are plenty of books, online resources and local authority run job shops that can help a person compile a far better looking and better worded CV than a W2W provider can typically provide.

    Speaking from experience, I’d never rely on ANY of these W2W companies to compile MY CV!

  2. When I was seconded to A4e, as soon as I saw the quality of their publications, I thought "I don't want these numpties anywhere near my CV". This opinion was reinforced at the first meeting with an adviser after commenting on his poor grammar and spelling. Subsequent meetings were attended with a red pen in hand :)

    I find it deplorable that these companies are still being handed W2W contracts when their track record with previous schemes left much to be desired.

  3. In response to the two comments above.

    I manage a W2W provision under subcontract to a National Prime. Comments such as those above really irritate the hell out of me. Broad and sweeping statements, based on one-off anecdotes can do immense injustice to charitable and voluntary sector organisations, and their employees, who put their utmost into securing positive life outcomes for the out-of-work, among others.

    I suggest that you try it sometime, that you deal for a while with reluctant to engage, angry and often unappreciative clients. Oh, by the way- such clients are by far the minority, as, I am certain, is the advisor and organisation your comments have so vilified.

  4. I understand your annoyance, but note that the comments were not about the kind of organisations you talk about. This blog has never had a go at those organisations or their employees. As far as your second paragraph goes, I have indeed tried it and I fully agree with you. But there's bound to be vilification when people come up against those who are paid to help them and don't appear to have the necessary skills.

  5. To Anon, you really should do your homework before putting finger to kepyboard in future. A4e are not and never were a charity or vouluntary organisation. Heck, they are not even a social enterprise! They ae a profit driven business. No problem with that from my end.

    However, the real meat and bones issue with A4e is HOW they make thier money, not the money itself.

    "Angry and often unappreciative clients" are one bad enough. However, are not poorly trained staff much worse? After all, are they not supposed to be helping, giuding and advising their 'clients'? If a percentage of staff are not up to the task / cannot be bothered, what does it say about the business itself? Esp if head office has been made aware of such issues.

  6. iMatt

    I do not refer to any Prime in the context you state,I refer to my organisation (and similar) solely. Had you done your own suggested homwork you would have noted that I represent a CVS sub, not a national prime.

    So the point made by Historian seems to me to be well founded -'homework based' to borrow your phrase- than the possibly condescending tone in comment made by you to me. Doesnt matter- out of scope and no offense taken, nor intended I am sure.

    I do not disagree at all with your point on Provider quality of provision (and other service elemnts), but again, we take quality issues-such as those raised in Private Eye- VERY seriously. We implement on a no less than weekly basis(okay, ideally- volumes have marialised to much higher referral levels than DWP initially indicated,and we profiled against-such is project risk) but never less than bi-weekly). Substantive process and service improvements to improve depth and provision of service to end users- informed via lessons learnt through teething are, again under constant internal and external review.

    - after ll, and please be generous here, it has been a mere 9 weeks since go-live) on this specific programme of work.

    At the end of the day we all want to see the same end result- a break in the cycle of benifits dependency (intergenerational as well as individual) and witness and measure improved futues.

    And, I agree with A4e on this- Work is the surest route out of poverty, disenfranchisement, social isolation, exlusion, offending, low aspiration, ...

    Regards- Anon

    Kind regards


    All I ask is that people, bloggers, posters, keep that in mind. I would like to believe that at the end of the day we are all seeking tehe same outcomes to the impacted population. Naive? I think not.

  7. " Had you done your own suggested homwork you would have noted that I represent a CVS sub, not a national prime."


    I take it you perform better than the likes of A4e? So what are you complaining about then? Like it or not, people make judgements about certain companies based on:

    a) Personal experience

    b) The experience of others (why reviews and restimonials exist)

    c) Reports in the national press, magazines and websites

    The above comments especially mine were based on dealing with A4e on a personal basis, as well as dozens of reports, articles and stories that do not paint A4e (and others) in lets say, a "glowing light".

    It's all well and good to say that "Work is the surest route out of poverty, disenfranchisement, social isolation, exlusion, offending, low aspiration" (it is not always as there are a heck of a lot of working poor).

    However, the point about CV's is NOT to have one drawn up by someone who is educationally inferior to the 'clients' they are supposed to be helping into work in the first place. How is this supposed to be helping into work?

    After all, you'd hardly take cooking lessons from a person who could hardly boil an egg?

  8. Sorry, meant to say testimonials. Slip of the fingers!

  9. iMatt- Point well made. Problem is that we are all utimately painted by the same broad brush which impacts our clients perspectives and attitudes towards my staff and organisation- and, in actual fact, provides those who do not wish to engage, work, leave benefit etc, a convienient OUT. And I ONLY refer to those capable of taking on employment.

    The impact on my staff is such that they are esentially told by the media, the blogosphere and other sources, that they are un-skilled, lack an ethical basis for the work they perform and such.

    It is rare to hear positive feedback from the media and logosphere- though not quite so rare o hear positive feedbackin the formof testiminials from the communities we serve.

    It irks. That's all. And thnks for the dialogue-

    sincerely- Anon

  10. Anonymous, I've always felt that organisations like yours are among the unfortunate losers in all this. The big outfits like A4e get all the publicity, good (usually in the form of their own PR) and bad. If you are subcontractors to the primes your outcome figures become part of their stats, so we don't get to know whether you perform better than they do. And voluntary and charitable organisations which take government contracts on the same basis as private companies have to be judged on that same basis.

  11. Historian-

    Invovement was not an easy decision, nor were our organisation all in consensus internally. So the taking on of this, and any, government contract is never done lightly and is always done in full awareness of the risks inherent these 'patnerships'.

    We do not get to select our playing field, nor write the rule ook- at the end of the day if we wish to serve our local community then we are obviously going to be strictured to a large (sometimes smaller) degree by the Primes, other NGO's and Government entitities. Their agendas and our own are often divergent, but not always so. Theirin lays he opportunity, and challenge- often one and the same.

    But for the CVS to walk away does no one any good, most of all the service user.

    Thanks and Regards-

  12. Anon - I was not having a go at you personally. Sorry if you felt this was so.

    I have said that their ARE some individuals and organisations that do thier best and perform better than others.

    As Historian says, the 'big boys' such as A4e, Serco, BEST, etc have given thier own sectors a bad name esp to many of their end users / clients.

    We can and should look at individual companies. However, the whole W2W sector needs a thorough looking into. This should include not just private companies but also JobCentre+ and the DWP as well.

  13. been on the a4e course today for the first time, the one thing that did strike me was how much they must have spent on branding a4e, full colour glossy leaflets, half were in the bin outside. huge wall displays of vibrant colours splashed in every room. free tea, coffe and fruit, lots of flashy coloured office chairs and sofas. what a huge waste of money.

    the course itself seems exactly the same as the old new deal course., re write a cv, re write a cover letter, attend irrelevant meetings, financial advise meetings, c.v meetings, and oh a jobsearch that lasted 1 hour then most were told they could leave if they liked, apparently they had done enough most people soon left.

    seems like a huge waste of money and time. especially in a small city where, quite frankly there are not enough jobs!

    i really wouldn't like to think how much was spent on just this one branch of a4e. i was truly gobsmaked by the amount of branding and flashy graphics/furniture evrywhere.

    all this money spent and it seems exactly the same as the new deal courses minus the branding and flash graphics all over the building, no joke there is a 6 ft vw beetle on the wall that is on laminate wood printed and fixed to the wall. ridiculous! that alone must of cost over a 100 pounds.


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