First, we read that A4e aims to get in on the legal services market. An article on the Legalfutures site describes how the company wants to enter the market which is being opened up to firms which are not the traditional legal service providers. "Chris Peel, A4e’s director of advice services, told a report published yesterday on new thinking in legal services: 'The reason why we are keen to expand on our traditional socially excluded client base is that if you look at our core business – getting people back into long-term sustainable employment – we are contributing to the “coping classes”. We’re shifting people out of legal aid eligibility. It’s a natural extension of our offer.' " They would partner with law firms, as they do now, and their existing advice services would seem to be a natural basis for the new business. However, one of the advantages of working with A4e which Peel offers is worrying: “a route to the market through diagnosing the needs of existing customers”. Does that mean that people who go to A4e-run advice services will be referred on to the paid-for A4e legal firm? It would be a big step for A4e. Instead of getting its cash from the public purse, as now, it would be making profits directly in a competitive market.
Second, Mark Lovell is using the Huffington Post site as a vehicle for him to contradict the prevailing view. This month he's talking about the plight of voluntary sector subcontractors, organisations which have been complaining that they're not getting the referrals and they're not getting paid. Lovell says that "we directly protect our Specialist Intervention partners by removing PBR requirements". A4e doesn't pay them to achieve job outcomes, but to provide specialist services.
Thirdly, back to whether the Work Programme can work. The Guardian has a blog piece by Paul Swinney which provides some interesting statistics showing the vastly different unemployment situations in different regions. He argues that there must be a "geographic angle" to the WP. Two reports from the North West of England (where A4e has a WP contract) show the particular difficulties. One from Wigan gives what it calls "shocking figures" and says that, "Only 23 per cent of those attending the work programme do not have any barriers to finding sustained employment. More than 44 per cent have two or more barriers in their way to finding a job." Now, we could argue about what "barriers" means; after all, we know that the biggest barrier to getting a job is being unemployed, and mental health problems are often brought on by unemployment. But the point is being made that there are local factors which have to be addressed. The other piece, on the PublicFinance site has major implications for WP providers. Liverpool is likely to have a directly elected mayor, and in the agreement being drawn up with Whitehall the mayor would "take greater control of the government’s flagship back-to-work scheme". They want an expanded scheme in which "unemployed people would be supported for longer with the aim of ensuring they gain a qualification. Jobcentre Plus would also be given more autonomy in the city." Where would that leave the providers like A4e?