Let's not get carried away. Emma Harrison is no longer Chair of A4e, but amidst all the media coverage only two papers point out that still owns almost all of the company. If she hangs on to those shares she can still continue to make a great deal of money, if not from the Work Programme then from all the other contracts. The Financial Times quotes Jim Carley, a consultant to the outsourcing industry, saying that she will probably want to sell if she's not involved any more, and that A4e is "one of the few companies out there that is still buyable".
Andrew Dutton, A4e's CEO, is putting in place a review of the whole company and its processes by a top law firm. Talking of the fraud allegations, the Telegraph has a mysterious paragraph: "Sources said police are aware of allegations that the fraud went higher up the chain of command than the four front line staff that have already been arrested, although not to the top of the company." The Telegraph reckons that there's more to emerge over the weekend.
Maybe. But the Daily Mail is quite hysterical. They put online two articles. The first claims the credit for her departure: "She resigned as chairman of A4e four hours after the Daily Mail warned it was to publish claims of 'rife' corruption at the employment firm." It goes on: "A whistleblower claimed that champagne was lavished on successful staff while forged signatures and blank timesheets were ‘routine’ techniques used for bumping up the numbers of successful job placements." The second article details those allegations, giving five minutes of fame to ex-employee Tracie Spiers. She describes what anybody in the industry would see as a mixture of poor practice, incompetence and deliberate fraud.
A4e brought the techniques of sales teams to the business, completely inappropriately. Some staff are actually on commission, getting paid for every job outcome. There are prizes for successful teams; from the champagne described in the article to holidays. This pressure can lead to the fraud of forging signatures on job outcome forms. The interests of the clients have vanished. The forging of timesheets smacks of sheer incompetence. It was perfectly possible to devise a system for getting those timesheets updated daily and signed off on Friday. Failure to do that leads to fraud.
In the past A4e has been quick to threaten whistle-blowing staff with legal action. The tide of such allegations may well be unstoppable now.
A4e will certainly change. The cult of personality will go, for one thing. But Dutton will have to look at changing the whole ethos of the company, with good staff training and better management. We will have to wait and see.