The media coverage today has been interesting.
- The Mail began it with another attack on the Harrisons' finances. After bashing away at the relatively minor point that the DWP knew about the fraud investigation when Cameron appointed Harrison as his "families champion", they tell us that, "Mrs Harrison, 48, and her husband Jim, 52, are joint sole directors of two businesses, Andromeda Park Ltd and Thornbridge Ltd. ........ These are used to manage their investments......... The companies owe the couple a total of £9.3m." Once again, this is old news. On 13 April 2011 we published this, unashamedly pinching it from Private Eye. The Harrisons deny that they have received £9.3m through these companies.
- The Guardian has run several pieces which seek to widen the argument. One by Pollyanna Perkins is headed "Private sector isn't always best". She writes: "At a time when we are counting every pound and limiting access to services it is particularly galling to see public money – £478m – being misspent by one obviously untroubled family. But we in the public sector have to wake up and stand up to this kind of development and be assertive in our condemnation of such approaches. The new troubled families initiative led by the then families tsar is a classic example. Horrified as I was by the outline proposals, I was surprised by people welcoming this approach, muddling it up with the very valuable 'Think Family' work being done in mental health and other adults and children's teams." Another, more general article by Patrick Butler targets the Work Programme specifically. He speaks to an "industry insider" who would have preferred to see A4e's millions going to a social enterprise which reinvests its profits. Butler says, "A4e is notorious for its now threadbare pretentions to being a 'social purpose' company. It proclaims to have one sole aim: 'To improve people's lives.' Well, show me a business that claims otherwise." He has a quote from another work programme executive about the way it works: " It's not about supporting 100 customers. It's about getting 50 of them into a job. The other 50 are collateral damage. At the end of the day, they [ministers] don't care about that other 50. It's an outcome contract, not a service contract." Butler also points us to a bill being presented tomorrow by Conservative MP Chris White. "In theory, he says, this "will mean contracts cannot be let on price alone, but must take account of wider social benefit. White believes it will put a brake on what he has called the 'supermarketisation' of public services and create a level playing field for charities and social enterprises."
- But it was inevitable that there would be a right-wing backlash, and it comes in the shape of Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph. A4e, he says, "is a company that matches unemployed British workers with jobs, and has grown by being able to do so far better than government agencies. Coaching and training the unemployed are costly, but nowhere near as expensive as keeping them on the dole. Labour found that every pound spent with welfare-to-work companies saved the taxpayer three times as much. Soon, A4e was being given multi-million-pound contracts, and growing at what was probably too fast a rate. It was only a matter of time before something, somewhere, went wrong." Note the highlighted statements. Rubbish, untrue, unverified, as always with such statements. And he goes on to castigate Margaret Hodge because a) she's rich and b) it was her government which got us into this. He says, "What matters now is ideology, and beating up a government that seems comically unable to fight back (as the pantomime over the NHS Bill shows). The battle that Mrs Hodge is fighting is one the Left considered lost only 10 years ago: to make 'profit' a dirty word again and see the companies expelled." Well, Nelson is one of those all-purpose right-wing journalists who needn't bother actually to know anything about his subject. But at least we're having a debate.