It must be serious, it was covered by the BBC. The new fraud allegations and the DWP's investigation were reported, albeit briefly, on Newsnight. Paul Mason put a slightly different spin on it. As the Guardian reported, the government has launched an audit of 10 other A4e contracts. Mason takes that to mean that it will ask why A4e was given so many contracts; but I doubt that. It would have to go back ten years to be credible.
Most of the media add little to the press releases of the DWP and A4e. The Huffington Post carries the reaction of union leader Mark Serwotka. The Guardian gets someone to explain how the MWA fraud might have come about. The Mail is remarkably restrained.
At the same time as all this bad publicity, there is good news for A4e. As reported on FE Week, it is the "preferred bidder" for 2 of the 9 prison education contracts announced by the Skills Funding Agency. The SFA is keen to make clear that this doesn't mean that the contracts are signed. There's a "due diligence" stage to go through before they are finalised in the early summer. But this will be the acid test of the government's seriousness. I have had to delete comments from people who know, and are concerned about, A4e's role in OLASS, but some of them may now make themselves known to journalists.
A4e has announced that its new non-executive Chairman is Sir Robin Young. He was a career civil servant before retiring to directorships, and became a member of A4e's board in 2007. He begins his statement with the words "A4e's role is to improve people's lives".
Back to the investigation. The government has said that A4e could have its contracts suspended if it is found guilty of "systemic fraud". It's that word "systemic" which could prove the get-out for A4e. It seems likely that the instances of fraud are the result of two factors; the intense pressure in the company to meet targets and make the money, with bonuses for outcomes, team prizes etc.; and a large proportion of inexperienced, minimally trained staff. But if that is the case, should it let A4e off the hook?