When Newsnight devotes nearly 20 minutes to the story you know it's serious.We got a trailer in the news; and the Guardian published the details earlier tonight. But the piece on Newsnight was pretty devastating. A report has been leaked, an internal A4e audit, which found evidence of widespread fraud and irregularity. Numerous job outcome claims could not be backed up by evidence. If this was systemic management failure, asked Paul Mason, why have A4e still got contracts? We were shown David Cameron at an A4e office and told that A4e are paid £170m a year. Then we were told that 224 client records were examined from 20 of the company's top performers. 4% of the claims were described as potentially fraudulent and 12% as risky. These cases come from all over the country. Employers complained of being given blank forms to sign.
A4e were said to be playing it down and wouldn't be interviewed. Kirsty McHugh of the ERSA (the industry trade body) said that appropriate action had been taken. But the DWP never saw the document. Why not? And what did A4e do about it? Mason said that there were questions for the politicians. The government has a duty of care to the unemployed who are being sent to A4e. No one from the DWP would be interviewed.
That gave free rein to Margaret Hodge, who talked of a "shocking catalogue of incidents" and fraud being "erndemic in the company". Any manager of moral integrity would have shared this evidence with the DWP. Hodge is sure that it's a systemic issue throughout the company. She has had over a hundred emails on the matter. The company has been greedy, she said, and she wants their contracts suspended. people will lose trust in the system as a whole. She rejects the idea that this was all in the past and couldn't happen now. She believes that the culture in A4e hasn't changed, and they are not an appropriate company to be getting all that money.
Liam Byrne was also interviewed. He wants to know if ministers knew about this when A4e got the Work Programme contracts, and what checks are now in place.
The government is now in a difficult position. Trying to bluff this out, when even the BBC have got their teeth into it, makes them look complicit in fraud. But pulling the plug would be very messy.
If I had to bet on it? I think it's the end for A4e.