Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Unanswered questions

Two Labour MPs have tried asking questions about A4e but have not received answers.
The first is Liam Byrne.  Yesterday he put in a written question to Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, asking "when allegations of fraud at A4e were drawn to the attention of his Department's Propriety and Ethics team.  The answer was: "As has long been the practice, information relating to internal discussion and advice is not normally disclosed."  No joy there, then, but I don't suppose Byrne expected anything else.
Last Tuesday Fiona Mactaggart asked "the Secretary of State for Justice what contracts his Department has with A4e; and what the (a) purpose and (b) value is of each such contract."  Now, you would have thought that was straightforward.  But Kenneth Clarke replied: "The Ministry of Justice has no current contracts with A4e. However other departments do have contracts with A4e that deliver services to offenders."  What Mactaggart probably had in mind were the contracts for prison education, known as OLASS (Offender Learning and Skills Service).  Helpfully, back in 2008 A4e submitted a memorandum to the Public Accounts Committee trumpeting its involvement in these contracts.  On their own website A4e talk about working in 20 prisons with 400 staff on OLASS and providing careers guidance in 7 prisons.  It's big business.  And apparently these contracts don't come from the Ministry of Justice.  So, do they come from the Department for Education?  It would seem so. 
If even MPs have trouble getting information, no wonder the rest of us struggle.


  1. Someone mentioned earlier in this blog about A4e taking their site down only to have it reappear. This seems like some obvious SEO attempt on their part as the site is now coming above the 1386 negative articles + to have appeared online in the last few weeks. It will take more than that to stop questions being asked.

    1. I quite honestly don't think they took it down. The message on the landing page did say there was a problem connecting to the server.

      Please please give the company a break and don't read anything into its web site's short disappearance. It's a reputable company after all! lol

  2. The OLASS contract is funded by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), which is part of BIS so it does not come from DfE. Nationally, this budget was transferred from the Home Office to the Learning & Skills Council (LSC) in 2006, which became the SFA in 2010.

    Spare a thought for hundreds of OLASS staff working in prisons currently employed by colleges who will transfer to A4e on August 1st if the contracts go ahead.

  3. The OLASS contracts come from The Skills Funding Agency, which is part of BIS

    1. Thanks to both for that information. I found stuff relating to OLASS on the DfE site so made the wrong assumption.

    2. It appears that the man described by the Guardian in the link below has had a very similar experience to the one that he would have enjoyed if he had been sent on an Intensive Activity Programme (aka the New Deal as the New Deal scheme staggered to a close.)


      I've been told that if I want A4E's "help" with anything, I have to go into their office on a Friday. Apparently that is the only day of the week when the "general advisers" are not otherwise occupied.

      I was ordered to attend one lecture aimed at encouraging all the attendees to become self-employed. The first thing the A4E "adviser" told us was that she had never been self-employed herself, so what the heck she was supposed to be able to tell us about self-employment was anyone's guess.

      However, I heard about the Cup Cake Queen, whose business is now very successful according to the A4E woman. Errrmm.... I've never made a cake in my life and I doubt whether mine would be any good.

      One of the men was "advised" to become a window-cleaner but he said that that was impossible because he would have to get Public Liability Insurance etc, then it would take time to build up a window-cleaning round and meanwhile he would get nothing from the DWP, so I agreed that the idea sounded like a non-starter in that case. There was nobody around who was able to say whether it is possible to get EU start-up funding for something like that.

      Then the A4E woman told us a daft yarn about Richard Branson. She made out that Branson is a rags to riches story. I pointed out that Richard Branson's parents were actually very wealthy and that he was educated at that well-known public school Stowe. He did not exactly come from a deprived background, young Branson. His headmaster at Stowe predicted that by the time young Richard was 30, he would either be a millionaire or he would be in prison according to his headmaster at the time! Sure, young Richard Branson did do very well for himself but he is absolutely a-typical of everyone who attended the A4E lecture that day. I felt that it was dishonest to try to con middle-aged people into imagining that they could emulate Richard Branson. If we could do it, we'd have done it by now.

      Of course, Emma Harrison was not mentioned. To be fair, I don't suppose that the A4E "adviser" lecturing us would have known anything about the £8.6 mio dividend payment and it wouldn't surprise me if she had never heard of Emma Harrison. I certainly hadn't until Margaret Hodge made a fuss several months later and the Press began to report the whole story.

      Do the prisoners get made to listen to similar drivel by way of pep-talks from A4E, I wonder? I wouldn't have paid to attend such a useless lecture.

  4. For becoming self employed there is the New Enterprise Allowance scheme- http://www.dwp.gov.uk/adviser/updates/new-enterprise-allowance.

    From the link above “ you are paid a weekly allowance worth £1,274 over 26 weeks, paid at £65 a week for the first 13 weeks and £33 a week for a further 13 weeks, and
    the facility to access a loan of up to £1,000 to help with start-up costs, subject to status.”

    If you haven’t got any savings or a partner/family then this scheme unlike the previous one under New Deal/Flexible New Deal, is a non starter.

    1. And A4e administers the New Enterprise Allowance in 5 areas of the country.

    2. You don't get NEA if you are on the WP. The JC told me this.

      Also, you can start self employment while still being on benefits. Both the JC and A4E have told me this - you just ensure you are doing a few hours a week to begin with (12?) so you still qualify and gradually increase the hours if it becomes possible to do so. This is what I am doing.

      But in my case A4E are trying to shift me off benefits quicker than the clients are appearing. I'm not happy with this at all, because it will end up meaning that I give up the self-employment idea

  5. Prisoners of course have no access to the internet and are largely unaware of the storm around A4E (it hasn't really featured in The Sun!) Interestingly though, the OLASS contract was re-tendered recently to meet the 'reducing re-offending' initiative started by the MoJ and a lot of the A4E storyboard for their bid was around the excellent work they do in probation services. A number of current prisoners in the prison where I teach are from the London area and have nothing good to say about A4E in probation: promised training never materialised, no jobs available, no specialist assistance in the job market, etc. all of which they felt they were promised. Attending A4E was a condition of probation (captive audience) but all felt it was a waste of time, only done to maintain freedom. All very different from the A4E website promise that they would be met at the gate....etc. The very fact that they have returned to prison means that re-offending was clearly not reduced!! Presumably, no metrics taken?


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