Thursday, 8 March 2012

Whistles blowing an uncertain sound

The Mail has waded in again today with its own whistle-blower revelations.  But the piece shows the danger of not having done your research.
They focus on A4e's Edinburgh office.  This is interesting because we have received a number of complaints about events there.  But the "former team manager", Amy Rae, tells us that all the blame lies with A4e.  Faced with an inspection they had to fake courses, because there was no money for real ones.  Then the specific allegations begin.  "‘People would be found a job on a construction site that only lasted a day,’ she says, ‘and that was enough to claim the money. It was easy because there was just a tick-box on the form to say the job was “expected to last at least 13 weeks”, but often labourers were being put out of work again after 24 hours.’"  As we've pointed out before, this was perfectly okay in the terms of the contracts.  And it was more often the case that a client would start a job and disappear after a day or a shift, thinking that now the JC would be off his back.  
We are then told that "In the A4e office in Bradford, one whistleblower alleged staff went to Staples, the stationery store, to buy ‘make-your-own’ stamp kits to use on paperwork staff filled out if they found someone a job."  The Mail makes much of these rubber stamps, but again there is not necessarily fraud here.  The forms produced by the DWP required either a company stamp or a piece of headed notepaper.  Many small employers had neither.  It was not uncommon for providers to make a rubber stamp, with the full agreement of the employer.  Towards the end of the article A4e is quoted explaining this.  But it's a very different matter from the next allegation: "Some employers’ signatures were allegedly faked electronically, using a scanner to copy a signature off one sheet and print it on to another. On other occasions, signatures of employers were allegedly copied by hand from the signing-in book at reception."  That's fraud, straightforwardly.  
In Newcastle, we're told, employees had to take basic literacy and numeracy papers to fill the targets A4e had to meet for these tests.  The whistle-blower there talks about the appalling conditions the clients there had to endure.  There are frequent allegations of forged timesheets, according to the Mail.  As we've said before, this is often an indication of incompetent admin rather than deliberate fraud, but it's surprising that it was so widespread.
The Edinburgh woman also talks about the rewards and prizes on offer for meeting targets, including an invitation to tea at Emma Harrison's mansion.
The Mail has, naturally, been more strident than the Guardian in its whistle-blowing.  And there are probably more journalists out there busily compiling similar allegations.  We have to welcome that.  But there is a need to separate what went on under the old privatised contracts from what is happening under the Work Programme.  The old contracts were deeply flawed, and the DWP is to blame for that.  Some providers obviously stepped over the line separating expediency from fraud.  A4e's focus on the bottom line drove people to dishonesty.  Is it still going on?


  1. The Mail contains the following quote:

    "A4e responded to the Mail’s investigation by saying: ‘Not one of the allegations made by so-called whistleblowers amount to fraud. There is a significant difference between fraud and malpractice.’

    So fraud is not OK but malpractice is acceptable?

  2. It shows a total disrespect towards actually helping people, Wrong is wrong, they cannot use it was the last scheme as an excuse. They are responsible for everything that goes on good and bad. This just shows that a4e have no respect towards clients. If they are allowed to use that phrase it was under the last scheme, then they have no responsibility anymore. It just means they can do what they want this time, and when the next contract comes around they will say it was the last scheme.. not our fault.. Rubbish, They HAVE to take responsibility for the actions of past staff. If they didnt know it happened it would be incompetence, if they knew it shows collusion and corruption.

    1. A4e have a track record of shifting blame on to someone else. e.g.:

      * You're unemployed. You are not trying hard enough to tap in to the hidden job market.

      * We can get everyone in to a job if they engage with us. You didn't get a job as you didn't engage 100% with us.

      * It was not A4e involved in fraud. A very small minority of ex-employees in our office at [insert town] falsified records.

      * We posted a letter to you. It's not our fault it took three days to arrive even although it had a 2nd class stamp on it.

  3. Surprising media haven't cottoned on to scandal of prison education, probably because it's not a popular area for Mail readers. Times Camilla Cavendish quotes today profit is not a dirty word but it is when staff are taken out of public sector, TUPEd to A4e, who then make a profit out of education which had previously been ploughed back into education via FE College network. All the problems of forged timesheets, claiming for two lessons when only 1 teacher in class, are all happening now. Whistleblowing to A4e doesn't work, they send in their own team who merely say they found nothing wrong ..... then victimise the whistleblower. New OLASS 4 contracts haven't been officially announced, but they appear to have retained existing regions and added London and Surrey region. Not good news for the existing college staff who will find themselves in the private sector from August and increasing the size of Ae4's dividend to Emma.

    1. It's not just the Mail which is publishing details about the A4e fracas. Guardian, Telegraph also have had articles. Surely they would be interested in hearing about the situation which you have described re prison education?

  4. The Olass 4 contracts are now confirmed . A4e deserve the contracts - they work hard on the Olass contracts . The A4e story has died now and all this "whistleblowing " is amounting to nothing as its not true .

    1. Anon at 11.26. The only thing A4e deserves is a Public Inquiry.

    2. If the whistleblowing is not true, why are so many people doing it? Do they all harbour malicious grudges against A4E? If yes, why would that be? A good employer has a happy, contented, loyal workforce, after all.

      The A4E story does not seem to me to have died. There are more allegations about A4E in at least one national newspaper every day of the week.

      I think it is probably true to say that A4E has been turned into a scapegoat for everything that is wrong with the privatised Welfare-To-Work industry. I think it is unlikely that A4E is the only one of the providers to have skeletons in the closet.

      However the scapegoating mainly seems to be the result of Emma Harrison's brash, vulgar, overblown self-aggrandisement. That and Mrs Harrison's evident fondness for insulting Indian ladies by walking around with an old curtain draped round herself and her midriff hanging out. The sari is actually a garment of great elegance and great modesty but one would not know that from the photos of the inappropriately swathed Emma Harrison, would one?

      I think that if A4E is to regain any street-cred, there is a pressing need to get rid of everything to do with Emma Harrison since she seems to know how to wreck the corporate image in one easy move. I think that unless getting rid of her is done very quickly, decisively and a whole new corporate culture introduced by her successors, A4E will probably go to the wall by the end of 2012.

    3. So Anon (Mar 8, 2012 11.26 AM), would you be as bold as to suggest my poor experiences with A4e are not true as well? Even though I experienced them first hand?

      What would you say to other 'clients' who have similar stories to tell? Is it mere coincidence? Bad luck? or are they making things up also?

      The whistleblowers are now coming forth as A4e is a damaged brand. Rather than sticking your head in the sand, it would be better for you to acknowledge the mistakes and damage A4e has done over the years rather than pretend everything is rosy in the A4e and W2W gardens.

  5. Apparently, the OLASS contract for prison education in London is 'embargoed' until investigations into A4E conclude - as Margaret Hodge requested. No date available. But in fact, this is also a poor situation as prison tutors in London are unable to move forward with a new provider - where they won't be FE tutors any more but employees of a private company without the perks of teaching that the low salary justifies - and are retained by a provider who wants to keep the money they made from the previous contract without having to spend any more of it. But, as stated in a previous post, the public is not fired by the plight of prison education and prison tutors are not valued. The very good sense behind the Ken Clarke initiative to reduce reoffending rates has not been explained as beneficial to society. Taxpayers suffer from crime and then pay to prosecute, punish and rehabilitate the perpetrators of crime. And statistically the cycle will continue. Taxpayers should be insisting upon the reduction of re-offending to prevent maintaining the huge enterprise that is the whole justice system. And putting a prisoner back on the street after a 2-year stretch with £40 to spend, no home and nothing to change his/her previous circumstances will never do that!

  6. A colleague of mine works in prison education in London and at times East and the Olass contracts are confirmed with A4e. There was a 10 day appeal period which is now over. The investigations are all but over with just incompetent whistleblowing stories with gaps in their facts .

    1. Anon 05:33 Mar 8

      I have received an e-mail today from the office of the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

      Mrs Hodge says that, "We will continue to keep a close eye on the situation and will be publishing a report on the Work Programme soon. We will be returning again to the issue on the basis of a further National Audit Office report in March."

      I had not known that the NAO are preparing a further report etc but it is clear that the issue of whether or not the new Work Programme scheme provides good value for public money is not going to lie down and die, however much A4E and some of the other Prime Contractors might wish that it would.

      In the Hearing at which Andrew Dutton of A4E addressed the PAC, the Hansard reveals Mrs Hodge complaining bitterly that a charity in her constituency of Barking might go under because allegedly this charity is not receiving enough referrals from the Primes.

      Recently, A4E tried to refer me to a subcontactor of theirs called Emplacement Solutions. The week before I was due to have my first appointment with Enplacement Solutions, I received a letter from Emplacement Solutions saying that they planned to cease trading that evening and intended to put the company into liquidation immediately. No doubt the Directors of Emplacement Solutions feel that they have been conned by the Directors of A4E.

      I am 55. My A4E "adviser" told me that he knows nothing about helping WP clients aged 50 and over, which is why he suggested Emplacement Solutions. Emplacement Solutions' website claimed that they specialised in helping older workers. But now they have gone bust and the only idea that A4E have been able to suggest is that I should go and see their self-confessed non-specialist "adviser" again. That cannot be described as good service, my friend.

      If too many of the subcontractors are forced out of business as a direct result of the Work Programme scheme, there will be UPROAR. The subbies are crucial to David Cameron's lofty (though vague) notions about the Big Society, after all.

      My suspicion is that your own role within A4E is too junior for you to be able to understand the "big picture" that will blow this new Work Programme scheme apart unless remedial action is taken immediately. The present funding model for the scheme does not work and unless the funding model is changed, the Work Programme scheme will collapse.

      The Primes will demand more money from the Government but Ministers now have the NAO and the PAC watching them like hawks. The DWP never did support the idea of privatising welfare-to-work because the statistics have shown consistently that Job Centre Plus achieves better outcomes at less cost. The PCS Union are right behind the DWP and Job Centre Plus on this one, so a few junior managers from A4E wittering, "The whistleblowers are liars," is not going to make any difference. The picture is much bigger than you seem to realise (or you might have been led to believe by managers more senior than yourself.)

      In your own shoes, I'd be looking for a new job because the Directors of A4E are not going to worry about your own future when the whole thing goes t*ts up, I promise.

    2. Judi, we don't know, and must not imply, that the directors of Emplacement Solutions feel "conned" by A4e.

    3. Historian

      Your comment is fair enough. Please remove the offending sentence from my post if you wish. I confirm that I was only expressing my personal opinion. Doing that is not defamatory, as you no doubt know.

      Mrs Hodge having told me about a new NAO report, I looked on the PAC and the NAO websites but I cannot find anything about a proposed new NAO report into the Work Programme.

      That said, the NAO do stress their scepticism about the financial viability of the Work Programme Scheme:

      The DWP and the Primes all insist 40% by way of successful outcomes. The NAO insist no more than 26%, which is the figure that Job Centre Plus have consistently achieved.

      The subbies who were hoping for rich pickings from the "harder to help" groups of the WP's customers are complaining that they are not receiving a sufficiently high volume of referrals. That seems to be because there is an appeal rate of about 39% against the "Fit to Work" assessments and presumably, the DWP's claimants cannot be forced onto the Work Programme if there is an outstanding appeal. Also, I've read that about 40% of the appellants are successful on appeal. Presumably they can't be forced onto the Work Programme if they win an appeal.

      If all this is roughly correct then the finding model on which the Work Programme scheme relies does not work. Short term, it does not work for the specialist subbies (who are smaller and more vulnerable) but in the longer term it does not work for the Primes either.

      My impression is that IDS has created a fiasco that is likely to come back and bite him in the bum. He seems to have made a stack of ideological assumptions that are not being borne out by the facts.

      Incidentally, the Guardian have just announced that the DWP now intends to audit the performances to date of all of the Primes, it appears. What is that going to cost? What is this new NAO report going to cost?

      My own feeling is that A4E are getting the lion's share of the flak because their "corporate image" is so much poorer than that of their competitor Primes. I doubt whether every other Prime is above reproach.

      However, if I had been Mrs Harrison and her fellow A4E shareholders last year, what would I have done? Reinvested the £11 million profits into A4E in order to try to improve the company's image and its chances of survival? Or would I just have grabbed the profits and run? It appears that Ms Harrison can already afford to retire, after all, so commercially maybe she's had the last laugh?

    4. 'The investigations are all but over...'

      Seems not.

  7. "Gaps in their facts"? your right about facts people are saying about A4E all of them, but gaps not really what im hearing would stand up in a court of law.

  8. How can there be a gap in a fact? is not a fact a fact?

  9. The news -

    1. Hmm, wonder why it didn't come up on a search. But it's not something to get excited about yet.


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