Thanks to the Richmond upon Thames Liberal Democrats for this story. Richmond upon Thames council, like a lot of other local authorities, funded the Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) to support and train people in small, local voluntary organisations and charities. The CVS branches usually consist of paid professionals helped by volunteers. They are probably not experienced in drawing up bids for contracts to do the work. So when Richmond Council, led by Conservative peer Lord True, decided to put the work out to contract for £85,000 the CVS lost - to the Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI). Not A4e - or not quite. The FSI is the creation of Emma Harrison and has received £1m from A4e. Harrison is Chair of the Trustees (although the piece on the website about her doesn't mention A4e) and two other A4e directors, Jo Blundell and Andrew Dutton, are also trustees. It's a registered charity, and it was originally about helping small charities to raise funds. Now it is obviously using the bid-writing skills of A4e; it is based at A4e's Westminster offices, so it would be silly not to. As Lib Dem leader on the council, Stephen Knight, says: "It beggars belief that Richmond council is intent on handing a contract to the A4e group of organisations, while the government and police are investigating evidence of widespread fraud and mismanagement. Local residents will be shocked that the Tories are intent of pulling funding from the local Council for Voluntary Service and instead handing a contract to a scandal-hit organisation based in Westminster."
There's an interesting piece on the Morning Star website (scroll down) headed "A4E isn't always terrible. Sometimes it is just mediocre." A4e was hired to train 30,000 childminders in 2004, and the writer has got hold of an evaluation of the contract carried out by consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers. It's not good. In fact, it's pretty grim.
Most of the newspapers have reported the story we took from Exaro yesterday about A4e being the preferred bidder for another contract, to run the Equalities and Human Rights Commission's helpline. The Daily Mail takes the opportunity to re-run its previous graphics on A4e, but also quotes Margaret Hodge as saying: "This belies common sense. There are so many question marks about this company’s competence and integrity that I can’t believe any government department is thinking of signing another contract with them. The Home Office should hold off from making any decision until the investigations have been completed."
PS. I read the latest Private Eye after posting the first paragraph above. They have the story; but they also show that A4e used the FSI to help win the Work Programme contracts - the "bid candy" which the charities claim they became for the prime providers. The Eye has also set its sights on another prime, Working Links, recalling a leaked "compliance visit" report last year which showed that Working Links in Liverpool had made 85 claims for outcomes which it was not entitled to.