It's useful to remind ourselves sometimes of the wilder shores of A4e's ambitions.
There was the bank. One wonders now how it ever got as far as it did, but A4e wanted to set up a bank for poor people. They had an arrangement with a South African bank, Capitec, the exact nature of which we'll never now know, but it lead to the setting up by A4e of a company called Capitec UK. A grant of £1 million was given by a Regional Development Agency to start this bank. Then something happened. Again, we'll probably never know what, but the whole project was dropped without the money being handed over. Capitec UK never traded and was dissolved early last year. There's no chance now of A4e ever being allowed to run a bank, but who could ever have thought that it was a good idea?
And then there's "total place". A4e had scooped up contracts for various outsourced public services, and had a vision of one grand contract covering a whole local authority area. A single company would provide all the services, from welfare-to-work, to legal and financial advice, to pupil referral units to - you name it. They put forward a version of this to government in 2010 when Local Enterprise Partnerships were invented. (See this blog 25 September 2010.) This idea seemed a whole lot more likely than the bank; but what has happened in practice is the grand contract which doesn't help A4e. Some local authorities (Conservative controlled, naturally) have decided to outsource everything, handing over all their services to one company which then sub-contracts them out piecemeal. The only companies in the running for such super-contracts are, as you would expect, the likes of Serco, Capita and IBM, with other big American companies wanting a piece of the action too. A4e isn't big enough. Which is a relief.
The setbacks of this year will not have dampened A4e's ambitions. Why should they? G4S made a complete mess of its Olympics contract, but it's caused barely a dent in their business. There are frequent failures in outsourcing, but no slowing of its growth. And that's because it has little or nothing to do with cost or efficiency. It's down to what Private Eye calls the revolving door; the happy club of politicians, business people and civil servants who switch roles and create opportunities for money-making for each other. It's a wealth creation scheme for the elite.