Saturday, 1 September 2012

PR or results?

A4e has been on a PR offensive, described on its website.  They have invited local MPs into their offices to show them "the real work that goes on behind the headlines".  Six have so far taken up the offer.  Niki Freeman, who is described as Local Business Leader for A4e, is quoted as saying: "Some of the comments that have been made against A4e have been incredibly frustrating and hurtful for my staff and the many partners we work with, who, day in, day out, have simply been doing their jobs."  I sympathise with that.  But the piece goes on: "Over the last year, A4e has been working hard to establish an excellent team of professional staff with a range of specialist skills to support individuals across the UK. The Work Programme’s ‘black box’ approach gives service providers the freedom to create innovative ways of working, allowing A4e to tailor its service to individuals."  This is where many clients would take issue with the company.  The reactions of three of the MPs are quoted.  Two of them, Helen Wheeler of South Derbyshire and John Stevenson of Carlisle, are Conservatives and effusive.  The third, Labour's Vernon Coaker, is more guarded.  But no doubt all of them were happy to be quoted.

It makes sense to get MPs on side.  But on the Work Programme A4e, like all the other providers, will be judged on results.  After the leaked document showing very poor results, and Private Eye's publication of the letter showing that Working Links is in the same position, the Telegraph now has an email to Ingeus staff from its director Jack Sawyer.  He says that the firm is not meeting its "contractual minimums" and its performance is not good enough.  Chris Grayling's reaction is simple.  It's all getting better and anyway, "any providers which were failing to deliver could see more unemployed people referred to other welfare to work companies under the programme."  He doesn't say what will happen if they're all doing equally badly.  


  1. "They have invited local MPs into their offices to show them "the real work that goes on behind the headlines"...

    A few thoughts.

    Firstly, are these MP's going to hear EVERYTHING good AND bad about how A4e serves its clients? Or are they going to hear what Are wants them to hear?

    Secondly, are these MP's going to be able to have a full and frank discussion about A4e with clients on neutral territory AWAY from A4e premises and A4e staff? What would happen to a client if he / she were to say "A4e is a load of XXXX! They have failed to support me and others in the pursuit of employment, have poor facilities, etc, etc..." Would they suffer the same experience of daring to complain as I did when attending A4e?

    To recap, when I attended A4e, A chap (let's call him Pat) from the local jobcentre visited every Friday primarily to see his clients but also to get view of how A4e was serving its clients generally. Thus anyone who wanted a chat with Pat about A4e could do so. I took him up on his offer. I laid it on the line what I thought of A4e and how they were failing to meet my and others clients needs. Although this was done in a small room on A4e's premises, no A4e staff were present. Later that day, an A4e advisor shouts at me "WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN SAYING TO PAT? IT WAS OUT OF ORDER!" Upon seeing Pat at the jobcentre, he said he had to relay clients comments back to A4e managers. However, he agreed that they way I was spoken to was unprofessional and wrong. He had words with A4e!

    Should a client meet with an MP to discuss how A4e and the WP is failing them, will they be treated as I was?

    "Some of the comments that have been made against A4e have been incredibly frustrating and hurtful for my staff and the many partners we work with, who, day in, day out, have simply been doing their jobs."

    As I have said before, not ALL A4e staff are inadequate. It's just too many of them are. However, what the above quote does is try to defect attention away from a failing company onto its staff. A case of "criticising us (A4e) is the same as personally insulting ALL our members of staff! A bit like monarchists who seem to think that criticism of monarchy and the royal family equals hating the entire country.

  2. Why is it that all these journalists quote these W2W companies telling them that they don't get paid until the client is employed for 6months yet never fail to omit the £400 "attachment fee"?

    Their PR's helped by lazy journalism.

  3. May be worthwhile e-mailing them (or maybe waste of time with the tories!) just to put the victims' side of the story!
    I will e-mail Vernon Coaker

    1. Heather Wheeler MP has put a piece on her own website:

    2. Heather Wheeler's blog entry sounds almost as if Chris Grayling typed it out himself. It's so shining and certain in it's praise, even though the writer must've known that A4e staff were likely putting across the best impression as possible.

      An unbiased article would have pointed out that one planned visit does not a fine upstanding social purpose company make. Someone who was genuinely seeking to publicise A4e's positive impact on job seekers lives would have gotten more information on the two people she said had signed off, she would've ascertained exactly what help A4e gave them and assured us that A4e found them the work, used the employment subsidies and determined what ''tailored support'' A4e gave them, before inferring A4e was the reason they signed off, or that A4e isn't simply claiming money for a claimant they did nothing for.

      As is, the blog entry is nothing more than a token statement designed simply to hold the government line.

    3. Taken from the above site link provided by Historian:

      "Nicky and the team have one aim – to help people get back into work – they have no other agenda. I saw for myself the care and attention the staff have and while I was there I heard about the partnership work with one of our growing employers, Futaba on Dove Valley Park.

      During my visit, I also saw that two people were actually able to sign off the unemployed register as they had moved into jobs. I applaud the work A4e are doing for South Derbyshire."

      A couple of points or rather questions spring to mind. When Heather Wheeler MP says the A4e staff she say have "no other agenda", what precisely does she mean? Of course A4e staff SHOULD have no other agenda other than to find clients suitable and sustained employment.

      Secondly, did Heather Wheeler MP talk fully and frankly to A4e's clients? Or was it just A4e staff?

      Thirdly, yes she saw that a couple of them had found jobs. Good for them. However, how many clients did that particular A4e branch actually have? How many others found employment? Did the two clients who found employment actually find sustained work lasting more than a few weeks?

  4. Ive been on the work programme for around 8 months. can anyone tell me why?

  5. So this is what I e-mailed Mr. Coker:

    Dear Mr. Coaker

    I see from the A4e Ltd. Website that you have recently visited their Nottingham premises at their invitation:

    I do hope that you did not surrender your critical faculties when listening to the Public Relations claims that you were doubtless subject to. I have been consigned to the infamous Work Programme and have been obliged to attend the even more infamous A4e Ltd for some time now. My observations are:

    The Work Programme has a strong, indeed all pervasive, element of coercion. Everything is “mandatory” and even the slightest sign of dissent can be (and often is) punished with a “sanction doubt” being levied. This can lead to a total loss of income for a period of up to six months. It is not surprising that faced with such draconian penalties “customers” become compliant and resentful, and that bullying tactics prevail amongst Work Programme Providers (including A4e). I am sure that should you see fit to do so you can check for yourself how many sanction doubts have been raised and how many upheld.
    A4e has (until a recent Advertising Standards Authority ruling) announced itself as a “social purpose company” – thus trying to camouflage itself as some sort of philanthropic organisation. Nothing could be further from the truth with its founder and still majority shareholder having creamed off a massive fortune from taxpayers’ money for doing very, very little.
    None of this would matter too much if only the system worked! It doesn’t. The Work Programme itself is deeply flawed with results likely to be little better than if no such programme existed. See your colleague Margaret Hodge for collaboration.
    The website (see link above) quotes a fellow MP as saying” Not only do they endeavour to find job seekers work, they also help to improve their skills base and provide them with the tools which are necessary in the workplace.” This really is just a regurgitation of A4e’s propaganda. If you had experienced the so-called “training” on offer you would realise that it is lamentable with third party training (e.g. Learn Direct basic literacy and numeracy courses) being used to milk the European Social Fund and add around £1300 to A4e’s coffers for each individual mandated to attend. A scandal in its own right!
    The “Profit by Results” philosophy leads to a sales and target driven environment where the welfare of individuals matters little and meeting targets – at whatever cost - is everything. The private sector is no place for the services needed to get our unemployed (including me) back to work.
    The Work Programme itself creates no jobs. Some people consigned to the programme can and do obtain employment. I concede that sometimes this may even be due to a beneficial effect of the provider or one of its employees. Always it is at the expense of the unknown person who would otherwise have secured that job. This will continue to be true until such time as there are enough jobs to go around and there still remains a pool of unemployed. In short the Work Programme is a “zero sum game” with the only people profiting being the providers (like A4e) at the public expense.
    We do not need a “Work Programme” – We need WORK! We need the opportunity for proper sustainable jobs that pay a living wage not some inefficient, over-priced proseletyising, profiteering, nonsensical Kafkaesque pantomime.

    I could go on! I urge you not to swallow wholesale the spin and misinformation of A4e but to use your position to examine and expose the deeply flawed nature of the Work Programme.

  6. I am never impressed by supposedly "professional people" who whinge that they feel "hurt" about something in their professional lives.

    Does the average Judge feel "hurt" when he sends a villain to prison in the full knowledge that the villain's family would track the Judge down and kill him if they got half a chance?

    If not then what is the woman from A4E whingeing about?

    1. I disagree with you (I seem to be making a habit of it!). People who are trying to do their jobs to the best of their abilities must certainly have been hurt by the adverse publicity surrounding A4e, since the opprobrium was directed at them whether they deserved it or not. All were being tarred with the same brush.

    2. I agree with you in principal Historian but not practise. It's very hard to separate the good staff from the bad when reporting the issue. Ideally both sides have to accept there's going to be generalisations when judging the competency of the company in general, perhaps if A4e's staff understood this they wouldn't feel ''hurt''.

      I am sympathetic to the good staff who've been caught in the cross fire, but the reality is A4e is a company of thousands. You can't attach a disclaimer to every article pointing out the names of each individual member of staff it doesn't apply to for the sake of their feelings. It would be easier on them if they just accepted the realities of public debate and didn't take every anti-A4e article as a personal slight.

    3. This is why I delete most comments which talk about A4e staff. I refuse to talk about "good" staff and "bad" staff. In any organisation there are going to be some people who are not competent, but that is the fault of management.

  7. I am sure it was all very carefully stage managed to make them look like an amazing outfit.

    Once when I was on the 30hrs a week course they had TV cameras pay a visit for some documentary, I remember most of us (except for the how can I put this... more suggestible people) were sent out on some pointless task to keep us out of the way for the afternoon.

    1. Hi Anon
      "I remember most of us (except for the how can I put this... more suggestible people) were sent out on some pointless task to keep us out of the way for the afternoon."
      I believe in America it's called "minding the bees". I remeber an episode of "The Simpsons" when Homer was despatched to some obscure cubby hole to "mind the bees" to keep him out of the way. Of course he took his bee minding duties seriously!
      Awaiting Mr. Coaker's response.

  8. I have read with interest the comments in the A4e website giving details of the PR exercise that is underway, goodness knows they need some good PR after the seemingly relentless stream of negative stories keep coming out.

    I have not long ago (5 weeks) started my work programme "journey" at the Nottingham A4e so it will be interesting to see if my own experience matches up to the official line being promoted which I have to say that so far it doesn't. Unfortunately it appears that you are ok if you are looking for a few weeks through a local employment agency as this appears to be the only jobs they are offering, regardless of skill set, experience, transferable skills etc.

    I am keeping a diary of my visits (as advised by a couple of fellow disillusioned attendees who all started around the same time as me) so we can see if we are receiving the personalised "journey" that we were promised on day one OR if we are all following a generic path, which so far it would appear to be.

  9. According to the leaked audit report on A4e, the Nottingham A4e office was listed as having a number of job outcomes likely to cause reputational damage such as sending heavily pregnant females to strenuous employment and for employers who has signed job outcome forms in the belief that they were signing references.


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