There has just been an astonishing interview with Emma Harrison on Channel 4 News. There's an account of the facts on which it's based here. It revolved around leaked performance data for the first year of the Work Programme - you can read the analysis on the Factcheck blog - which show that out of 93,127 attachments (new clients) there were only 3,400 outcomes. Just 4%. For that they've got £46m in fees. The government's minimum target is 5.5%. There was a brief explanation of who Emma Harrison is. Then we heard from two clients. Roland said it had taken 8 months for him to get even basic training; his sessions with A4e lasted 15 minutes and he was simply made to apply, under threat of sanctions, for jobs he knew he had no hope of getting. Gill, a former solicitor with a 20-year career break, said that A4e were not interested in anything she said and didn't have the skills to enable them to tailor support.
A former senior manager with A4e, with his identity hidden, said that staff had "unmanageable caseloads" and were having to focus on their "top 10 targets". He also said that customers often found their own jobs but A4e could claim for them if they showed some input, so might pay bus fares for the first week.
Krishnan Guru-Murthy revealed that in addition to the £8.6m dividend that Harrison took last year, she took a further £250,000 before stepping down. What, he asked her, did she have to say to those customers? The interview became an odd exchange. Harrison insisted that a lot of the detail was wrong, including the numbers and the 4% outcomes. A4e had told her that the numbers were wrong. But she didn't know what the right numbers were. She then accused Guru-Murthy of bullying her, and that word kept recurring. They were making up stories for political reasons. Asked about the extra dividend when they were not meeting their target, she said that she had invested £50m in the Work Programme (she appeared a bit confused at this point about what was her own money and what was A4e profits). She is an entrepreneur who has helped tens of thousands. She was sorry that the customers featured were not happy with the service, but then said that Roland's was "an improbable statement".
Harrison insisted that Channel 4 is biassed, having not reported that the fraud allegations had been shown to be untrue. KGM said that they'd reported it at the start of the programme. This was, he said, about value for money. They appeared to disagree about why she had been asked onto the programme. She kept using the word "bullying" and saying that figures were not true. Why, asked KGM, did A4e say that it was a different company from 2 years ago? She said that you could read that statement how you wanted. Was the Work Programme set up to fail, he asked. It was the most successful programme they've ever run, she said. Would she like to apologise to anyone else? She said that her staff had been bullied, it had been a political maelstrom, and she was "useful to have a got at".
It was quite extraordinary, and I wonder how the current A4e bosses feel about it. Not best pleased, I bet.