There have been changes at boardroom level. Roy Newey went early in the year; he was the director who travelled round the world selling the company's services. He remains an advisor to the group board, and a small shareholder in the company. Also gone is Jo Blundell, the director who was, briefly, the face of A4e for Flexible New Deal. She has formed something called "futurepublic" (capital letters for proper nouns are unfashionable), advising outsourcing companies. Matt Stevens came in as Chief Financial Officer. David Blunkett MP ceased to be an advisor at the end of October. The biggest change, of course, was the departure of Emma Harrison as Chair of the company. She still owns 85.1% of the shares, but her role on the Board has been filled by Sir Robin Young as Non Executive Chairman. Mark Lovell is Executive Chairman (and owns 6.5% of the shares) and Andrew Dutton is CEO. Jonty Olliff-Cooper is Director of Policy and Strategy but not a board member.
The year seemed to start well, with Harrison riding high as the government's "families champion", rolling out her scheme to pilot local authorities and put forward by Cameron as the solution to all our social problems. That all came crashing down with the revelation that she had received £8.6m in dividends in the previous year. When the Daily Mail in particular got its teeth into that, tearing into her for days on end, she was forced to stand down from her government role and from the Chairmanship of A4e. Drawn into all this terrible publicity were the allegations of fraudulent activity along with persistent failure to meet targets. A4e's reputation could hardly get any worse. Expensive PR consultants were brought in to repair the damage.
It didn't help when A4e was told by the Advertising Standards Authority that it could not describe itself as a "social purpose company" since this could mislead people into thinking that it was not a profit-making business. The response was somewhat petulant.
The focus for the media was always on the Work Programme and its predecessors. A leak of A4e's performance data to Channel 4 News showed that, after about 8 months, the results were terrible. Another leak of the full first year figures confirmed the worst, but the leak was also the occasion of Emma Harrison's re-emergence for what was to prove a disastrous interview, for her and for the company. It was a set-back for the rehabilitation process.
What about business? It has been a lean year for new contracts. The OLASS prison contract was delayed by concerns over A4e's record but started in November. And that's it. International business seems to have shrunk. There was a point when A4e bragged about operating in 11 countries. Now it's 5, not counting the UK, and of those one, Spain, hasn't actually yielded any contracts yet. We will have to wait a long time to see how all this has impacted on profits. The Work Programme hasn't contributed anything to profits in its first 14 months, but doesn't appear to have caused losses.
Perhaps it's a sign of wanting to create a new image, but A4e has a new website. It's a lot cleaner and less fussy than the old one. The slogan - "Improving people's lives" - is still there, but less stridently. All those blogs are gone, and the grammar is a lot better. Maybe it's an indication that A4e will become just another outsourcing company in 2013. Personally, I'd like to see the whole business of outsourcing shrink drastically.
My thanks to all those who have followed this blog in 2012 and contributed to the debate. I wish everyone, whatever their circumstances, a good Christmas.