Gill Marshall, A G & I (UK) Ltd: "Companies such as A4e/Ingeus are too large to effectively run the programme and have far too much control." She recommends a model not very different from that which worked before outsourcing in 2006. "It would be better if there were one centre (Centre of Training & Educational Excellence) in each county holding the funding, regulating and managing the training providers to ensure standards and performances are met." She gets in a specific dig: "Anyone can claim that they are successful, A4e being a prime example!"
Anna Burke, Consultant Partner, Drop the tag: She was the boss of Eco-Actif, the sub-contractor to A4e which folded. "We only received £210 of the average £400 attachment fee in Year One. This double impact meant that we found it very difficult to provide the quality of service and adviser time that we were contracted for. Indeed we felt it would be unethical to provide less. The double layer of contractors also meant that it was taking an average of 10 weeks for invoices to be paid, which was disastrous for our cash flow. We were, however, under a great deal of pressure to ‘cream and park’. At one point we were told (after a monitoring visit) that our advisers were ‘very good and experts in their field’. We were then advised to redeploy them to other projects and employ more sales oriented staff who ‘would not care so much’." She concludes that "There was very little in A4e’s approach that could be considered in any way innovative."
Milton Keynes Women and Work: They are very critical of A4e's behaviour. "Milton Keynes Women & Work (charity No 1010038) established an agreement with the local A4e office to deliver various training packages. A4e did not adhere to the terms of the agreement e.g.
a) They did not confirm numbers of attendees in time, did not give agreed notice times to cancel a course, did not give agreed notice period to cancel the crèche provision we had outsourced. All of this had a negative financial effect on the
b) They did not pay their invoices for several months which also impacted on the charities cash-flow.
c) They cancelled a course we had an agreement to provide for them and started delivering a course in-house based on the format and content we had devised.
There is a long submission from A4e itself. Not surprisingly, it stresses how wonderful the company is and how well it is doing with the Work Programme. They do, however, echo something which comes up in a number of submissions:
"One way the Work Programme could be enhanced further is by strengthening the use of differential payments. The nine current payment groups for the Work Programme are still loosely based on the previous type of benefit recipient. A4e is a provider to Job Service Australia, which means that we also operate with the Australian model. The Australian system has over eighty different payment groups. Our experience is that this creates better incentives, and better reflects the true costs and difficulty of dealing with a very diverse group of customers."
Specialist charity sub-contractors often say the same thing.
A4e says: "We would support greater use of 'Day 1 entry' for some types of customer." Ignoring the misuse of the word "customer", this is about wanting to get some people, like offenders, onto the programme as soon as they sign on.
They get in a plea for their "super-contract" idea. They want "the DWP to lead a pan-government effort to create a common social outcomes procurement framework. This should build on the work of the recent Social Justice Framework for measurement and the Cabinet Office’s Social Outcome Fund, to allow a single provider to pool budgets around an individual." I think they're going to push this at every opportunity.
It will interest their clients to know that A4e believes "It is vital customers have a voice in the service they receive. It is crucial both to ensuring quality service and to suggesting further improvements to the service model. Therefore having good mechanism of feedback and complaint is a very important part of the Work Programme’s black box."
There is a great deal in this whole document which should result in changes to the Work Programme. The criticisms and recommendations are so similar that they surely can't be ignored.