The latest edition of Private Eye has shown once again the unhealthy relationship between A4e (and the other Work Programme primes) and the government. They have documents released under FoI relating to a meeting which Chris grayling had last July with A4e directors. At that point it was already clear, or should have been, that the WP was failing, and the publicity around A4e had been terrible. But Grayling tells them, "In six months it will be all forgotten," and that he's grateful for what they're doing. Grayling was replaced by Mark Hoban, who was similarly congratulatory at a meeting with Maximus in September. The article continues: "The most revealing document, a 'short feedback' email, says Hoban wants Maximus' views on 'how we "sell" the Work Programme'."
Hoban has since made stern noises about tackling under-performance on the WP. But, as the Eye points out, this is indicative of the fact that the government is more concerned with covering up the failures than securing value for money.
One important link with government for A4e was Jonty Olliff-Cooper, and he has gone. The only publication to have picked up this fact is the Guardian, with a diary piece by Hugh Muir. He points out that Cooper used to be "assistant to eccentric [Tory] strategy guru Steve Hilton". Muir seems to be suggesting that Cooper has departed because the WP figures, due out shortly, are going to be terrible, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's clearing his path to a seat in parliament. Nor would I be surprised if his position became untenable after his appallingly ill-judged tweets. His going leaves one strong link between A4e and government, however. After the meltdown last year and Emma Harrison's departure, the company hired the PR consultants Quiller, which includes George Bridges, "a pal of Chancellor George" as Muir puts it. This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, and Jonty confirmed that in a tweet not long ago. But Quiller is still there.
Outsourcing by government is not a straightforward business relationship. There are mutual interests, which are not necessarily those of the people who ultimately pay the bills - us.