Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Curious Tale of the CLAC Annual Report

The CLACs are A4e's two contracts, together with Howells solicitors, to provide advice services to people in the local authority areas of Leicester and Hull. The Leicester one has been going for a year, but it was the Hull CLAC which stirred up a hornet's nest when the CAB, now deprived of funding, was facing closure. At that point the government decided that the CLACs weren't such a good idea; and it has since given some funding to the Hull CAB (which has amalgamated with the East Riding CAB).
So how are they doing? An interesting announcement appeared on A4e's website on 23 July; the 2008 / 09 Annual Report of the Leicester CLAC was available - download here. Only the link didn't work. A few hours later there was an alteration - to get the report, email A4e's marketing department. Naturally, I did. And, naturally, I used one of those webmail addresses that don't proclaim one's identity. Two days later I got a reply - but not from A4e. It was from Golley Slater, a "marketing solutions" company. "I wanted to drop you a line," said the employee, "as I handle the PR for A4e and saw your email re: the Leicester CLAC. We are just finalising the report and will send it over to you as soon as we can. Are you writing for a specific publication as it would be good to have a chat?" Evidently they believed that I was a journalist. I reassured her that I wasn't working on a specific project - at the moment; I said that I was interested in comparing the CLACs with what they had replaced, and that I looked forward to getting the report.
Naturally, I was interested in this PR company. I'm sure it's pure coincidence that the CEO is called Chris Lovell and A4e's executive chairman is Mark Lovell. Golley Slater work not only for private companies but for government quangos. And there's a description of their work for A4e on their website:

A4e Network Case Study
The Brief
Complex brief to build profile and understanding for UK market leader in public service reform ensuring:
Strong retention of nation and region ‘personality’
Need to be seen as thought leader by key decision makers
Need to embrace PA dimension in Scotland and Wales
Regional relevance; national ‘multiplier’
Multi-layer programme of public relations

The Response
Build a multi-site team co-ordinated through a central account director to ensure a programme of independent yet linked campaigns:
Regional relevance; national ‘multiplier’
Multi-layer programme of public relations

Media volumes increased >25%
Media understanding of Wales and Scotland offer; established as preferred commentators
Understanding of media at regional level and ability to release stories improved
Introducing more robust measurement values

Fascinating stuff which explains a lot. But I had expected, since the CLAC is a contract with the Local Authority, that the report would be a straightforward account of the year's work, signed off by the Council and the Legal Services Commission. Perhaps I was being a little naive. But why is a PR company "finalising the report"? And why isn't it available from A4e without questions and the opportunity to spin it?
While waiting to see if it would arrive, I looked at Leicester City Council's website for news. You really have to hunt for the CLAC, through a host of other advice links. And when you do find it, it's a typical A4e site, replete with propaganda. There's no link to the annual report, but a helpful summary of customer feedback dated 18 June 2009; 12 quotes from delighted users of the service. Still waiting, I turned back to the brief introduction to the report on A4e's website: "The centre, jointly run by A4e and Howells Solicitors and financed by Leicester City Council and the Legal Services Commission, has had a significant impact across the city since launch, meeting the advice needs of over 700 people with 94% of clients rating the service as excellent or very good." 700 people. In a year. Assuming that they work 50 weeks of the year, that's 14 a week. Less than 3 clients a day. That's a "significant impact"? And the feedback figures are irrelevant unless we see the form which clients were asked to fill in and know when the feedback was gathered - immediately after the interview, or later when the quality of the advice has been tested.
Well, they've had a week, and it's clear that I'm unlikely to get the report; and that it would be of no value as a source of information if I did. This is simply a PR exercise - and a rather clumsy one.


  1. Yes it's interesting how A4E seem to be very high on profile but low on publishing data on such things as their accounts and outcomes. It seeems wrong that A4E has such a prominent role in the assessment of claimants who are going through the related assessment phase of Employment Support Allowance (which replaces the old Incapacity Benefit) Having worked as a specialist in Welfare Benefits and Debt advice for over a decade, it seems perverse that A4E are in part working alongside the DWP and yet tendering in mass for advising claimant's who may well end up disputing DWP decisions on ESA claims; I'd call that a conflict of interst. It doesn't surprise me that A4E are being so secretive, admittedly there are many potential tenderers out their (such as CAB and Law Firms) who are just on the verge of submitting tenders in a closed and secretive bid round as part of the 'competitive market' but that shouldn't alleviate A4E of the need to be a little more open and transparent as to their finances and evidence based output. A4E cannot possibly hope to recruit the skilled advisors needed on the salaries they offer,it's just not going to buy them the quality staff who can really make a difference to people's life with proper specialist advice intervention. It's all very indicative of a lot of hype, very little substance and an organisation that's more intent on winning contracts using poorly trained individuals who will offer their clients advice of very restrictive value.

  2. Will the person who left a comment about Doncaster A4e please post another comment (not for publication) with his or her email address. I would like to discuss the comment with them.


Keep it clean, please. No abusive comments will be approved, so don't indulge in insults. If you wish to contact me, post a comment beginning with "not for publication".