Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Other contracts

  • Train to Gain is a government scheme under which employers are encouraged to release members of their staff to take an NVQ Level 2, by paying their wages for the time they spend on the course. A4e won a large number of these contracts in the short term, but created a tortuous administration which hampered the scheme, and the company subsequently lost many of the contracts.
  • Recruitment services, particularly in education and the NHS.
  • Online business courses for Learndirect.
  • OLASS - Prisoner education contracts in four areas of the country. Perhaps A4e saw this as similar to training the unemployed but with less chance of the clients dropping out! Certainly they saw the benefit (to them) of tacking the New Deal stuff onto the education programme. One problem they hit was in staffing; they had to take on existing teaching staff but could not join the teachers' pension scheme, and this meant that staff were worried about a possible reduction in their pensions.
  • Money advice Courses on money management are provided to schools. Stoke Council have given A4e a contract to give money advice to council tenants, in a scheme which in July 2009 claimed that "Almost 2,800 residents have been helped to reschedule £9.6 million worth of personal debt and receive over £3.5 million in unclaimed benefits". All this has inspired Emma to go further. She wants to start a bank aimed at the poor. She said recently that she hopes to have three trial branches operating within 18 months. Encouragingly, a partnership with RGMR consultancy has secured a titbit from the Treasury to pilot generic financial advice initiatives.
  • A4e were, on 14 January 2009, announced as one of the "partners" in a Money Guidance pilot programme in the North West and North East, along with genuine advice agencies like the CAB and the Consumer Credit Counselling service.
  • Social Care As the government pursued the idea of direct payments for social care, A4e was in there, waiting to grab a slice of the cake. By late 2008 it had 12 contracts across the country, including Middlesborough and Somerset.
  • CLACs Intentionally or not, the government created another opening for A4e when it sought to reduce the bill for legal aid. Local authorities which used to fund advice charities like CAB now have to put these out to tender, seeking bids from partnerships between solicitors and advice organisations. The first of these was in Gateshead, where the voluntary sector managed to win the contract. But A4e got its act together for the next offering in Leicester, and won the contract. In Hull it was also announced as the preferred bidder, and despite a determined campaign by the CAB the Hull CLAC opened its doors in December 2008. The government has since had to rescue the Hull CAB, and has decided that CLACs are not a good idea.
  • Choice Advisors Along with Centra, A4e have the contract for the Choice Advisors Support and Quality Assurance Network, which "supports" people in local authorities who advise parents on school admissions.
  • An education business link organisation consortia (EBLOC), which organises work-related learning activities across the four local authority areas of the Tees Valley. This gives A4e a foothold in schools.

It's a Frequently Asked Question - how has A4e managed to insert itself into so many "markets"? With the reputation it has, how does it secure contract after contract? There are two main reasons:

  1. When considering bids for a new contracts, government departments are not allowed to take into account the previous records of the bidders. Odd? Yes, and it means that you can bodge one contract but secure the next.
  2. Local authorities which feel that they can't, or don't want to, provide a service in-house have to go through rigorous procurement processes. They have to accept the bid which offers "best value", which is not necessarily the cheapest - but if it's not the cheapest they have to have a very good reason, and not liking a particular company isn't good enough.

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