Monday, 31 August 2009

What Emma has to say

If you're interested in Emma Harrison's reaction to the infamous Benefit Busters episode, you can read it on her blog. Note that she visited the Hull office on the day the programme was aired. And note the implied criticism of the city. "There is a system called Rapid Reclaim - but the people of Hull tell us that it is not Rapid enough." "Rapid reclaim" is a government scheme to help people get their benefits back quickly after short-term employment - something Emma didn't appear to know about when she was interviewed for the programme. But never fear, A4e is on the case. "A4e is highlighting this issue and looking for solutions - we are even considering ways in which we could offer this reassurance from our resources. This is important as i think it is the reason that some people are getting trapped on benefits." [My italics] On the same day Emma has a post about Flexible New Deal. It's going to be so much better!
But nothing on why the Benefit Busters episode is now unavailable.

The Curious Case of the Missing Episode

This is getting silly. The reaction to episode 2 of Benefit Busters was overwhelmingly negative - critical of A4e and the government more than of the jobless. But those who didn't see it and were banking on watching it online are frustrated. Channel 4 won't explain; nor will those newspapers which have denied their readers the opportunity to comment. There's just silence. Which leads people to the conclusion that A4e exercised their rights over the programme to ensure that no one else can see it - damage limitation. And that they also put pressure on other branches of the media to close down discussion. In a way I don't blame them. The prospect of clips from the programme being repeatedly shown is unbearable if they can stop it.
But someone - Channel 4, A4e or the DWP - should have the courage to tell us why.
And the Shaw Trust people must be quaking in their boots about this Thursday's episode.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

The Rumour Mill

If you missed the first episode of Benefit Busters you can watch it via Channel 4's website. If you missed the second episode - tough. It was, apparently, briefly available but has now been withdrawn. This has, of course, fuelled suspicions in some quarters that A4e has insisted on it being pulled. Or was it the DWP? Or possibly someone who was filmed for the programme and who now objects to how he / she was portrayed? Channel 4 are not saying. And the Daily Express is not allowing comments on the brief piece about the programme on is website.

The rumour mill keeps grinding away on the idea that the FND contracts could be cancelled, or at least that one prime contractor could find itself without a contract. It seems that the contracts have not yet been signed, perhaps because negotiations are still going on. But the contracts have been awarded. And a crucial part of FND is that clients have a choice of providers. This means that in all areas contractors and subcontractors have been spending money on setting up facilities and staff. In Hull, for instance, Working Links have had to rent space for the first time. If the contracts were pulled at this stage, would they not be entitled to compensation for this expenditure? Perhaps that's another reason for the Conservatives' reluctance to spell out what they would do. This element of choice in FND also raises the question of what happens when clients all insist on avoiding a particular provider. Benefit Busters has stirred up a hornets' nest, and the DWP should get its act together and respond.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Carry on caring

There's been no reaction from the press to episode 2 of Benefit Busters. They reviewed episode 1, so that's it, move on to something else. A number of bloggers have reacted, but as far as the mainstream media are concerned it's old hat. I do wonder what the atmosphere was like in A4e offices around the country on Friday morning!
But how are A4e taking it? Well, in Redcar the Gazette was happy to report that "Thornaby-based A4e held a fun day on Redcar seafront this week to publicise the support it offers people seeking employment and training opportunities." (Note that A4e is always portrayed in these pieces as a local company.) "And while the kids were having fun, A4e staff were on hand in the roadshow vehicle to give grown-ups advice about jobs, vocational training, literacy, numeracy, motivation, confidence building, life coaching and goal setting." Bet that was fun. And the emphasis these days is on "helping" entire families; it's not clear what plans lie behind the phrase. The spokeswoman got the slogan in, though: “Our mission is to improve people’s lives and that’s what we’re doing today.” Beware of the beach this Bank Holiday; you could run into an A4e fun day.

Friday, 28 August 2009

The legacy of Benefit Busters

Inevitably there was a great deal missing from last night's Benefit Busters programme.
We were told that A4e was contracted to occupy the clients for 30 hours per week. We were not told that this is meant to include a work placement. The original idea behind the contracts was that claimants would get experience of working and, possibly, be taken on by the employer permanently. Lots of A4e's clients are indeed out on placements, but few with private sector employers, who don't want the hassle. Most are hived off to the voluntary sector, and A4e pays the organisations small amounts to take them.
The pressures on space and the difficulty in usefully occupying clients results in people being sent out to roam the streets. Two former A4e clients in Hull complained to the local BBC office that they had been sent out to do quizzes, and that the whole "course" had been a waste of time.
Mark's job was intended to be permanent and so would have resulted in a job outcome payment for A4e. However, since he didn't stay in the job for 13 weeks, they would not have received the "rolled up weeks", the payments for the remaining weeks of the programme.
A4e were caught claiming agency jobs as permanent in Hull. We saw how these jobs are casual and so very unpopular with claimants; they also don't qualify as real jobs with the DWP, so the temptation to get the agency to tick the "permanent" box is very real.
A few months after this programme was filmed, an Ofsted inspection rated A4e's offices in the area only "satisfactory" and gave the figure for job outcomes as 18%.
A4e's PR people will know that this programme, together with last week's episode, are a disaster for the image of the company and its boss. But does it matter in the long run? The Conservatives are still reluctant to say that they would ditch FND, because it depends on the state of the contracts when they get into government. And for A4e the future lies abroad more than in Britain.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Benefit Busters, episode 2

Before the A4e-bashing starts, let's get something clear. What we saw tonight was the creation of the government. Gordon Brown's New Deal was transformed into this ridiculous 13-week "course" with the aim, supposedly, of encouraging the private sector to get the results they were being paid for. So blame, first of all, the government.
And something else needs to be said. The programme gave the impression that poor benighted Hull was dependent on A4e for getting its high unemployment rate down. It isn't. A4e has a subcontractor in the city, the local FE college, which has as many clients as A4e. (The figure of 700 clients was quoted - I think that means the total for A4e itself and the college.) And there are a number of local initiatives, not least by the local council.
Having said that, I'm amazed that A4e agreed to this. The clients shown were not representative. Where were the men and women with a good work record and qualifications? But those who were picked out did enable the point to be made. These contracts are a waste of time and money. People sat around doing nothing; as Mark said, "The idea is to bore you into getting work." Mark got a job and was thrilled - but a few weeks later he was made redundant. That meant he was angrier than ever. Sherrelle, a brave young woman, got a job which lasted 4 weeks. Natalie, a recruiter from the (Primetime?) agency tried, largely without success, to get people to go for agency work at Greencore, a large local cake factory. But the clients knew that this was casual work and avoided it. Dane, a young man who could be seen as a stereotypical layabout, went for the induction, having been assured that the work was full time, but turned it down when he realised it was temporary with no guaranteed hours. Not enough explanation was given for this problem; but we learned that when Mark lost his job it took 3 weeks to get his benefits reinstated.
And all this was put to Emma Harrison. Did she cringe when she saw it? The narrator put it to her that, with the signing of the lucrative new contracts (FND), is recession good for business? She conceded that because there were more people they were more difficult to help. Then we got the PR phrases. The ultimate aim is to transform people's lives. A4e is different because they come at it from a different angle. It's "gutting" to let an individual down. After we saw Mark having to sign on again and Dane refusing casual work, Emma is asked about A4e's pushing people towards temporary jobs or zero-hour contracts. She says that it undermines people's confidence, and will talk about it more at government level (!) There is an uncomfortable silence. When the narrator asks again, she laughs and says she isn't a genius and has no answer, but will think about it.
I don't think this was the programme A4e had in mind.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Let's not get hysterical

With the second episode of Benefit Busters not even aired yet, there are a lot of opinions out there. The One Show on BBC1 linked it with the programme about the Duchess of York's visit to a Manchester estate, and did a piece about how the "working class" is now being portrayed negatively. Lots of figures are being bandied about, and today we're told that the number of people of working age who live in homes where no one has a job has gone up by half a million in the past year. The Conservatives have siezed on this, calling the figures "scandalous". But there's an interesting blog comment by the BBC's Nick Robinson which gives a more measured interpretation. It's obvious from BB episode 1 and the clips from episode 2 that the phrase which the producers want us to commit to memory is, "The unemployed get too much money", so that we will then go on to substitute "workshy" for "unemployed" and condemn the lot. What's also worrying is that this sort of manipulation pitches one lot of unemployed people against another lot. I'm genuinely unemployed, they say, really looking for work, unlike that lot who are workshy scroungers. Guess who the winners will be in that contest.

BB2 - Preview clips

There are two clips from tomorrow's Benefit Busters programme on the Channel 4 website - and they're worrying. In the first we're given misleading information about the way that providers are paid, but we'll leave that. We're shown how clients are divided into groups, with the "job-ready" being given the most attention as far as finding work is concerned. This is understandable; but I wonder if young Lee - who admits that the drive is to get people into jobs and never mind the rest, because otherwise his own job will be at stake - still works for A4e. In the second clip we hear Mark making the point that was highlighted in the first programme - you can get more on benefits than by working.
Is there really a huge poster of Emma Harrison on the wall at A4e offices?

Monday, 24 August 2009

Getting your retaliation in first

With the second episode of Benefit Busters to be aired on Thursday, A4e have begun a PR offensive in local newspapers. The Runcorn and Widnes World is a great example. "Benefit Busters shows how A4e helps the unemployed conquer personal hurdles to find work" says the article, and quotes Emma Harrison at some length. 13 weeks isn't long enough for some people, she says, and she looks forward to FND which "works well with A4e’s own ethos of working with the individual and will ultimately mean we can help more people to come off benefits, get into work and improve their lives.” An impartial, well-researched bit of journalism, obviously.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Playing with figures

The unemployed have enough to worry about without being made to feel guilty; but the Sunday Express quotes "Westminster sources" (must be true, then) that "Rising unemployment will send the welfare benefits bill rocketing by £7.5billion a year." And "It means every household in Britain faces a bill equivalent to £3,425 a year to pay for the growing army of the unemployed." (Does that include unemployed households?)
The problem with all this throwing about of figures is that nobody is sure what's included. "Recent figures from the Commons library show unemployment is already costing around £61billion a year. That sum includes the total for jobless benefits – including jobseekers’ allowance and incapacity benefits – and lost tax revenue resulting from reduced earnings and spending." Does it include the huge cost of the various programmes, such as New Deal, aimed at getting the unemployed back to work? I don't know. But as the article points out, the government has "promised that extra measures to offer training and advice will be in place to deal with any sharp rise." Presumably that means FND and the support contracts. So not everybody is losing money. And as Dave Osler points out on the Liberal Conspiracy blog, "Total bonuses to those in financial services reached £7.6bn in the five-month period between December 2008 and April 2009, which is regarded as the peak season. But in back of an envelope terms, you can double that figure for the full year, and you come to a total considerably higher than the annual £11 billion cost of jobseekers' allowance." In fact you can draw any conclusion you want to. The Benefit Busters programme drew an unexpected response from the Adam Smith Institute, that cheerleader for capitalism. It concluded that "Those in minimum wage jobs who can be rewarded with more money on benefits need to have their allowance levels raised so they are removed from paying tax."
The debate is welcome; but let's have the real figures, and let's not lose sight of the misery of unemployment.


The first Benefit Busters programme has certainly created a lot of interest in A4e. But as we wait for the second episode (which will surely be even more controversial), can we assess what the producers set out to achieve; what they actually achieved; and what it means for A4e?
The aim was to simplify a far from simple subject, with a handful of lone parents and a central character that you couldn't ignore. We were told that the bill for benefits comes to more than the take from income tax; and one of the women, Yvette, gives the opinion which has been so widely quoted - that she gets too much on benefits. The women were told at the start that if they didn't turn up they would be disciplined; in fact, A4e could only refer them back to the Jobcentre after a specified period of absence. They were subjected to what was called, wrongly, "tough love" and told that, "There isn't one of you in this room that can't go out and get a job tomorrow and that is a fact." That's rubbish, but a great many viewers would believe it. But as if to demonstrate this, the five remaining women got work trials with Poundland and four of them stayed, on minimum wage. Emma Harrison was allowed to deliver the mantras "improving people's lives" and "it's a together thing" more than once and showed her willingness to descend to the front line from her well-earned mansion.
But reactions show that many viewers saw beyond this. The women were not, with one exception, stereotypical single mums, because there's no such thing. Only Donna could rouse the ire of Middle England, with her massive debts; and yet it was Donna who first exposed the flaws in Ms Taylor's 's methods when she turned down a job that would have left her stranded in the early hours of the morning. The other women succumbed to the browbeating, feeling guilty and miserable, before being allowed to regain some self-respect. Many who saw the programme were concerned about the techniques used by Ms Taylor, her qualifications, and the realism of what we saw. It is highly unlikely that one person would have spent 6 weeks exclusively with a group of 5 clients. We were never told the overall outcome percentages. It has, however, raised awareness of the difficulty of living on minimum wage.
Was it good PR for A4e? It certainly increased brand recognition, but that is not always a good thing. I suspect that Emma Harrison endeared herself to no one. We'll have to wait for next week for a final verdict, But I think it's a pity that MPs are on their hols, or we could have expected some reaction from them.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Reviews of the programme

We saw how some of the newspapers and blogs publicised Benefit Busters before episode 1 was screened. Two more previews show what some of the press wanted us to think. The Mirror was sure that we'd all be furious at the life-styles of the lone parents (or single mums as they prefer to call them) and throw in the sentence "Controversially, it’s paying private firms like A4E, one of the largest welfare-reform companies in the world" which is being paid to get them back into work. The Doncaster Free Press makes the point that the programme was made a year ago and three of the women are still in work. We also learn what happened to Jacqueline - she's gone into care work.

After the programme went out, the Independent's review focussed on Hayley's personality and methods.
There's a comment after this article that I hope I will be forgiven for quoting in full: "I worked for A4E as a tutor for 5 years and its not at all how they portrayed it last night and my ex-colleagues agreed with me via text last night. Last night was totally set up and a total observers paradox. That didnt happen at all in every day life at A4E at all, they dont care for the 'clients' just for the payments the jobcentre paid them for each one that attended the programmes and got work as a result. They should look at the figures of people that are still in employment having attending an A4E training course and interview some 'real' clients about how they are treated at A4E. The Government needs to rethink how much money they plough into these private companies as its not the answer to getting people off benefits and into sustainable employment."
The Dublin Herald didn't like Hayley or her methods, or the slant of the programme.
The TV blog on the Orange site is not exactly thoughtful, but has attracted a lot of comments.
The Primetime blog manages to be insulting to everybody involved and gets details wrong.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Benefit Busters, episode 1

Well, what did you think?
There were figures for the costs of welfare benefits, but no figures for outcomes from this course or the cost of it. What proportion of lone parents on this course get permanent jobs?
Why did no one get feedback from the two women who dropped out after week one?
What happened to Jacqueline? She was the 36-year-old graduate with teaching experience. What specialist advice was available to her? Did she end up at Poundland?
Why was Hayley so thrilled to be travelling from Doncaster to Derbyshire for a cup of tea and a few words with Emma?
The techniques used by Hayley - breaking them down in order to build them up again, for instance - made me wonder what her qualifications are.
I totally agreed with the parting shot that when someone can't afford to take a job there's something wrong with the system; but where was the emphasis on the minimum wage involved in these jobs?
Judging from the trailer for next week, it could cause trouble in Hull.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Benefit Busters - a preview

Tom Walker of the Socialist Worker has seen the first programme and previewed it on their website. Although he calls it an "uncritical documentary", his description suggests that the producers may be hinting at criticism at the end.
"As the show ends, Taylor is invited to tea at the 20-bedroom, £5 million mansion owned by A4e chair Emma Harrison. Taylor is asked if she thinks it is right that Harrison is making £100 a week out of each unemployed person on the course. 'At the end of the day,' she replies, 'a successful businessperson finds a market and exploits it.'" Quite.

And now America - tomorrow the world

The Yorkshire Post today carries an uncritical piece about A4e's proposed expansion into the US. "Training specialist looking to US" reports that the company is talking to the Obama regime - at their invitation, apparently, but note the name-dropping - "about providing training for the long-term unemployed in the US. Ms Harrison said she hoped to have a "substantial" presence in the US within two years." The rest of the story simply gives Emma Harrison's version of A4e, even quoting her statement, "Our number one priority is to improve people's lives." And she says, "Globally, the plan is just starting. In Poland we exceeded all targets. In Germany we are working with whole families. That's the next step for the UK. We must get three delegations into our London office from foreign countries a month." The DWP fraud investigation is faced and dismissed by the article, and Emma's line is now that A4e were the victims of a fraud by a single employee.
Of course, the Yorkshire Post is reporting on a Yorkshire company but, as with other newspapers, they don't bother to look behind the A4e version to such vital issues as performance (way, way below target) and client experience. This article seems to be part of a PR offensive linked to the Benefit Busters programme (don't forget, this Thursday), and it's to be hoped that the Observer won't be the only paper to look below the surface.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Leicester CLAC - the report and a correction

I posted recently about the annual report on the Leicester CLAC being advertised on A4e's website, but leading only to a PR company which wanted to spin it. I can now report that the document is available to download from A4e's site - presumably spin time is over.
I have to withdraw my comments about how 700 clients in a year was hardly significant; that must have been a typo in their news feed. Add a nought - the number of clients is 7,000, which makes more sense. The report is, as you'd expect, a professional document complete with tables and graphs. (By far the largest category of problem on which people sought advice was debt.) The style, however, is too redolent of A4e-speak.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

"Firms in fraud probe set for Whitehall cash"

That's the headline in the Observer today. "Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman, said the government should review which companies were allowed to bid for contracts working with some of the most vulnerable people in society. "The taxpayer is over a barrel to a small number of companies cashing in on the recession. It beggars belief that companies subject to investigation should be potentially in line for lucrative contracts dealing with a particularly vulnerable group," he said." It's the Work Choice contracts which have sparked the anger of Mr Webb, and the story explains why. Good to know that MPs are waking up to this situation, and that the Observer is not going to let go. The Sunday Times, however, carries a piece, "Queen of the jobless industry", which could make you despair of so-called quality journalism. I can't bring myself to summarise it - read it for yourself.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Volunteer with A4e!

Do you fancy working for A4e, that "dynamic, fast growing international organisation with headquarters based in England", for nothing? You can if you live in London. The Gumtree site has an ad dated 13 August for volunteer mentors for clients on New Deal programmes. You can work for as little as one hour per week, and in return you could get training in "Time Management, Communication & Assertiveness, CV & Job search, Equal Opportunities & Diversity, as well as ‘’how to achieve long-term success’’. Additionally, after one month of mentoring, volunteers will be able to opt for City & Guilds recognition certificate as a ‘’Community Mentor’’." Tempted? Or are you thinking that A4e is being paid handsomely to do this, so why are they recruiting free labour?

Benefit Busters

An update on the Channel 4 series starting next Thursday: Channel 4's website shows that the 2 of the 3 episodes in the series focus on A4e. We gave the details for Episode 1. There are already 12 comments about this episode and, not surprisingly, several are from people totally unsympathetic to unemployed lone parents. Episode 2 concentrates on New Deal in Hull (it was recorded well before all the bad publicity hit the Hull office). The billing says: "Unemployment is rife in Hull, but for one company business is booming: A4E has won the lucrative contract to help get the long-term unemployed back to work. Mark Pilkington is an ex-soldier who hasn't worked for 10 years. He welcomes help and within a fortnight he finds a job. But the joy of receiving his first pay cheque is short-lived; after just four weeks a business downturn results in Mark being laid off. Facing a return to A4E and potentially a four-week wait to restart his benefit payments, Mark begins to wonder if there is more security in a life on benefits. It appears to be a shockingly common perception amongst the clients at A4E, who are at the mercy of an increasingly casual labour market." That strikes me as rather worrying for the good people of Hull, if their city is to be painted in this disparaging way. Episode 3 looks at Pathways, with the Shaw Trust as the provider.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Prison Education - a survey

This is rather old news, I'm afraid, dating back to February this year, but still very relevant. You wouldn't expect a trade union to be keen on the privatisation of public services; and the University and College Union are certainly not keen on the way in which "offender learning" has been contracted out to A4e. They produced a briefing for the Learning & Skills Council, with the results of a survey of about 100 UCU members who are employed by A4e. It includes:

"We asked what A4e was like as an employer and provider of offender learning. This is what they told us:
  • 89.5 per cent employees would prefer to work for a college of further education.
  • Over half (50.6 per cent) rate A4e as ‘Poor’ as a provider of quality offender learning.
  • Over half (54.3 per cent) say offender learning has got worse since A4e won the contract."
"Asked if A4e should be awarded the contract for offender learning again an overwhelming 81.6 per cent said ‘NO’"

It also includes a number of quotes from employees, including:
“A4e do not appear to understand or care about what education should be for. In my opinion education should be about enabling offenders to further themselves as individuals. They seem to regard the contract as a business.”

Another complaint concerned the lack of training and development. In April this year the union asked the LSC to take notice of this in awarding the new contracts. By August it had become clear that FE colleges were withdrawing from the bidding process because they couldn't afford to deliver an adequate service, and the union was warning the LSC "that it risks putting quality and standards in prison education at risk if it hands out contracts to private providers." We'll see.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Publicity - lots of it

We know that A4e's strategy is to feed PR thinly disguised as news stories to the press, but it's been confined to the regional and local papers - until today. The Times carries a story, "‘Loan shark threatened to break my legs if I didn’t pay £1,000’" describing how a Stoke on Trent man went to A4e for debt advice. They're called "a debt advice agency based in Stoke" - actually they have a contract to provide money advice to Stoke's council tenants. One wouldn't, perhaps, have expected The Times to print stuff fed to them by firms like A4e, but this reads so typically of their planted stories that, sadly, one has to believe it.
And there's more publicity to come on 20 August when Channel 4 begins a series entitled "Benefit Busters". The first episode sounds like wonderful propaganda for A4e. "Hayley Taylor is a no-nonsense Yorkshire lass whose job is to persuade single mothers on benefits to go back to work. The company she works for, A4E, makes millions from helping to tackle the Government's target of getting 70 per cent of lone parents into paid work by 2010, and is the largest welfare reform company in the world. A4E is run by multimillionaire entrepreneur Emma Harrison, who believes her business is 'improving people's lives by getting them into work.' Until recently, the 700,000 lone parents receiving benefit didn't have to look for work until their youngest child was 16. Soon, they must either work, or be looking for work, once their youngest child is seven. At Doncaster A4E, Hayley runs a course called Elevate that aims to give lone parents the skills and confidence to enter the workplace and convince them they'll be better off doing so. Cameras follow her group of ten single mothers during their intensive six-week course to prepare them for work." Some of that must have come straight from A4e's handouts, and it certainly doesn't look as if the programme will be a hatchet job. A4e's own publication, Blueprint, says, " of our teams in Doncaster was in for a nice surprise – and more than just 15 minutes of fame – when a Channel 4 documentary maker chose the team to star in a film about the welfare system. Doncaster’s Elevate team was selected to appear in the documentary after Elevate Trainer, Hayley Taylor, made a great impression on the series producer. He felt that Hayley had the energy and passion to inspire her clients – all of whom are lone parents – to get back into work and training. You can read their fascinating story on page 12, and find out what it was really like to be in front of the camera for weeks on end." If you really want to read page 12, it's here. Can't wait.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Associating with success

Much of A4e's "news" i.e. PR output is focussed on Plymouth at the moment. They are part of something called "Plymouth Works Plus" which has an interesting website homepage. Under "Who we are" they say, "Plymouth Works Plus is a European Social Fund (ESF) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) funded project. The organisations working together to provide this support are A4E, The Neighbourhood Learning Consortium, Pluss and RITE Associates Ltd. Our Team consists of trained advisors, consultants, employment engagement advisors and trainers." Fine. But the next paragraph, "What we do", is not reassuring. "Plymouth Works Plus are here to help imporve the employability of unemployed people. We do this by tackling barriers to worked faced by people with disabilities or helath conditions, lone parents, people aged 50+, ethnic minorities, those with no or low qualifications and anyone over 16 not in education., employmnet or training." This is copied and pasted directly from the website. So, a little exercise for you - how many mistakes can you spot in those two sentences? Why has no one from the organisation spotted them?
However, A4e's PR exercise in this area seems to be to associate themselves with the success of people who overcame handicaps to become stars. First we had AWARD WINNING PLAYWRIGHT TEAMS UP WITH A4E. I confess I'd never heard of Sue Torr, but her story is told in the Guardian. What does it have to do with A4e? Well, “A4e has teamed up with Sue to promote help for people to improve their basic skills in literacy and numeracy where A4e runs our Employability Skills programme in Plymouth and across the rest of the South West region.” What does that mean? “A4e is helping Sue with business support on her US tour by organising business cards, literature, and a Dictaphone courtesy of Apex Core Training.” So they have "organised" business cards and literature (the dictaphone, note, was supplied by someone else). Yesterday we got the story of A GENIUS PAINTER WITH A DIFFERENCE. Here we have an even more tenuous connection with A4e. They have "helped Eddy with displaying his works and with help and advice guidance on how he can develop his great talent for painting.” (I know that's not grammatical, but it's what's on the website.) I'm sure Eddy, and Sue, were grateful for A4e's support, but I can't help thinking that it's the publicity that matters. And in my treasury of A4e slogans there's a new (and ungrammatical) one from Carol Boyd of Plymouth A4e: "A4e has a talent of nurturing people’s dreams what ever age or barriers."

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Work Choice

Work Choice is the new name for contracts to provide support into work to disabled people. It's a specialist area that some people will remember as Workstep. For the purposes of these contracts the country (including Scotland and Wales) is divided into 28 regions, and the shortlists have now been published of providers. A4e is shortlisted in 9 regions, including what might be considered their heartlands. The BASE website (a voice for supported employment) points out that "the majority of bidders have little or no experience of meeting the needs of these customer groups". A few specialist providers are shortlisted; The Pluss Organisation gets 9 mentions, Advance Housing gets 11. But it's the big-name generalists that loom largest. The Shaw Trust is shortlisted in 17 areas; Working Links in 16; Pinnacle People, a newcomer, gets 14; Work Directions gets 10; and Seetec gets 9. (Seetec's website proclaims, with no doubt conscious echoes of A4e, that it is "one of the UK’s leading providers of Employment, Training and IT services. Working in partnership with the Department of Work and Pensions, Jobcentre Plus, the Learning and Skills Council. employers and partners we are passionate about moving people into sustainable employment, increasing skills and changing lives for the better." )