Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Guardian interview with Emma

The Guardian today carries an article based on an interview with A4e's Emma Harrison; you can also read it on the UTV website. Written by Amelia Gentleman, it starts out as a disconcerting piece of PR for FND, as Emma is being interviewed in a mocked-up FND office (it doesn't say where) that A4e have been using to train new advisers. 'Emma Harrison, A4e's founder and chair, bubbles with enthusiasm for the new approach, which she is certain will have a better success rate than the outgoing, one-size-fits-all, classroom-based formula central to earlier government New Deal employment programmes. "We knew something different had to be done," she says with an impassioned energy that will be familiar to those who saw her star in recent television shows The Secret Millionaire and Benefit Busters. "You can't sit everyone in a classroom for 30 hours for 13 weeks. It's just wrong, and it doesn't work. It's like going to a hospital and everyone getting the same treatment."' There's a lot more in that vein. But then Gentleman gets on to the fact that "the regime is tougher than before, and those who do not comply risk seeing their benefits cut for up to 26 weeks." And we are told that the target off 55% job outcomes has now been abandoned. "Commercial sensitivity means that none of the companies successful in their bids will reveal exactly how many people they are contracted to get into work. Jo Blundell, A4e's group development director, will say only that, to begin with, it could be as little as half the original target." (There is no mention of the fact that the number of projected clients on FND has now been reduced by 35%, leaving all providers with redundant staff and facilities before the programme even starts.) We then get a rather curious statement: "Even without the extra difficulties posed by the recession, many thought these targets were wildly over-optimistic. Commercial considerations also make the success rate of private companies difficult to access, but leaked figures earlier this year showed that organisations delivering the earlier New Deal – in a more benign economy – got only 25% of their clients into work. A parliamentary answer earlier this year revealed that A4e had got just 20% into work during 2008-09." I say "curious" because the success rate isn't all that "difficult to access" - try the Ofsted reports for starters. 'Harrison says the figure of 20% is not one she recognised. She puts the company's success rate at between "20% and 45% for the older programmes".' True, but the average comes out at 25%. Emma is then confronted with the "uncomfortable juxtaposition" of her mansion and the acute poverty of her clients, as seen on "Benefit Busters". But profit margins are kept to 4%, she says. And for anyone who recalls that on BB she seemed unaware that the system made it impossible for people to take casual work, and it takes weeks to get back onto benefits, we're now assured that she is very interested in "benefit buffering". "It is a concept that Iain Duncan Smith's Tory thinktank, the Centre for Social Justice, put forward in its recent proposals for benefit reform. Although A4e has benefited hugely under New Labour, and David Blunkett is a paid adviser with A4e, Harrison stresses that the company is "apolitical" and ready to work with any administration." The article ends with an explanation of Emma's wish for a "family-centred approach".


  1. I have left a comment on the guardians site. (thefrecklepuny).

  2. i have to ask ""You can't sit everyone in a classroom for 30 hours for 13 weeks. It's just wrong, and it doesn't work".. when did she know this,1 week ago or 5 years..

    its just the old job club. nothing changed from them to now. watch this new thing end up being the same as the last. they promised that the a4e wouldnt be like the other providers.. and we all saw they are exactly the same, with the same £4 taken off you. the same tutors just different faces, same everything

  3. I've rejected a couple of comments on this post because, while I might agree with them, they go beyond what I'm prepared to publish. Tone it down, chaps.

  4. I can't believe mainstream media journalists really believe the stuff that Emma spouts about her vision in light of the contradictions exposed in the Benefit Busters series on Ch4.

  5. Perhaps Jeremy it's because Emma is in an influencial position and we, I'm afraid to say are not! At least not yet!

    I remember Richard Branson being interviewed a couple of years ago. The interviewer pointed out that he (Branson) could phone the Prime Minister at almost any time and get a reply. Branson agreed with this and put it down to his position and Virgin.

    Emma Harrison is in a similar position. Whilst she is a bad role model for any budding entrepreneur (unless making money at any cost is the overiding factor), she can always come back to the point that A4e helps those out of work. This will always get her a willing audience. And of course, the unemployed are an easy target. Compare this to my efforts of tring to get on radio phone ins about unemployment. On one the couple of occasions I did get on the air, I sploke to former employment minister, Tony McNulty. When I told McNulty of my New Deal experiences, he totally dismissed it all. If I were a well known multi-millionare businessman, I'm sure he would not have been quite do dismissive.


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".