Keeping an eye on a company whose business is government contracts.
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 anyadministration." The article ends with an explanation of Emma's wish for a "family-centred approach".