Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Emma Harrison CBE

A4e's owner, Emma Harrison, has been given a CBE in the New Year honours list. It's "For services to Unemployed People and to the Voluntary Sector." The Derby Telegraph expands on this a little. "In 1991, she founded A4e Ltd to deliver social change on behalf of the government. Managing £300m of government contracts, A4e now employs 1,500 staff in offices nationwide and Emma anticipates the organisation will more than double in size over the next two years. She was appointed as the chairman of regions of the NSPCC Full Stop Campaign and donated more than £1m to the charity."

Melanie Phillips on unemployment

Anyone interested in the issue of unemployment will want to listen to a Radio 4 programme at 8.00 pm next Monday and the following Monday. "Journalist Melanie Phillips embarks on a personal journey to explore what work means to some of the most vulnerable and socially-excluded people in Britain. Melanie is known for her uncompromising views on the 'workshy' beneficiaries of the welfare state but will her theories stand up in the face of the complex and difficult lives of the people she meets?" So says the BBC website. Phillips' "uncompromising views" are, in fact, increasingly common among those with no first-hand experience. "In this first programme," we read, "Melanie travels to the north-east of England to meet unemployed young people who are struggling to find their way into the labour market and a married couple who are desperate to move themselves into work and away from dependency." It will be interesting to see if there is any mention of New Deal and the various private companies involved. In episode 2 "Melanie spends time with cleaners and catering staff working on the minimum wage and asks what motivates them to work. Would Melanie's own assiduous work ethic survive night shifts, low pay and cleaning lavatories?" Good question, but I suspect the answer is yes.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Privatising your local council

Exciting times for the private sector. Essex County Council has privatised itself. Well, not quite. But it has "signed a pioneering deal with IBM worth up to £5.4 billion to manage and provide public services in a new wave of privatisation supported by David Cameron" (reports the Times). It's not disclosed whether any UK companies tendered for this massive contract; one would have expected the likes of Capita and Serco to be interested - perhaps even A4e - but it went to the US firm because it had done similar work in Canada. IBM's contract "will cover almost all the authority’s services, including schools management, social care, highways and libraries in stages." They will review existing contracts, and every service will be up for grabs. If things can be done cheapest in-house, fine. But inevitably loads of jobs will go altogether, and others will become "flexible" i.e. insecure and worse paid.
Expect much more of this if the Conservatives form the next government. And expect a feeding frenzy as the private companies seek their share of the spoils.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

From Britain to Israel and back again

Readers may remember the controversy that surrounded A4e's venture into Israel. It's summarised here. But the UK government and A4e have long since distanced themselves from this controversy. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's website UK in Israel carries a newsroom piece proclaiming that "A4E - improves people’s lives and delivers social change (14/12/2009)" As an advert for A4e, this is great stuff. And, of course, it's the job of the Foreign Office to promote British business interests abroad. But this is hardly what you'd call objective.
Back in Britain, there are more PR pieces masquerading as news items in local papers. The Stourbridge News carries a piece entitled: "Help for credit crunch casualties" which tells us that "A4e - Action 4 employment - has found permanent jobs for 17 clients since bringing the Government’s Flexible New Deal programme to the borough in October." Out of how many clients? The Stourbridge man who is cited as one of the successes got a job with ..... A4e. Some unemployed people might take issue with the main thrust of this piece, which is that clients need "coaches" who can "work on a one-to-one basis with each customer, identifying their goals and, if existing, their barrier to go to work [sic]. These barriers can be anything from childcare, debt issues, substances abuses, housing problems etc." Well, some do. Many, however, have no "barriers" other than the fact that they can't find work. They may well be qualified and experienced. The piece continues: “Once these individuals are ready to work, they work exclusively with an assigned employment coach who will focus on preparing them for work, helping them with their CV, job search, interview techniques and so on.” This is tarring all the long-term unemployed with the same brush.

"Emma Harrison: Delivering on a Dream, The 30 Million Woman Who Won’t Get Out of Bed For Less" is the heading of a piece on the Oriona Ltd business website. You've heard it all before. But one statement, which has been repeated elsewhere is "There is no budget attached to each person." Emma is talking about current contracts, presumably FND. But it's puzzling. Each client comes with a payment from the government, the bulk of it to be paid if s/he finds a job. There's a minimum and a maximum. So it's not clear what she means.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Zimbabwe - and closer to home

A4e's African arm is now involved in education in the troubled country of Zimbabwe. The company, described as "an international non-governmental organisation", has joined up with Teaching Zimbabwe in a project to set up two academies as centres of excellence and to "lure other local and international investors to pour resources into the country’s education sector". The project is described on the website of the Education Minister, Senator David Coltart. The venture could increase speculation that A4e would seek greater involvement in education in Britain if a Conservative government pursued its plan to allow parents' groups and other organisations to take over the running of schools.

Meanwhile, back in Britain, there's an interesting use of statistics from Jo Britto & Associates, a firm which provides, among other things, Employability Coaching. A4e have used their services with some success. “When Joe came to A4e, we were struggling to meet our outcome targets. Within six weeks, as a result of his motivational coaching, client outcomes in terms of work trials and jobs went from 25% to 55%” says a testimonial from A4e. We are not told where this happened or how many clients were involved.