Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Good News and the Bad News

The preferred bidders have been announced for Work Choices, the new contract for supported employment. And A4e isn't one of them. We reported that A4e had been shortlisted in 11 of the 19 contract areas. Today's list shows 28 contract areas, and The Shaw Trust has won 16 of those, with Working Links getting 5. Is this the first time that A4e haven't been successful anywhere?
But all that happy tweeting about India is confirmed on A4e's website. India is a massive market, so it's not surprising that A4e's people are thrilled to bits.

The report is out of the Parliamentary Select Committee into the "Management and Administration of Contracted Employment Programmes". That was the enquiry prompted by disclosures of fraud and other concerns. The Committee is not best pleased. The summary makes the following points, among others:
  • We note that levels of detected fraud in contracted employment programmes are low, and that we were told there is little evidence that there is a problem with undetected fraud. However we feel that there is no room for complacency; the frauds uncovered to date have highlighted the extent of the risk that could be exploited because of weaknesses in the system. The Department must ensure that processes for the detection of fraud are rigorous and robust.
  • We call for customer rights to be given a much higher status, and for a universal, monitored,and enforceable customer charter to be introduced. We also call for the Department to carry out a “Customer Survey” of customers of contracted employment programmes to enable standards of service to be compared between providers and with Jobcentre Plus. Advisers also need to talk to customers on contracted provision about their experiences and ensure these are fed back to providers and the Department.
A4e was one of the companies which gave oral and written evidence to the Committee. One section of the report deals with "Poor service and complaints". It cites the Manchester Evening News article of March 2008 which focussed on what was happening in A4e's offices there, and also the Benefit Busters programme which drew attention to customers who "were dissatisfied with A4e staff offering them short-term and zero hour contracts, often through agencies, rather than focusing on helping them to find sustainable employment." Several providers agreed that the DWP's approach to customer feedback was wrong. Ae's evidence said, sensibly, "Current systems across contracted programmes are more focused on compliance rather than continual improvement and we believe it is to the benefit of future service quality that this balance is redressed. […] Systems across the board need to be more engaged with customers so that they have a real voice and impact on service quality measures. This is essential if employment services are to become service led treating service users as both experts and customers."
It's worth reading the entire report.

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