Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Pathways, Work Programme and Hayley

In a piece headed "Pathway to nowhere" the latest edition of Private Eye again highlights the failure of Pathways to Work. The Eye has got hold of Ofsted reports on the 6 Pathways contracts. Reed comes out worst, and is slammed, but A4e in West Yorkshire is also criticised: "action to resolve staff underperformance has been slow". The Eye points out, again, that A4e employs David Blunkett, and indeed the latest Register of Members' Interests shows that he was paid £25k - £30k by the company.

The Indus Delta site carries a piece by Richard Judge, Finance Director of Serco's Welfare to Work arm. He's again questioning the viability of the Work Programme model. After saying that it's "an exciting opportunity to address long-term worklessness in all benefit groups, rather than a focus on Jobseeker’s Allowance" he goes on to point out that cutting the funding while increasing the number of clients is a backward step. The AME/DEL switch - paying providers what the government has saved in benefits etc. when someone gets a job - sounds good but leaves questions. "If we do not know how much money we can earn, then how can we possibly know how much we can spend getting the outcome that delivers the savings in the first place?" He recognises that it's not likely that the providers will get enough of the money to give them confidence to spend big sums at the outset. Is Judge speaking for all the providers? Are they still haggling with the DWP over this?

Meanwhile, Hayley Taylor of Benefit Busters and Fairy Jobmother fame is about to star in the US version of Jobmother. They're giving it 8 episodes there, amazingly. None of the previews mentions her former life with A4e, probably because the company isn't known there, but Hayley has become an "international career specialist". If one website, Deadline Hollywood is anything to go by, there will be the same sort of mixed reaction over there as here.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Round-up, 25 September 2010

Knowing that PR pieces are more effective than news, A4e are still plugging the failed Pathways scheme. Typical is an article on Guildford People citing the success of one man in getting back into work, thanks to A4e. It ends with the standard advert for the company. We're happy for the man who is back in a job - let's hope there a few more such successes.

Another piece of marketing is A4e's involvement with the Homeless World Cup. It's a tournament taking place in Brazil. Like all such events, it's a vehicle for sponsoring companies to advertise their wares, and A4e are making the most of it.

All the outsourcing companies will be watching events in Suffolk, as the County Council plans to flog off all its services. They are following Barnet, which was dubbed "easycouncil" after its plans to do the same (although Barnet's auditors have now warned that the council doesn't have a credible business plan). In Suffolk, "Services would be offloaded in stages. While some 'early adopter' services could be outsourced as early as this autumn, the rest would be divested in three phases from April 2011. Libraries, youth clubs, highway services, independent living centres, careers advice, children's centres, registrars, country parks and a records office are among the first services that could be divested." This is supposed to save 30% of the council's budget, and it's an attractive model for Tory-controlled councils around the country. But, as Chrus Huhne has pointed out, unless the contracts are very well designed the councils can get stuck with failing delivery which they can do nothing about. As the bids go in from the likes of A4e, Serco and the rest, residents will have no say in which company ends up running, for profit, the public services that are vital to them.

A4e have submitted a memorandum to the government on Local Enterprise Partnerships. These LEPs are going to replace the Regional Development Agencies which were a lucrative source of contracts for private companies, not least A4e, so you would expect to find them eager to have a role in the new set-up. Sure enough, the memo proclaims A4e's credentials; it "has close, practical experience of the past and current approaches to local economic development, understands the issues intimately and is well placed to contribute to the debate on their future led by the new LEPs." There is much more in that vein. They want to ensure that the Work Programme is "joined up" to the rest of the LEPs' activities; and they want more of the "Total Place" concept, "joining up locally provided services". A4e wants to be one of the "managing agents" which, they recommend, will be commissioned by the LEPs. You can't blame them for trying, and perhaps they'll succeed. LEPs could be a bigger source of profit than the RDAs.

For a political take on New Deal read an article on Progressonline by Alison McGovern, a new Labour MP.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Round-up, 18 September 2010

The Financial Times has reported this week that there could be drastic cuts in the numbers of participants in the Work Programme. (Since the FT is behind a pay wall, we are indebted to the Indus Delta site for details.) The providers are apparently arguing that they need money upfront, rather than being dependent on outcome payments. At present they get 30% of the contract value per client regardless of outcome, and the rest if and when he or she gets a job. If this needs to be repeated with the Work Programme, it would mean that far fewer clients could be taken on. This was entirely predictable, but would be a major climb-down for the government and a win for the providers.

A rather embarrassing story was published in the Sheffield Star yesterday. An A4e employee, Daniel Madner, got very drunk on a train and exposed himself to a young nurse and her friends. The nurse phoned her father, a police officer, who arrested Madner as he got off the train. In court it was pointed out that Madner's job with A4e would be at risk if he was put on the Sex Offenders Register, so he was made to pay £500 to the young women, was tagged, given a 6-month community order and "ordered to undertake 100 hours of unpaid work".

We have a new description of A4e in a news item stating that Thomas Godfrey has left his post of commercial director at Sport England to join the "private sector business which provides help and information on employment, starting a business and creating partnerships."

Monday, 13 September 2010

Jobs, failures and volunteers

Some snippets of news today. First, A4e has a new Group Chief Executive, replacing Bob Martin. He is Andrew Dutton, who is currently Executive Director for A4e’s International Business. He has been with A4e since 2007, coming from a medical services business and, before that, from Vertex, one of the biggest outsourcing companies.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee has reported on the Pathways to Work programme. You may remember that the committee grilled A4e's Steve Marsland and Reed's Chris Melvin on why results had been so poor. Now the Chair, Margaret Hodge MP, says that Pathways "was not well implemented and has had limited effect." The committee's report said "the performance by the mainly private sector providers has been universally poor in relation to their main target group, those people who are required to go on the Pathways programme". The providers are accused of cherry-picking clients but still only reaching a third of their target figure. The saddest aspect of this story is in the last paragraph: "Employment minister Chris Grayling said: 'This report is hugely disappointing and just underlines how misplaced many of the previous Government's labour policies were. They just never got to grips with the challenges of getting people back to work.'" A political point, rather than facing the real implications. And this will have no impact on future contracts, so A4e and the others who failed needn't worry.
We've mentioned once or twice that A4e advertises for volunteer "mentors" to work with the unemployed. Now CDG, a rival provider, has gone a step further. The Indus Delta site reports that the company wants "an expert volunteer corps" of people with the necessary skills and experience to "complement the work that welfare to work providers such as CDG and the government undertake." Has CDG stolen A4e's thunder? "CDG is a dynamic charity that seeks to help those who are unemployed find and sustain meaningful employment" says their website. But like other such third sector organisations they have contracts from the DWP in the same market as the private companies. It is hard to see how large numbers of volunteers can be recruited to assist these companies in making money.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Family Futures

"Iain Duncan Smith looks at German model for helping families". That's the headline of a Guardian article which gives publicity to A4e's scheme operating in Germany and pioneered in Dusseldorf. It purportedly cut welfare costs there by a third. It all sounds, on the surface, sensible. "The problem is that we have low esteem in such families and also there is no culture of family so that the younger members of the family do not learn respect and self-regulation. We have to get them out of the home, out of being in front of the television so that they are part of the real world and can communicate both as a family and with other people. They need such basic skills it is not surprising they cannot get work," says Maximilien Dorostian, the European director for the "welfare to work provider" A4E. They have to give them the habit of work and of interacting with people, he says. He doesn't say how, though, and, beyond compulsory work placements, it's hard to know what it might mean. The article says that "long-term unemployed families have been encouraged to create a 'household culture' with trips to the cinema and evening classes". I can't see that going down well here (and there aren't any evening classes). As we've said before, the prospect of A4e, or any provider, having power over whole families is unnerving, to say the least. But Duncan Smith is impressed, so it's probably going to happen.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Another Emma speech

IBM are holding a conference on "Cities for a Sustainable Future". The giant company has a special interest in cities; several councils have already handed over most of their functions to IBM. On Day One of the conference yesterday Emma Harrison, "Entrepreneur and Chairman of A4e", spoke on "Wellbeing". Her contribution is summarised on the Amplified site. What strikes one first is the sheer banality of her speech. Sustainabilty, she says, means nothing to the people out there [really?] and should be changed to, "It helps people find jobs". She goes on, "Every decision you make ask yourself: is it going to improve the lives of people? If it won't - then don't do it!" She then cites her recent success on "Who Knows Best?" and then offers advice which, in the summary, is confused, but which boils down to "Ask people to do it - don't do it to people". The rest of it is just variations on that message, which no doubt those at the conference found very helpful. I suppose that Mrs Harrison's credentials, i.e. profits, command the respect of other business leaders. But one wonders what they really make of her "advice".

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Round-up, 4 September 2010

I don't know whether other business leaders do what Emma Harrison does: scatter self-promoting articles around the internet. The latest can be found on the Niche Volumes site and on a number of other obscure sites. But there's a glaring typo in the title - the "a" has been missed out of "Harrison" - which no one seems to have picked up on, and this rather detracts from the purpose. One can't imagine the bosses of Serco, Capita or the rest seeking the limelight in this ham-fisted way.

Emma told the Guardian that A4e finds "hidden jobs". Perhaps she had in mind a part-time job held by Mark Lovell, A4e's group Chief Executive, pointed out by the latest edition of Private Eye. Lovell is a non-executive director of the Sheffield NHS Board. The Eye says that the board meets 11 times a year, and members like Lovell are paid £7,800 p.a. Assuming that each meeting lasts 7 hours (which it almost certainly doesn't), that's £101.30 per hour. Not bad. And what do they do? "In close partnership with doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff and by listening to you, NHS Sheffield decides how best to spend nearly £1 billion every year. We do this with the aim of providing better health and better healthcare for the population of Sheffield."

Meanwhile A4e's chief salesman, Roy Newey, has been in Latvia. He tweets, "Latvia lovely, honest people who share a vision to reduce unemployment and poverty. Set up in 2011" and " Great visit to Latvia. Fine buildings, good people and warm welcome for A4e unemployment solutions. Thanks". Latvia is a small country (population 2,231,503) with a struggling economy. But every little helps.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

More publicity

Do you remember "Benefit Busters"? It was screened a year ago, but many of us recall at least the first two episodes, filmed in A4e offices. Now read Emma Harrison's account of how it was made, in an article she chose to post yesterday. Is this an attempt to expunge the memory of that second episode in Hull, where groups of clients were filmed doing useless, time-filling exercises; where one staff member spoke incredibly rudely to a client? Perhaps that was "gritty". Has she forgotten the interview where she was asked about the problem of benefits loss when people take casual jobs? She laughed, you remember, and said, "How should I know?" before promising to take it up with her friends in government. We all have embarrassing memories, but we don't publicise them a year on. "Benefit Busters" exposed what taxpayers' money was actually paying for with New Deal, but Harrison seems to believe that it was a triumph for her and for A4e.

But all publicity is good, and that seems to be the theory behind an otherwise pointless interview in the Guardian last week. The writer, Jane Dudman, asks, "Why does she think she attracts such attention? 'I'm a girl,' she says, self-deprecatingly." Hmm. There is more on the Harrison legend of her start in the business, and then: "She is clear that A4e is not a social enterprise. 'It's a social purpose company,' she says, firmly. And despite the fact that she now employs more than 3,000 people, Harrison says she is still very entrepreneurial. 'I love creative leadership,' she says. 'And what's different now is that I don't have to worry about whether the photocopier's working.' " Dudman doesn't choose to probe the extent of the profits, but she ends the piece with: "Harrison's company is already the largest private contractor for welfare to work services, but she's keen to take on more. She takes a fierce line on job searching, saying job opportunities do exist, even in the midst of the worst recession since the 1940s. 'That upsets me the most. It gives people a reason to give up. A4e is famous for finding the hidden jobs. I promise you they're out there.' As public spending cuts begin to bite seriously, Harrison's theory stands to come under severe test. Many of those presently employed in the sector will certainly be hoping she is right." Yes, Jane, and many of the unemployed will be wondering where those "hidden jobs" are.