Wednesday, 20 October 2010


Who better for the Express to look to for comment on the current mess than Emma Harrison, "a multimillionaire award-winning businesswoman who is genuinely committed to getting everyone into work". On the back of her Who Knows Best programme, where she showed that she could get even an apparently hopeless case into work (to hoots of derision from almost everyone) she is portrayed as someone whose "approach is to help, nurture and inspire people". Most of the article is a recycling of the usual PR, appealing to Express readers who really believe that, “There are about 450,000 jobs currently being advertised with the JobCentre so there are jobs out there” and don't question the statement that, "She has already found employment for more than a million people and is uniquely placed to give advice to the thousands who will be affected by the Government’s job slashing and others in the private sector facing redundancy. In fact, she is passionate and determined to help." One way of helping, as we know, is to push people into the voluntary sector. This is illustrated with a story about a 55-year-old long-term unemployed man. "I suggested that the next day he find two local charities," she says, "pick the one he liked best and offer to help out.” And of course that led to him becoming Chief Executive of a charity. Yes, it happens just like that!
While this is all drearily familiar, it's also very dangerous. Ms Harrison is the public face of A4e (except when it comes to being accountable before Parliamentary select committees) and the company is a vehicle for her own ego in a way that would be unthinkable to her rivals; and the media are happy to give her free advertising space. The situation is dire, far too dire for this sort of nonsense.


  1. I was made to attend A4e at the end of August. I was told to attend by the job centre. They told me it would be a quick one to one interview to assess my needs, followed by relevant help and skills to get a job. Great I thought! I was desperate for a job.

    I went to my 'one-to-one' interview. By one-to-one I mean one-to-'fifteen other very confused looking people'. We were herded into a room and given lots of forms. Completely confused I began signing my life away. We were told how wonderful A4e is and given lots of diversity information and shown fire-escapes etc... still confused I decided to speak out.

    "Why are we here?" I asked. The lady looked startled and a few people in the room stared at me. "Erm, did the Job Centre not tell you?", "No!". "Oh well you will be attending for 13 weeks and you need to do 20 hours per week." "20 hours?" (the job centre didn't mention that!) "I can't do that yet, not until my son starts school.. " More stares from around the room. Had I broken a 'rule' like a naughty school kid? "Well we can have a word later...." she replied.

    At the end of my interview (form filling in) I left the building with an appointment to start again in two weeks time after my son had started school. This I did.

    Day 1: Spoke to a 'career advisor' who showed me how to use a computer. As I am a software developer this didn't take more than 15 seconds and I proceeded to search for a job - all day.

    Day 2: Had a short 'training session' on how to complete a CV. The CV template they provided was full of spelling mistakes and terrible formatting. I fixed the template and proceeded to copy and paste my current, and rather good CV, into it. They were pleased with my progress and how much my CV was improved (condescending doesn't come close).

    By this time I was pretty bored and frustrated. Not only was this scheme costing me a fortune in transport and parking, but it was doing nothing for me.

    I went back for another two days, whereby I did a 'self-respect' course and sat at some computers job searching again. I had pretty much done all the 'courses' and I could see that I would be spending the remaining 12 weeks on the internet. The problem with A4e was I couldn't effectively job search whilst I was there. I needed privacy to conduct phone calls, I needed my computer, and to be able to arrange things should interviews come up - I needed to be at home so I could effectively find work.

    I decided I wouldn't go, that I would rather lose my benefits. I stopped going. I am happy to say I have now secured a great job and I start next month.

    This morning, and 6 weeks after I stopped attending A4e, they telephoned me wondering where I was. I was suprised it took them that long to realise I wasn't sat at one of their computers. They were very keen to know where my new job was, and even asked who the contact was there. I asked them why they wanted to know. The reply was, "to be able to get funding". I told them in no uncertain terms that I would not provide that information because they hadn't done anything to get me the job.

    I could not believe the cheek. A4e is a complete waste of time. They do not provide training. They force people into unpaid work on threat of benefit removal. They employ unskilled and quite frankly stupid people. They operate by getting the unemployed to search for their own jobs... and then get a nice little bonus when these people do. The odds are that the 15% of people they do get into employment would get jobs regardless. The other 75% just keep going back to A4e for another round of degredation.

    Sorry for the long rant, but it feels good to talk about it.

  2. Thanks for your story. it's not untypical of the "one size fits all" nature of the New Deal contracts. I'd just make a few points.
    1) When they phoned you after 6 weeks, it wasn't because they'd only just realised you weren't there. It was because they do need to follow people up and, if you're working, to claim the job outcome, not just for the money but for the stats. All providers have to chase outcomes. But you're entitled not to tell them.
    2) Don't characterise all the staff as unskilled and stupid. Maybe that's how you saw the ones you came across; but there are plenty of good, bright people working for A4e and other providers. They're not, however, paid a great deal.
    3) It's not A4e, or any of the providers, who "force people into unpaid work on threat of benefit removal". That's how the contracts work. I don't defend the contracts for one moment. People quickly realised how terrible they were, but had to let them run.
    I'm glad you got a job. As you say, a lot of people on this programmes (more than 15%, I'd say) would get jobs anyway.

  3. For anyone else who finds the "courses" offered by A4e to be degrading and useless, or consider the facilities provided lacking (either privacy or equipment/materials) - Send a written complaint to the Third Party Manager at your local Jobcentre. It won't do any good, but they have to record the complaint :)

    All I can say for Anon - I didn't even get the one-to-one/fifteen interview or the induction. But, like yourself, I too have a job (only a temp position)... Wonder how long it will A4e to pester me for details..

  4. 450,000 jobs in the job centre ? half of them are temp from the agencies . i know this i've been looking everyday

  5. Many of these jobs are part time, or 15 to 20 hours a week for minimum wage, the real jobs are not out there.

  6. Great work on gaining employment by your own efforts. By the way you might wish to ask the Jobcentre whether they have received a funding request from A4e in connection with your new employment. I realise you refused to allow A4e access to such information but A4e have been under investigation in the past over false and fraudulent claims for job outcomes.

  7. I'm afraid you don't understand how the contracts work, Anon. There's no such thing as a "funding request". If someone gets a job within a certain period after leaving the programme the provider can claim a job outcome payment - but only if they can get verification from the employer. Where A4e got into trouble over outcome claims, it was over real jobs which were casual rather than permanent, and it was with the connivance of the employer. The Jobcentre isn't involved in this.

  8. Anonymous #1's story is pretty atypical in my experience at A4e. I work, on placement (that's another story in and of itself), in the induction group. Most new people have hardly any experience with computers. Writing CVs and searching jobs is completely alien to them. Others have poor numeracy and literacy ability; and the rest are those who have been hit hard by the recession or are just struggling otherwise.

    A4e offers courses for basic computing, numeracy and literacy, health and safety, CSCS certifications and probably other stuff I don't know about. It's just that you don't fit their typical client at all.

  9. A4e in Australia is a waste of space purely trying to justify their existence on bleeding government grants and dont give a toss how they do it...


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