Monday, 29 November 2010

Work Programme Prospectus

The DWP has issued a prospectus setting out more details of the Work Programme. It can be found here.
Interesting points:
  • Those over 25 on JSA will still not be referred until they've been unemployed for 12 months. So they will lose 10% of their housing benefit at the same time as going on the programme!
  • There is a beefed-up role for the Jobcentres, including running "work clubs" and getting people to do voluntary work.
  • "We will refer customers to the Work Programme contracts for a 5 year period. Providers will then work with customers for up to a further 2 years."
  • 40 contracts at £10 - 50 million each.
  • The claim that there would be payment only for outcomes was untrue. There's to be an "attachment fee ..... to assist with initial delivery costs." Sounds a bit like on-programme payments. Presumably the providers insisted on this.
  • "Substantial" performance incentive payments for providers.
There's information about the basis for awarding contracts and price competition. The whole document is well worth studying.
    PS. The Financial Times has questioned Chris Grayling about the "attachment fees". He "insisted that the payments, understood to be in the low hundreds of pounds per client, would be paid only as people are taken on, not as a block payment in anticipation of the numbers likely to join the programme as happened under the existing Flexible New Deal scheme. Most recently, contractors have received 20-30 per cent of payments in advance." He goes on, “It is a recognition that in the early years, providers do have cash flow problems, and this is designed to make a contribution but one that will be phased out, becoming completely outcome-based payments, made in arrears, over the life of the contracts,” Mr Grayling said. He continued: “We never said the upfront payment would be zero – just as little as possible. But we will get to zero over the life of the contracts.”

    Thursday, 25 November 2010

    ERSS Framework

    The DWP has issued the list or organisations that have been selected as preferred suppliers for the Employment Related Support Services Framework. There are 11 "lots" or different areas of the country, and A4e is included in 7 of them. But there are between 9 and 17 organisations selected in each area. You can find the full list here. There's a useful description of what it all means on the Navca site. The DWP says that, "The Work Programme will be the first contract to be called off the Framework and the procurement exercise for this will commence shortly." It looks very much like contracts have been shared out amongst the main established companies; Serco, JHP, Working Links, Seetec and Reed all have 7, and Avanta has 6.

    Tuesday, 23 November 2010

    £60,000 fine for A4e

    A4e has been fined £60,000 for the loss last year of an unencrypted laptop with the details of thousands of people. The data breach occurred when an employee took details of 24,000 clients of the Hull and Leicester Community Legal Advice Centres home to work on. An unsuccessful attempt to access the data was made shortly afterwards. The story on the BBC news site quotes Christopher Graham, the Commissioner for Data Protection, saying, "A4e did not take reasonable steps to avoid the loss of the data when it issued the employee with an unencrypted laptop, despite knowing the amount and type of data that would be on it. It warranted nothing less than a monetary penalty as thousands of people's privacy was potentially compromised by the company's failure to take the simple step of encrypting the data." Hertfordshire County Council was also fined £100,000 for a more serious loss of data.

    Sunday, 21 November 2010

    ..... and another TV appearance

    Emma Harrison popped up again on the northern regional segment of BBC1's The Politics Show today. It was one of those pointless bits of superficial discussion, sparked by a report from Sheffield Hallam University which says that the problem for the North of England is that there aren't any jobs to push people into. A reporter went to Barnsley and looked at a job search scheme in a community project; but the Council leader said there was an urgent need for job creation schemes because the private sector couldn't fill the gap.
    The interviewer, Tim Iredale, was joined by Karl Turner (a Hull MP) in the studio and Emma Harrison "from her kitchen". What did Emma make of the report? It shocked her, she said. A4e are finding jobs for people in Barnsley every day. But we must make sure that it pays to take a job. We have third generation unemployment. Turner stressed that jobs are being cut. Harrison was asked whether she was seeing evidence of new private sector jobs. Oh yes, they're finding people jobs every day. The new system will allow people to take part-time jobs. We shouldn't scare people with big numbers (!!!). The job cuts will be gradual. Turner said that Labour's schemes had put lots of people back to work. (At this point one knew that there was no chance of any of this being challenged by the interviewer.) Iredale asked Harrison how to break the culture of worklessness. This gave her the opportunity to push the idea of working with whole families.
    All that was achieved was yet more publicity for Emma Harrison and A4e.

    Another "interview"

    The Mail online is the latest propaganda sheet to give free PR space to Emma Harrison and A4e. In a long piece today we get something described as an interview but which is merely a vehicle for Harrison to repeat the myths. You won't find anything about the lousy figures for FND. This is sycophancy. "This year, the company will help nearly 20,000 people into work. Her business plan, something she laughingly admits owes more to aspiration than number crunching, predicts a turnover of £500 million by 2014." But then we can see how A4e adapts (or, at least, adapts what it says) to the politics of the moment. "Harrison says she frequently spurns approaches from the City to float or sell the company. Instead, she has rekindled a plan to change the structure into a mutualised trust whereby she can give shares to the staff. In the longer term, she aims to give equity to the unemployed people that A4e helps."

    When you've digested that idea, you might be a bit bemused by the statement that "Harrison is trying to persuade the Government to pay according to the long-term outcome for the unemployed rather than buying hours in the classroom or working on CVs, regardless of whether that is actually needed or achieves a result." Why did the interviewer, someone called Lisa Buckingham, not challenge that? Presumably because she didn't know anything about the subject; the ideal qualification for anyone interviewing Mrs Harrison. There's the latest mantra about "hidden jobs", the story that A4e can persuade employers to provide jobs they haven't realised they had. And she gives figures which are entirely at odds with those produced by the DWP. She says, "it costs an average of £1,700 to get someone back to work". Oh yes? But she's plugging this chilling idea of working with "families’ whole lives rather than just work." The interviewer says, "Such improvements include getting a job, ensuring that children go to school and encouraging charity work. Companies such as Harrison’s would be paid part of the overall savings."

    To show that the paper isn't entirely uncritical there's the statement that, "Harrison hasn’t escaped controversy. There were fraud allegations against a few staff a couple of years ago and the role of David Blunkett, Sheffield MP, as an occasional adviser prompted criticism." That's it. While some of you may be hopping up and down with fury, most of the Mail's readers will nod approvingly at the final statement that " These families need an Emma."

    Thursday, 18 November 2010

    Those figures

    The DWP has released the figures for Flexible New Deal outcomes; you can download them from their site here. They are not immediately understandable, since all you get is the starts and outcomes for each month and, of course, the outcomes don't relate to the starts. What you can see straight away is how bad the figures are, and that A4e has performed comparably with the others.
    There are two articles which interpret these figures in very different ways. One is by Alex Barber in the Financial Times. He asks "What has gone wrong with welfare-to-work?" and includes a graph to show how far below expectation the outcomes are. Barber argues that Grayling's criticism of the Labour government is misplaced. "Grayling argues it [paying too much money up front] destroyed incentives. But companies were still paid the bulk of their fee for getting someone into work. Not only that, but the Work Programme will also include upfront payments. It will just be called something like an 'activation fee'." And the "help based on individual needs" promised in the Work Programme will be little different from FND.
    Another perspective altogether comes from Neil O'Brien in the Telegraph. O'Brien is one of those dangerous young men who provide the theoretical justification for political ideology. With no personal experience or historical insight he assumes the part of an authority on the subject, with selective use of data, and he wants to give more power to the providers to "sanction" people. He includes a table which shows that A4e's performance is slightly better than its competitor in each area. O'Brien has been around the media lately -he was on The Moral Maze last week - touting his view that we should have the time-limited kind of welfare-to-work that exists in some other countries, notably America.
    Meanwhile, there's a whole new world of opportunity opening up for A4e. The government have endorsed the idea that groups of public service workers should turn themselves into "mutuals" or co-operatives. The bit they don't mention is that they would then have to bid for the contracts to provide the services. Even if the private companies don't get the contracts first time round, they will soon be picking them off.

    Wednesday, 17 November 2010

    Clawing back

    Chris Grayling "slams" Flexible New Deal in a piece in the Express and Star, a Midlands paper. It was "chronically mismanaged", he says. "The Flexible New Deal programme helped 16,200 people find work, working out at a “staggering” £31,284 per job, said employment minister Chris Grayling. More than £500 million was spent in a year, mainly for service fees under which providers were paid for every person the government thought would go through the scheme, regardless of the outcome, the minister said. Mr Grayling cancelled the contracts on taking office in June and revealed that £100 million worth of service fees had been “clawed back”." He goes on to insist that by paying only for outcomes the Work Programme will be completely different. Naturally, he's blaming the Labour government. But the prime contractors in the new scheme will probably be the very companies which, he says, failed so badly on FND (and on Pathways). Was it just the contracts which were wrong, or were the companies at fault? Apparently not. And what does that bit about "clawing back" £100 million in service fees mean? Have A4e and the others had to pay that money back?

    Thursday, 11 November 2010

    The Reforms

    There's no getting away from it today, but some of the interviewers are beginning to ask the right questions. At this moment Steve Webb is waffling in reply to what happens when someone with a family has their benefits stopped. One thing that's emerging that should frighten people; there'll be no appeal if you are sanctioned. That's what IDS said, although Webb has just denied it. It seems to be the case that you could be forced to sign up to casual work with an agency, or be deemed to have refused a job. No one has asked whether that gives the power to the likes of A4e to decide that you've turned down a job. Right now the BBC is talking to people in Easterhouse who fit the stereotype, as if that's all there is to unemployment. In all the chatter and propaganda, no one is addressing the issue of the lack of jobs.

    Tuesday, 9 November 2010

    More thoughts on The Politics Show

    You can see the piece on A4e Brixton on the BBC news website. It's headlined "How firms like A4e help unemployed people back to work".
    What disturbs me about The Daily Politics today is how little challenge there is to what is said. Andrew Neil didn't know that people are not referred to A4e etc. until they've been unemployed for a year, so when he asked what A4e could provide that the state couldn't, Harrison was free to talk about wanting to get to people earlier. It was the perfect opportunity to bring up the fact of the failure of the Pathways programme, the rare example of when a direct comparison is possible between the private companies and the Jobcentres. But he didn't. There was no challenge about the record of A4e (and the other providers) on New Deal. And her assertion that anyone who "fully engages" with them can get one of those "hidden jobs" should have been pounced on, but it wasn't. They were too anxious to get to the ructions in the Labour Party. But they wouldn't have challenged it anyway, because the media are too lazy. They had one tiny idea - that A4e is set to make money from the Work Programme - and didn't do any research.

    Emma on The Daily Politics

    A4e's Emma Harrison popped up today as the guest on The Daily Politics. Weirdly, she was asked her opinion of George Bush's memoirs. But then the programme focussed on the housing benefit changes. There were contributions from the House of commons from Caroline Flint and Simon Hughes, then David Freud, minister for welfare reform, was introduced, sitting on the sofa next to Emma. He said that he expects rents to go down and no significant increase in homelessness. Harrison said that the changes had to come, that benefits had been too generous, meaning people couldn't afford to take jobs. But she worries, she said, that vulnerable people will panic at this. Freud said that there's a lot of misunderstanding about it.
    Anita Anand, the interviewer, said that the new Work Programme would mean a lot more business for Harrison's company. There was a short film report from an A4e office in Brixton, showing decent facilities, but mostly low-wage jobs on offer. The office was said to secure 50 jobs a month, but many of these were short-term. Figures were quoted for A4e's income, which I didn't manage to write down. The reporter pointed to other areas of A4e's business, pushing how much the company stands to gain. Andrew Neil then asked Harrison what she provides that the state can't. She said that she would like to get people earlier than at present; she can tell when people are going to become long-term unemployed. Jack Dromey, the Labour MP, took Freud's place. He forecast that unemployment would rise to over 3 million. He said that he doesn't doubt that A4e does some good work, but he doesn't want to see big companies getting more work out of this. Harrison retorted that they use the voluntary organisations. A4e can find jobs for anyone who "fully engages" with them; they can find the "hidden jobs" that never get advertised.
    I'm not sure what this programme achieved, beyond again presenting Emma Harrison as the face of welfare-to-work and avoiding the hard questions.

    Sunday, 7 November 2010

    Workfare - nothing new

    The news today is full of headlines like "Unemployed told: do four weeks of unpaid work or lose your benefits" from the Guardian. In several papers, of course, the epithet "work-shy" is used. And as always the media ignore the fact that this is not new. Under Flexible New Deal claimants are supposed to do a 4-week placement, and the requirement goes way back to old contracts. There are all sorts of problems; small employers don't want the hassle, and the voluntary sector has been stuffed with non-volunteers doing "placements". If anything is different this time, it's that they're talking specifically about "manual labour" and allowing it to be seen as punitive. I suspect that little will actually change. With so many public sector jobs being axed, the unions are not going to stand for street cleaners and the like being replaced by unpaid work gangs.

    Thursday, 4 November 2010

    Publicity and gaps

    A posting from Emma Harrison on A4e's site says that she now has a daily column in Express newspapers. I can't find it in any paper today so perhaps that's a treat to look forward to tomorrow. You are invited to contribute to "Emmas [sic] Top Employment Tips". It's a great bit of advertising, if not of punctuation.
    The Financial Times has pointed out that there will be a gap of several months between when the current contracts end in half the country and the Work Programme begins. About 50,000 people who would have been placed on these programmes will not be - and that's assuming that the new contracts start on time. Labour says that this will mean people staying on benefits for longer, while the DWP says that people will get "enhanced support" from Jobcentre Plus. The ERSA, the trade body for the providers, wants the contracts extended to fill the gap. I suugest that this is an ideal opportunity to judge the value of the whole welfare-to-work industry. Will the DWP have the bottle to compile the stats to show whether it makes any difference to whether people get jobs? I doubt it.
    Richard Johnson of Serco has been philosophising again, on the Indus Delta site, on how wrong we are to think that there are limits to the number of jobs available.

    Monday, 1 November 2010

    From A4e to stardom

    Who is A4e's most famous former employee? Yes, it's Hayley Taylor. Plucked from deserved obscurity by the Benefit Busters programme, where her reward was to be invited to tea with Emma Harrison, she went on to star in "The Fairy Jobmother" in Britain. Those three programmes were greeted with much cynicism here, but they are obviously more open to her message and style in America. The press coverage of the start of her series there is rarely critical. She's described as an "international career specialist" amongst other things, and I've seen only one review, on Media Life, which sees through the hype. But Hayley has everything going for her, and now has her own Facebook fan page. Nowhere in all this publicity is A4e mentioned. I can't help wondering what Emma makes of all this.