Monday, 31 October 2011


Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, blogs that he is encouraged by his "discussion with a local representative from A4E here in Blackpool, who are running the Government’s Work Programme scheme here in the North West. Whilst I often here (sic) that there are no jobs out there, it was refreshing to hear a slightly more positive point of view. No-one pretends that we are in the midst of economic boom, but the patient accumulation of business contacts is ensuring that A4E is becoming a one-stop shop for many employers with vacancies to fill." He goes as far as telling people looking for work who are not on the Work Programme that they should give A4e a call. Well, let's hope he's right.

But we won't know how successful A4e and the other providers are until next March. That secrecy is understandable up to a point. Even if someone got a job on the very first day of the Work Programme they won't yet have been in the job for 6 months. And the DWP is going to use the figures to compare the providers in a region and reduce the number of clients to an obviously failing provider, so a running commentary on the figures wouldn't be helpful. But it means that we have no idea whether the hype matches the reality. And lack of transparency is one of the themes of an article on the Morning Star website by Solomon Hughes. In the name of "opening up public services", he says, Cameron is handing over the funding of public services to private investors. Hughes describes how A4e has been hired to design the contracts for schemes funded by social impact bonds, something we highlighted recently. While this hasn't been a secret, it's not something that the average person would think sensible. The article is well worth reading.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Welfare State

The BBC2 programme on the Welfare State tonight is being so well promoted that we don't have to watch it. I'm listening to part of it now on the Today programme. And Left Foot Forward has already analysed why Humphrys is wrong. I don't intend to watch, but feel free to comment if you do. "The age of entitlement", he says, "must be brought to an end."

I reported that Emma Harrison's Family Champions scheme was to consist entirely of volunteers. But Poole council in Dorset "has obtained funding to become part of the Working Families Everywhere Programme which provides one to one support to help families overcome unemployment and return to work." Three of these people will have contracts running to March 2013. How will that fit with the ESF contract, which is being run down there by something called Paragon Concord International?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

"Lead Family Champion"

Something called the Family and Parenting Institute (a think tank) gives space for Emma Harrison to plug her Working Families Everywhere campaign. The familiar message has been refined somewhat. "The difference in the Working Families Everywhere approach is on setting a single goal, in this case employment for at least one family member, and dealing with the other needs on the path to, or subsequent to, that goal." There's a great deal about Emma's qualifications for the role, and then the final paragraph is a triumph of Emma-speak. But we learn that these "family champions" will all be volunteers. That was inevitable. But there's nothing in this piece about the ESF contracts for private companies to do this work for profit. How will the volunteers fit into this strange mix of local council employees and private companies?

Meanwhile, Mark Lovell has been using the Huffington Post to publicise his vision of young people getting themselves out of unemployment by starting their own enterprises. One would think that the Prince's Trust didn't exist.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Those "entrenched worklessness" ESF contracts out

The winners have been announced of those contracts which A4e couldn't bid for, after Emma Harrison convinced the government that her own "family champions" project was the way to go and said that she wouldn't make any money from it. The big winners are Reed, with 4 of the 12 areas. As usual, past failure is no bar to further contracts. EOS Works Ltd (formerly Fourstar) get 2 areas and there's one each for WISE Group, G4S, Skills Training UK, Twin Training International and Paragon Concord International. It will be interesting to see whether any of them will sub-contract to Families Unlimited, the outfit which Harrison set up with the former civil servant.
Another interesting aspect of this is the potential clash with Local Authority provision. Many LAs already have the organisation and staff in place and are doing this work, and yet are expected to pass families on to the private contractors. Most sensible people will think that the ESF money should have gone straight to the local councils, rather than have some sliced off for private profit.

You might be amused (or not) by the Daily Mail's take on all this.  Hysterical, vicious and inaccurate.  

Saturday, 15 October 2011

An A4e degree

Now A4e will soon be able to award degrees.

WalesOnline broke the story on 14 October in what was clearly a press release from Glyndwr University and A4e. "The company relationship is set to be launched in January with a means to achieving maximum participation in higher education from socially and economically disadvantaged sectors of society. It will take on innovative approaches to learning, tackling social exclusion and generational joblessness." There's more stuff about partnership, "re-skilling the workforce" and "transforming their lives". But it's not at all clear what the nature of this partnership is. For that, we had to wait till today and a piece in The Times Higher Education. "Glyndwr will train A4e staff so that they can give higher education to unemployed people" and will "validate higher education courses run by the international recruitment company, A4e." It's going to start in Wales but "Glyndwr might follow A4e’s business into Europe." Much the same piece appears in The Daily Post. The two organisations have not yet worked out the financial side of the deal but they hope to be up and running by January.

Let's not be entirely cynical. If this results in A4e being able to offer genuine degree-level courses to their unemployed clients, that can only be of benefit. The university, based in Wrexham, will not want to repeat the recent scandal surrounding the University of Wales which had been validating useless or non-existent courses for money. And A4e will want to be taken seriously in the higher education sector. But we'll have to wait and see.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Encouragement from Emma

Lots of publicity about the latest unemployment figures, particularly the number of young people without work. The Sun headlines "Nearly 1m young people out of work" and adds that the over-65s have been hit too. Who does the Sun go to for a comment? Yes, Emma Harrison, who is described as "Govt's family champion" rather than as someone who has become a multi-millionnaire from contracts to get people back to work (and who describes herself on Twitter as "welfare and social reform thinker and doer, tv and radio face and voice"). A4e isn't mentioned in the Sun. And what does Emma have to say? Nothing much. "Whatever the situation, you mustn't give up or give in," and similar words of encouragement. Nobody except the government talks about the Work Programme at the moment. None of the "case studies" cited by the Sun, or any of the media, refer to the WP or to any previous scheme.

The Work Programme was supposed to address all the problems, including training needs. The private providers would pay for skills training because it would increase clients' chances of getting work and so the companies' chances of making a profit. But Chris Grayling has acknowledged that that isn't going to work by announcing the setting-up of "sector-based work academies". However, there is no indication of who is to run these "academies" (silly word). The obvious answer would be Further Education Colleges, which already provide this skills training. But I wouldn't be surprised if this is yet another contract opportunity for the likes of A4e.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Success and failure

A Yorkshire publication, the Yorkshire Business Insider, reports that A4e's Emma Harrison is one of only ten women on its list of the 100 top working millionaires in the region. Hardly a surprise.

But there are more rumblings of discontent from the voluntary and other organisations which signed up to be sub-contractors in the Work Programme. Or haven't yet signed up, in some cases, where promised contracts have yet to be signed. Housing Associations were among the organisations which fell for the idea that they could earn money from the WP (although their tenants might think it was none of their business) but they are now finding that they are getting no referrals. An angry article on the Guardian's website reports that, "One housing association, Harvest Housing, was hoping for a small amount of work from A4E. But guess what? They got nothing and have chosen a different path." The writer, John Little, is less than complimentary about Emma Harrison and A4e. Patrick Butler, a regular Guardian columnist, writes on two reports by the voluntary sector and asks, "What is going wrong? Some primes claim they haven't been referred any "hard-to-reach" clients by jobcentres. It is said high numbers of appeals against work capability assessment tests have blocked the flow of these clients into the system. Others believe primes, overwhelmed by higher than expected numbers of jobless clients coming on to the books, are simply 'parking' vulnerable jobseekers and focusing solely on clients who are 'job ready' and easy to place." Butler cites the Social Market Foundation's concerns, back in August, that the WP was "at risk of financial collapse" and suggests that the most vulnerable are being pushed to the back of the queue.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The magical Work Programme

The unemployed have received the sort of publicity that's normal at party conference time. Particularly for the Conservatives they serve two purposes; they epitomise what's wrong with the country, and show how tough and effective the government intends to be. It's all nonsense, of course. An article on Left Foot Forward shows how it's all "recycled rhetoric". And the Guardian's cartoonist, Steve Bell, showed his opinion with a cartoon called Absence of Work. (It's a parody of a painting by Ford Madox Brown called Work, which can be seen here.) The cartoon on line has attracted well over 300 comments.

The solution, of course, is the Work Programme, which is being touted as "revolutionary". Grayling even called it a giant "employment dating sevice". But both the government and the providers must be nervous (not to mention the clients). There's no sign of a leap in the number of jobs available, and without job vacancies there can be no results and no profits. The government has staked everything on this model of contracting - payment by results - and will not want to row back on that. Another problem is highlighted in an article on People Management. People working for the providers could be expected to reshuffle to another provider if their employer loses out on the contract in that area. But more than half of those made redundant by the process have decided to get out of the sector altogether. That loss of experienced staff can only lead to a lack of appropriately qualified people advising clients.

Still, right-wing politicians and their friends in the media continue to believe that if you get tougher on the unemployed and reduce the minimum wage you will, magically, get them to work.