Wednesday, 29 February 2012


The name of Emma Harrison came up in Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons again today, when Labour's Nick Raynsford asked what independent checks were made before her appointment as families champion, and what checks should be made in the future.  The Telegraph tells us that Cameron yesterday "asked the head of the civil service, Jeremy Heywood, to conduct an inquiry into what happened."  But at the time, there was no formal investigation going on.  He was concerned, said Cameron, that information should have been passed up.  It was the "nobody told me" line.  But Labour are in a tricky position, which Cameron exploited, reminding Raynsford that Emma Harrison was given her CBE by Labour, and it was his government which gave A4e all its contracts.  Harrison must feel that she's been completely abandoned by politicians of all stripes.  There could be more trouble for all the big companies, as the Public Services Social Value Bill is about to reach the statute book, requiring councils and other public bodies to take into account wider social value, and not just cost, in awarding contracts.
If you were listening to the radio at lunchtime you may have heard Anne Marie Carrie of Barnardo's breaking the news that the DWP has dropped benefits sanctions from their work experience scheme.  It won't be enough to please everybody.  But there is proof now that the DWP was playing about with evidence against the "voluntary" nature of this scheme.  Channel 4's FactCheck site has tracked the disappearing documents.  And Left Foot Forward provides a timely guide to all those schemes, including the Work Programme, where work experience is still mandatory.

A comment from the past

I've been deleting quite a few comments lately.  But one comment, from September 2009, I didn't either delete or publish; I just saved it.  Now, I think, it's time for it to see the light of day.
I set up a website in 2008.  After a year or so I suddenly found that a pusillanimous web host had bowed to A4e's claim that it was "defamatory" and closed it.  I had no opportunity to find out exactly what was supposed to be defamatory, let alone remove it.  All I could do was retrieve as much material as possible and set up again.
In September 2009 New Deal was turning into Flexible New Deal, and A4e had embarked on a marketing exercise, a road show entitled "Know Hope".  A friend in Hull saw it, and I published a short piece on 24 September.  That same night a comment came through, which I now publish in full:

"This site never fails to amaze with any attempt to try and badmouth the work A4e is doing in any capacity.  The fact is that A4e have campaigned for a new way of working after listening to clients who did not like the system under New Deal.  Flexible New Deal is an entirely new way of working where people are given a personal career coach and a structured plan over twelve months where A4e have the time and resources to assess exactly what their needs are. This has taken years of research and work with the government with the aim on improving services to help the hardest to reach.  The Know Hope Campaign is nationwide and the reason for A4e logos and branding not taking centre stage is that the emphasis is mainly on the client - Their Journey and getting them back into Sustainable Employment.  The majority of people in Hull were really enthusiastic about the changes and the new way of working. A4e are taking feedback on board and trying to make a difference. No company is perfect but A4e staff are all passionate about getting people back into sustainable employment and trying to make a difference.  A4e have tried to communicate with the person who leads this negative site to try and establish exactly what happened to make them launch this incessant tirade against the company.  We help so many people every day and there are so many positive stories that would do so much more good instead of this constant stream of negativity and accusation.  A4e want to aspire to inspire and empower people to leave benefits and improve their own lives. This is not corporate spiel but actually how everyone feels in the organisation and strives to make a difference in an economic climate that is hard to maintain a positive outlook in.  We want people to Know that there is Hope for them. It does not matter if you have barriers to employment - under Flexible New Deal we are here to make a difference.  No doubt this will be interpreted in a different way if it is even posted. But suffice to say A4e are sick of trying to find out exactly what your issue is with us. We have tried communicating and talking sense to no avail.  We genuinely want to help people - can you not find it in your heart to give us a break and see the good we can do?"

I was gobsmacked by the sheer mendacity of this.  They had never "tried to communicate", unless getting a website closed was communication.  They had never tried to find out anything.  How could they?  So what was the point of this comment?  Did they really expect me to publish it?  Probably not, but maybe they hoped it would slip through.  And who were "they", anyway?
Ah well, time moves on.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Right-wing backlash

The media coverage today has been interesting.
  • The Mail began it with another attack on the Harrisons' finances.  After bashing away at the relatively minor point that the DWP knew about the fraud investigation when Cameron appointed Harrison as his "families champion", they tell us that, "Mrs Harrison, 48, and her husband Jim, 52, are joint sole directors of two businesses, Andromeda Park Ltd and Thornbridge Ltd. ........ These are used to manage their investments......... The companies owe the couple a total of £9.3m."  Once again, this is old news.  On 13 April 2011 we published this, unashamedly pinching it from Private Eye.  The Harrisons deny that they have received £9.3m through these companies.
  • The Guardian has run several pieces which seek to widen the argument.  One by Pollyanna Perkins is headed "Private sector isn't always best".  She writes: "At a time when we are counting every pound and limiting access to services it is particularly galling to see public money – £478m – being misspent by one obviously untroubled family.  But we in the public sector have to wake up and stand up to this kind of development and be assertive in our condemnation of such approaches. The new troubled families initiative led by the then families tsar is a classic example.  Horrified as I was by the outline proposals, I was surprised by people welcoming this approach, muddling it up with the very valuable 'Think Family' work being done in mental health and other adults and children's teams."   Another, more general article by Patrick Butler targets the Work Programme specifically.  He speaks to an "industry insider" who would have preferred to see A4e's millions going to a social enterprise which reinvests its profits.  Butler says, "A4e is notorious for its now threadbare pretentions to being a 'social purpose' company. It proclaims to have one sole aim: 'To improve people's lives.'  Well, show me a business that claims otherwise."  He has a quote from another work programme executive about the way it works: " It's not about supporting 100 customers. It's about getting 50 of them into a job. The other 50 are collateral damage. At the end of the day, they [ministers] don't care about that other 50. It's an outcome contract, not a service contract."  Butler also points us to a bill being presented tomorrow by Conservative MP Chris White.  "In theory, he says, this "will mean contracts cannot be let on price alone, but must take account of wider social benefit. White believes it will put a brake on what he has called the 'supermarketisation' of public services and create a level playing field for charities and social enterprises." 
  • But it was inevitable that there would be a right-wing backlash, and it comes in the shape of Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph.  A4e, he says, "is a company that matches unemployed British workers with jobs, and has grown by being able to do so far better than government agencies. Coaching and training the unemployed are costly, but nowhere near as expensive as keeping them on the dole. Labour found that every pound spent with welfare-to-work companies saved the taxpayer three times as much. Soon, A4e was being given multi-million-pound contracts, and growing at what was probably too fast a rate. It was only a matter of time before something, somewhere, went wrong."  Note the highlighted statements.  Rubbish, untrue, unverified, as always with such statements.  And he goes on to castigate Margaret Hodge because a) she's rich and b) it was her government which got us into this.  He says, "What matters now is ideology, and beating up a government that seems comically unable to fight back (as the pantomime over the NHS Bill shows). The battle that Mrs Hodge is fighting is one the Left considered lost only 10 years ago: to make 'profit' a dirty word again and see the companies expelled."  Well, Nelson is one of those all-purpose right-wing journalists who needn't bother actually to know anything about his subject.  But at least we're having a debate.

Monday, 27 February 2012

At last, Newsnight - but nothing new

Well, the BBC finally got round to reporting on the A4e story, on Newsnight tonight.  But it was half-hearted, just pulling together what everybody else has reported - including using the whistle-blower Catherine who made the front page of the Independent.  She told her story briefly; and A4e had had time to come up with a refutation.  She was not told to work for one week without telling the Jobcentre, they say.  It was only one day, an unpaid trial which doesn't have to be notified to the Jobcentre.  This is what tends to happen.  A whistle-blower got it wrong / is not telling the truth / misunderstood what was said.  And what can Catherine do about that?  Margaret Hodge said that she had received an "astonishing" number of allegations and wants A4e's contracts to be suspended.  Paul Mason, who had started by describing the "pally" history between A4e and government, ended with a mention of the employment of David Blunkett and Jonty Oliff-Cooper.  So nothing new.  But the BBC may now feel that it's done its bit.

Catching up

Through the day it seems that Liam Byrne's intervention has paid off, in that it has forced an admission from the DWP, according to the Telegraph, that "No. 10 was not told about A4e fraud allegations".  A spokesman for the PM is quoted as saying, “I don’t think we were aware. But it’s a police investigation. If the police are investigating private sector companies, I don’t think necessarily they report regularly to the government on how their investigations are going.”
Richard Kay in the Mail asks, "Is David Cameron’s former ‘back-to-work tsar’ Emma Harrison already plotting her return?"  He tells us that Emma Harrison "has been approached by maintenance firm to advise on a boot camp for jobless youths. Boss Nick Bizley says he is fed up with a deluge of job applications from foreigners but very few from young British candidates, and wants to change attitudes towards work."  Sadly, I can find nothing more on this.  
The most interesting article of the day is by John Harris in the Guardian.  It's always gratifying when the press catches up with what we've been going on about for ages.  He says that Emma Harrison's biggest mistake was "not keeping her head down".  He points out that she is not facing any reduction in her income and "may well be in line for a rather nice future: less heat and less work, but potentially even greater takings".  Then Harris contrasts Harrison's high profile with that of Chris Hyman, CEO of Serco, a company which has much more outsourcing business than A4e.  And he makes the leap which nobody on the supposed left of politics (certainly not Liam Byrne) has yet been willing to make.  "For decades now, the introduction of the profit motive into public services has been held to be synonymous with dynamism, innovation and increased responsiveness to the 'customer'. There is, of course, plenty of evidence to the contrary, but the more zealous minds one associates with the rule of New Labour still believe it, and most Conservatives hold it as an article of faith."  Quite.  And he concludes: "Do not rely on senior figures in the Labour party to make the running on this issue: after all, it built a huge share of the shadow state in which these people make their money. There again, if the progress of the Emma Harrison story – as with the recent controversy about workfare – is anything to go by, these things no longer need the involvement of front-rank politicians to build unstoppable momentum. One thing is certain: though long buried, the tension between public services and profit is back – and this story is only just starting."
I'm currently reading a book called The Verdict by Polly Toynbee and David Walker, summing up the Labour years from 1997 to 2010 from a Labour-supporting but critical point of view.  They manage to cover New Deal and the various measures to help the unemployed while totally ignoring the privatisation in 2006.  John Harris is right.  But I fear it may be too late.


Inevitably the publicity has died down.  Liam Byrne has sought to revive it - he's Labour's shadow Work and Pensions Secretary - by claiming that Cameron and the government knew about the fraud investigations at least 10 days before Emma Harrison was appointed, in a blaze of publicity, as Cameron's "families champion".  The Independent reports this, along with Margaret Hodge's plans to submit a dossier of whistle-blowers' allegations to the DWP.  They get a statement out of the DWP:  "We have been clear that if there is any evidence of systematic fraud at A4E... we will terminate existing contracts. We welcome A4E's decision to have a full independent audit. These cases all relate to previous back-to-work schemes. None of these apply to the Work Programme."  So define "systematic".  But Liam Byrne is on sticky ground rather than the moral high ground, and he knows it.  A4e's rise and rise was down to his government.
The Telegraph has the same story, but it also reports A4e's response to the "claims that its staff stole vouchers intended to help the unemployed buy clothes to prepare for job interviews."  A4e says that it's the company which buys these vouchers.  "'It’s our profit margin that is affected by buying them, not the taxpayer.' He said that A4e was not aware of the alleged thefts and had any such action come to light a “robust” internal investigation would have been carried out."  This is a remarkable example of not getting the point. 
If you didn't read newspapers or the internet, and depended entirely on the BBC for your knowledge of what was going on, you'd still be largely ignorant of the A4e story.  The Mail drew attention to this reticence on the part of the BBC, which ignored the growing chorus in the press following the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee and didn't mention the company until the news broke that four employees had been arrested.  Since then the coverage has been minimal.  They have had to report Harrison's resignation as "families champion" and then as chair of A4e, but with hardly any background.  The Daily Politics, which had Harrison as their guest of the day only a few days before, seems to have taken a vow of silence on the subject.  Newsnight mentioned it, but with a tinge of sympathy for Harrison and little background.  So why has the BBC been so reluctant to report this?  One of our correspondents suggests that it's because Chris Grayling used to work for the BBC.  How very cynical!  It's been obvious for the last few years that while Emma Harrison popped up on all sorts of BBC programmes, from The Moral Maze to Masterchef, there was a remarkable ignorance in the Corporation about her company.  We need some sort of explanation.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Where do we go from here?

Whether this weekend is the last fling for the media in A4e-bashing, or the start of a wider debate, we can't tell.  It's certainly still very uncomfortable for Emma Harrison and the company she still mostly owns.
The Observer returns to the amount of money Harrison has been taking out of the company.  "The couple were paid £316,000 for allowing A4e to use their country home for board meetings and other events. Emma and James Harrison were paid another £1.4m for leasing out two other properties to Emma Harrison's own firm, including its Sheffield headquarters.  The payments were in addition to Emma Harrison's £365,000 annual salary and the payment of an £8.6m shares dividend, bringing the total earnings of the Harrisons, who share their 20-bedroom home, Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire, with 11 friends, to some £11m between 2009 and 2011."  The article also reveals something we hadn't realised; that the DWP "has exempted private companies in the Work Programme from inspections by Ofsted, the standards body that previously inspected companies involved in welfare and training."  Was that part of the price for getting the companies involved?  A4e's Ofsted reports had never been better than "satisfactory".
The Express picks up the Observer's story about the money, including the fact that it was paid into two companies and a pension fund.  They have a statement from the Harrisons, insisting on the legality and transparency of their arrangements and threatening "appropriate legal action if claims to the contrary are made."  
The Mail has a story of a new "fraud probe" in the Thames Valley.  The allegations concern the misuse of vouchers by A4e staff.  The vouchers, worth between £10 and £50, are redeemable at various retailers and are meant to provide things like new clothes for claimants going for interview.  According to a police source: "There are suggestions that some were given out as bonuses for getting unemployed clients into jobs and there are suspicions that some members of staff may have helped themselves to the vouchers without consent."  They also suggest that this was happening on a very large scale.  The Mail also manages to get the inside story on one of the four people originally arrested, and they have a whistle-blower who talks of the immense pressure staff were put under by management to get results at any cost.  Since one of the arrested staff got £50 for a job outcome, the pressures are obvious.
The Independent is the only paper to put the A4e story on the front page.  Whistle-blowers have been much in demand by the media, and the Indy has one with unusually recent experience.  25-year-old Catherine Verwaerde's story should be read carefully.  A4e got her an interview with a sales company, and it was A4e which told her that she'd got the job.  That could sound like A4e being admirably pro-active.  But Catherine was told that the pay was £7,000 plus commission.  As with any job, but particularly with a situation like this, she was entitled to see written terms and conditions.  But A4e told Catherine that this was not how business worked and  "I would look awkward if I asked for information in writing."  She had been offered a job, so would be sanctioned (deprived of her income) if she didn't take it.  But - she could try it without telling the Jobcentre!  As with so many stories about A4e, it's hard to know whether we're looking at fraud or just incompetence.  The article also has the story of 58-year-old Ram from Edinburgh.  He was wrongly deprived of two weeks' benefit by A4e when they falsely claimed that he had failed to attend an appointment.  His formal complaint has been successful.
In another article, the Observer uses the A4e saga to question the political consensus which has driven the privatisation of public services, in health and education as well as in welfare-to-work, and which has concentrated the work and the money in a few large companies.  This is the debate that is vitally important now.  The ideology which asserts, without evidence, that private profit is best guarantee of efficient services should now be rigorously examined and vociferously challenged.

Friday, 24 February 2012


Let's not get carried away.  Emma Harrison is no longer Chair of A4e, but amidst all the media coverage only two papers point out that still owns almost all of the company.  If she hangs on to those shares she can still continue to make a great deal of money, if not from the Work Programme then from all the other contracts.  The Financial Times quotes Jim Carley, a consultant to the outsourcing industry, saying that she will probably want to sell if she's not involved any more, and that A4e is "one of the few companies out there that is still buyable". 
Andrew Dutton, A4e's CEO, is putting in place a review of the whole company and its processes by a top law firm.  Talking of the fraud allegations, the Telegraph has a mysterious paragraph: "Sources said police are aware of allegations that the fraud went higher up the chain of command than the four front line staff that have already been arrested, although not to the top of the company."  The Telegraph reckons that there's more to emerge over the weekend.
Maybe.  But the Daily Mail is quite hysterical.  They put online two articles.  The first claims the credit for her departure: "She resigned as chairman of A4e four hours after the Daily Mail warned  it was to publish claims of 'rife' corruption at the employment firm."  It goes on: "A whistleblower claimed that champagne was lavished on successful staff while forged signatures and blank timesheets were ‘routine’ techniques used for bumping up the numbers of successful job placements."  The second article details those allegations, giving five minutes of fame to ex-employee Tracie Spiers.  She describes what anybody in the industry would see as a mixture of poor practice, incompetence and deliberate fraud.
A4e brought the techniques of sales teams to the business, completely inappropriately.  Some staff are actually on commission, getting paid for every job outcome.  There are prizes for successful teams; from the champagne described in the article to holidays.  This pressure can lead to the fraud of forging signatures on job outcome forms.  The interests of the clients have vanished.  The forging of timesheets smacks of sheer incompetence.  It was perfectly possible to devise a system for getting those timesheets updated daily and signed off on Friday.  Failure to do that leads to fraud.
In the past A4e has been quick to threaten whistle-blowing staff with legal action.  The tide of such allegations may well be unstoppable now.
A4e will certainly change.  The cult of personality will go, for one thing.  But Dutton will have to look at changing the whole ethos of the company, with good staff training and better management.  We will have to wait and see.

She's stepped down as Chair of A4e

Just heard on the BBC PM programme that Emma Harrison has stepped down as Chair of A4e.  Don't know any more than that at the moment.

Would you believe it?

Who would have believed this even a few weeks ago?  A4e and Emma Harrison are all over the papers and even the BBC has had to take an interest.  I've learned something about media-speak.  "It emerged" means "we've just realised", and there has been a lot of that going on.  Some of the reporting has been woefully ignorant, because journalists don't know the background and are rushing into print before doing their research.  As a writer in The Week puts it, "There is now a fight over who should get the glory for pushing Harrison out. Margaret Hodge claimed the credit for her committee on the BBC Today programme yesterday, but the Daily Mail, which has given the story the biggest coverage, today claims 'The Mail led the way'. The Mail also accuses the BBC of ignoring the revelations until this week."  Indeed , the Mail is running a piece claiming that "The Mail led the way".  It didn't.  Those of you who actually read this blog will know that the story broke when the Guardian reported on the meeting of Margaret Hodge's committee.  It got a lot more attention when the Mail weighed in, but they didn't lead the way.  But maybe we could go further back and share the credit between this blog and Private Eye for highlighting the dividend paid to Harrison.  The Eye is used to banging on about something for ages until finally the mainstream press catches up and claims the credit.
"It emerged", says the Mail (no, it was made public ages ago and we reported it) that A4e, or an arm of it, got the contract to design payment-by-results contracts for helping familes with complex needs.  Fiona Mactaggart MP objects, naturally.  But the Mail also makes public the fact that A4e has just become the preferred bidder on another contract, worth £15m, to rehabilitate prisoners in London.
The Star, Sheffield's local paper, has a different take on all this.  They say that Lib Dems call Labour's attacks "cynical", given David Blunkett's involvement in the company.  Blunkett is indignant.  “This is a rather cheap and extremely nasty personal attack on me.”

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Emma Harrison "steps aside"

No, not from A4e, but from her role as the government's "family champion".  (See the piece on the BBC website.)  Who knows whether that was her decision or the government's.
The BBC has interviewed Margaret Hodge MP, who says it's the right thing to do, but she wants A4e's contracts suspended.  Clients, she says, could go to other primes in the area.  The company has made "excess profit" and now has 9 allegations of fraud hanging over it.

It's not open season

It certainly feels like open season on A4e at the moment, with the subject raised at Prime Minister's Questions and the papers coming up with more revelations.  But as far as I'm concerned, my rules on publishing comments still stand.  No gratuitous insults.  No specific allegations which I have no way of verifying.  Please take those to the newspapers.  And no including your own email address!
It's really important now to focus on the real issues and not get caught up in irrelevancies.  For instance, the Guardian ran a piece yesterday headlined, "A4e compelled jobseekers to work unpaid in its own offices".  It turns out that this was under Flexible New Deal when the 4-week work placement was compulsory.  Now, on the previous contracts it wasn't that unusual for providers to give people placements in their own offices, doing admin, perhaps.  On FND, when the placement was compulsory, that was probably a mistake.  But I submit that it's not massively important.  In the same issue, Amelia Gentleman is cautious.  She says that a number of A4e customers have come forward with complaints, but that much of what they complain about would be common to all the providers.  But she gives two examples of people who felt that they had been badly treated by A4e.
Fiona Mactaggart MP, who raised the matter in Parliament, is now demanding an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.  The MailOnline reveals that there's a second police investigation going on.  And they home in on the relationship between Harrison and government, exemplified by A4e's employment of Tory insider Jonty Oliff-Cooper, a fact which "emerged last night".  The writers of this piece, Jason Groves and Sam Greenhill, obviously haven't been following this blog.  The fact "emerged" for us a long time ago.  They tread carefully when they mention David Blunkett's link with the company.  As a minister he "advocated private involvement in welfare reform" and is now paid up to £30k a year by A4e, but "there is no suggestion of impropriety".  That kind of half-baked reporting really doesn't help.  We need journalists to do their homework, understand the history and the issues and focus on what matters.  And that's how a single company, be it A4e or Capita or Serco or whoever, can make millions out of delivering public services badly.  And how A4e got away with it for so long.
Last night Emma Harrison's Twitter account was frantically posting links to positive stories on A4eVoice.  That won't be enough.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Widening the debate

I thought we might get a day off, that the furore would be dying down.  But no.
First, A4e put out a press release yesterday.  Two things are really exercising them.  The first is that continual reference to 9% outcomes on Pathways to Work.  That wasn't the figure.  They don't actually say what the true figure was, but we've seen low twenties percent mentioned.  The target, however, was 30%.  The figure isn't some aspiration, it's what the bidders promise in order to get the contract.  The best performer on this contract was Jobcentre Plus!  A4e has consistently underperformed, promising 50% outcomes on the 2006 privatised New Deal contracts and delivering around 25%.  Flexible New Deal was even worse.  So while it must be galling to see the error repeated, the fact of poor performance is inescapable.
The second factor is the reporting of the fraud investigation.  A4e states again that the disclosure was the result of their own internal processes and they reported it to the police.  Today that becomes somewhat irrelevant as we learn that four people have been arrested.  (See the BBC report.)  Now, I know nothing about what went on in Slough.  But A4e is one of a number of contractors which pay commission to staff for getting someone into work.  The temptation to fiddle must be that much stronger.
Yesterday the Guardian published a long article by John Harris.  Most of it rehashes what has already been published, but he has spoken to Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the PAC.  She became annoyed, she said, when she found that A4e had the contract in her own area but sub-contracted it to a local charity while taking 12.5% of the attachment fee.  Harris points out that this all began under Labour, and she accepts that.  It was a mistake.  Harris is one of the first journalists to see this fuss as part of a wider problem.  "The rise of A4e also highlights a very modern fact of public life: handing over large swaths of what the state used to do to the private sector has become so mundane as to barely attract comment, and some people have been doing very well out of it indeed."  Now we read on the BBC news site that a London charity, London Citizens, is claiming to be doing much better at getting people into work than the big contractors, and doing it much more cheaply.  And the article says: "There has been increasing scrutiny of work-to-welfare schemes."
That's what we need, of course.  The current targeting of A4e should be the start of a much wider debate on the role of private profit in public service delivery.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Shrove Tuesday - and it keeps on getting worse

Today is Pancake Day, but long before it was called that it was Shrove Tuesday.  Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, when people would fast, so on the Tuesday they confessed their sins and were "shriven" - forgiven by the priest.  Today, then, is a day for confessions.
Why am I telling you this?  Well, partly because I'm getting a bit bored with the continuing saga of Emma Harrison's embarrassment; and partly because Harrison may feel that it's relevant.
The latest episode is another onslaught from the Daily Mail.  "Jobless attending courses by 'back-to-work tsar paid £8m by the Government 'were ordered to sign blank timesheets'."  One of the Public Accounts Committee members who questioned A4e's Andrew Dutton last week was Fiona Mactaggart MP.  She happens to be the MP for the area including Slough, where police visited A4e's offices following fraud allegations.  And Mactaggart has been compiling a dossier of reports about A4e from her own constituents.  One accusation is that clients were made to sign blank timesheets.  That shouldn't happen, obviously, and I'm not excusing it, but it can be done for convenience rather than fraud.  More serious is the accusation that a client had to sign a blank review sheet.  Others talked of not getting the training they were promised, of shambolic conditions and of inappropriate treatment.  Some of this happened a while ago, and A4e are saying that it can't happen now.  Mactaggart is handing the dossier to the head of the National Audit Office.
As I pointed out earlier today, this will not prevent A4e from bidding for new contracts.

Job Snobs, new contracts and another view of Emma

We're seeing crude government propaganda at work over "workfare".  First there was Chris Grayling using the Telegraph on 19 February to tell us that "critics of the government's work experience programme are 'job snobs'."  It's a thoroughly misleading and sanctimonious piece in which he castigates the BBC and the "left wing" newspapers for their reporting and tells us how wonderful it is that retailers like Tesco are offering experience to youngsters.  He focusses entirely on the scheme which is "voluntary" (for the first week) for young people.  Surprisingly, given that it's in the Telegraph, a lot of the comments which follow are scathing.  Then yesterday Iain Duncan Smith weighed in in the Daily Mail with exactly the same soundbite, except that now it's "sneering job snobs who betray the young".  It's very bad-tempered.  Critics of the scheme are "a commentating elite which seems determined to belittle and downgrade any opportunity for young people that doesn’t fit their pre-conceived notion of a ‘worthwhile job’."  He comes up with the extraordinary statement that "13 weeks after starting their placements, around 50 per cent of those taking part have either taken up permanent posts or have stopped claiming benefits."  Again the comments are short and to the point.  Today YouGov have put out a poll in which people are asked whether they approve of workfare, so the government will be able to see whether the fight-back is working. 

Meanwhile the Independent reports that, far from having their contracts suspended, A4e will be bidding for a share in the new contracts targeting Neets.  They are payment-by-results contracts, with up to £2,200 on offer for each youngster "helped".  "'Any organisation with a proven track record in the field will be able to apply in an open tender – the usual process,' a spokesman said."  I hope Margaret Hodge and the other PAC members read that bit carefully, because it is very misleading.  The committee were told, correctly, that the procurement process doesn't allow past performance to be taken into account.  So this spokesman is plain wrong.
The Independent also today runs a piece by James Cusick on the recent storm over Emma Harrison.   It adds little to our knowledge, except that in addition to Thornbridge Hall Harrison owns a £3m mews property in London.  But he does bring out her messianic delusions.  "She said recently: 'I've got another million people I want to help. I'm going to ... sort out the entire health system.'  She also claims to have 'a role in the Bank of England's regional consultations on behalf of the Monetary Policy Committee'. The Bank questioned the use of the word 'role', saying: 'I think Emma's website needs a bit of an update.' " 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Suspend A4e's contracts?

The nightmare goes on for A4e and Emma Harrison.  It's not clear whether the call to suspend the contracts comes via the Daily Mail, but they report it with glee.  Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee which caused all the rumpus, will be "asking the Department of Work and Pensions 'whether, given the allegations of fraud, they will be suspending their contracts with A4e until this matter is resolved'."  A Press Association piece, which may have come first, tells us that, "The allegation concerns a very small number of former employees and dates back to 2010. As the investigation is ongoing, we (Thames Valley Police) cannot comment further."  The Telegraph also reports the "fraud probe" but not the call for suspension of the contracts.  Instead they quote Chris Grayling from an interview on Sky.  Typically, Grayling said that it couldn't happen with the Work Programme (suugesting that it could happen with the previous contracts) and blamed the last government. 
So what about that call for suspension of the contracts?  Hodge appears to mean just the welfare-to-work contracts, rather than all the other lucrative stuff.  I don't think it's practical.  The most you could do is stop any more referrals until the case is resolved.  But the other providers in the areas couldn't take on those clients.  They are not geared to double their intake suddenly.  While the potential clients might be happy to see the suspension, the government probably wouldn't.  
The Express links the revelations about A4e to the whole question of bonuses in the public sector.  In an article this morning they bemoan the lack of any links between performance and pay-out and say: "In one particularly offensive example the Government’s so-called “Jobs Czar” Emma Harrison last year received an astonishing dividend of £8.6million through her company A4e, which runs a variety of state employment schemes funded by the taxpayer.  Yet for all the company’s colossal earnings its record on finding jobs for its clients is woeful. According to evidence presented to the Commons Public Accounts Committee, just nine per cent of those on A4e’s “Pathways to Work” actually ended up in work, a finding that the committee’s chair- woman Margaret Hodge called 'an outrage'."  
Can it get any worse for Harrison and A4e?  Perhaps the Daily Politics programme (BBC1, 12.00) which had Harrison on as "guest of the day" a fortnight ago, will mention what has been happening.  Somehow I doubt it.
PS.  The Guardian has cast a bit more light on the fraud investigation.   A4e is reported as stating: "Thames Valley police visited our offices on Friday for a mutually agreed meeting in relation to an allegation of fraud that was identified by A4e's internal processes and was reported to the authorities by the company.  The allegation concerns a very small number of former employees and dates back to 2010. As the investigation is ongoing, we cannot comment further."  

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Police investigation into A4e

The news couldn't be much worse for A4e.  The MailOnline, which has savaged Emma Harrison and A4e in the last few days, now reports that A4e iis at the centre of a fraud investigation.  "The Department for Work and Pensions confirmed last night that a probe into A4e – headed by Mrs Harrison – was under way.  A source at the company told The Mail on Sunday that on Friday afternoon, officers from Thames Valley Police visited the  company’s offices in Slough, Berkshire.  The source said they stayed for up to four hours and demanded staff hand over documents and computer files dating back two years.Apparently what's being investigated is the allegation that "the company had put some  people in jobs for just one day, but claimed the funding nonetheless."

Anyone connected with the industry will be scratching their heads at this.  Under the 2006 contracts (I don't know about subsequent ones) it was perfectly possible to do this in certain circumstances.  A client gets a job, to start on Monday morning; so the provider fills in the paperwork on the Friday afternoon and sends it back to the Jobcentre, which signs the client off benefits.  The client turns up to work but decides at the end of the day that he doesn't want to do this and walks out.  This is still claimable as a job outcome if the employer signs that the job was intended to last for 13 weeks.  They won't get the other half of the money, which is payable only when the client has stayed in the job for 13 weeks.  If this is what's being investigated, then A4e will probably be in the clear.  But we'll wait and see. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

"Living off the state - and how"

I brought the week to an end too soon.  The Daily Mail hasn't finished with Emma Harrison.  Its long article headlined, "Living off the state - and how: Inside the 16 bedroom, 42-loo mansion of Government's families tsar whose £8.5m payday provoked outrage" is a real demolition job.  They've homed in on the opulence of her home, Thornbridge Hall; her personal wealth, an estimated £70 million; and the history of A4e.  They've spoken to the neighbours, and to some clients.  It's painful.  And it's not all accurate.  They haven't grasped the history of New Deal, for instance.  But it really is so devastating that one could almost feel sorry for Harrison.  Is there a danger of overkill here?  It won't deprive A4e of any contracts.  All it will do is drive her off the TV for a while.

Two links

Just a couple of links to end an eventful week.

The first is to a BBC local news item on the "millions for Emma Harrison" story.

The second is the Mail Online's take on the Tesco free labour row.  Someone had the foresight to capture the offending advert before it was pulled. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Free labour for Tesco

Many people will have seen the news today about Tesco's use of free labour.  It started with a "job" advert on the government's own website for a night shift worker in Tesco in East Anglia.  Pay - "JSA + expenses".  Outrage spread via Facebook and other sites.  Then Left Foot Forward showed how this was far from a one-off.  Guardian journalists had found several similar adverts.  Tesco's response fluctuated.  First they told people that they were helping young people by taking part in a government scheme; then they said at had been a mistake.  Now John Harris has written a considered piece in the Guardian about what he calls the "sinister reality" of such schemes.

I can add little to what has been written.  But it will be interesting to see whether the story is taken up by the rest of the media.  Newsnight, perhaps?  If you're one of those driven to boycott Tesco because of their use of free labour to save on employment costs, bear in mind that Sainsbury's and the Co-op have decided to steer clear of the scheme, and can be patronised with a clear conscience.

Moving on?

The fuss dies down, the media spotlight moves away from A4e, and nothing has changed.  It's time to remind myself, and my readers, why this matters.

Successive governments decided that the delivery of public services would be more efficient if it was motivated by private profit.  A few outsourcing businesses such as Capita and Serco grew fat, making big profits for their bosses and shareholders.  The last Labour government applied the same logic to welfare-to-work efforts.  In 2006 the role of Jobcentre Plus was downgraded and people were sackedOne company, A4e, did so well from the privatisation that other players couldn't understand how they'd done it.  However, those New Deal contracts were so badly designed that results were half of what had been promised; projected outcomes of 50% came in at 25%.  Still, the contractors made a profit, and A4e widened its business, scooping up contracts in a wide range of public services, all of them dealing with the most disadvantaged people.  On the back of its success in Britain, it secured contracts abroad.  

Flexible New Deal delivered even poorer outcomes than its predecessor, but profits were still good.  And through all this, A4e behaved in a very different way from its rivals.  Who could name the boss of any other outsourcing company?  But Emma Harrison was the very public face of A4e, hungry for publicity and advising governments.  There was bad publicity, certainly.  Yet none of it lasted.  TV producers wanted to go after the company, but had decided that the only way to do such reports was with whistle-blowers and / or secret filming, so it was left to radio producers to keep up the pressure.  Harrison seemed fire-proof, however, and the incoming coalition government decided that she was the person to rescue the country from its burden of workless families.

The government was unable to rid itself of the delusion that profit was the best incentive.  The Work Programme has been designed to reward only "success".  It was never considered that a better way was to beef up Jobcentre Plus.  There was outrage when the amount of money which Harrison personally had made from contracts last year was publicised, especially when it was linked to a distinct lack of success.  Of course, the other outsourcing companies had made similar profits, but none of them had the same public profile as Harrison and A4e.  All that money could have gone to creating jobs or shaping a better service to the unemployed.

I regularly get comments from readers which I can't publish.  They tell stories of experiences with A4e which I can't verify.  But they add to the picture of a company which needs continuing scrutiny.  

Saturday, 11 February 2012

The bad publicity rolls on

The Guardian started it with their report of the Public Accounts Committee grilling of A4e's Andrew Dutton about the company's record and the money paid to its chairman Emma Harrison.  When the Daily Mail took up the story the next day there was a huge wave of interest (four times the average number of hits on this blog testify to that).  Other papers chipped in.  The Express had "Fury over familes tsar's £8m payout".  Unfortunately they chose to quote the Taxpayers' Alliance, not a good way of boosting your case.  But they also summarised A4e's reaction: "“Some members of the Public accounts Committee unhelpfully referred to early performance figures in the previous Pathways to Work contract without looking at performance during the life of that contract.  They also confused A4e performance with another contractor, whose performance level was significantly lower than that of A4e.”  Well, they didn't protest when the 9% figure was given at that first PAC meeting.  And they didn't protest when it was repeated on Wednesday.  I think they mean that Reed did even worse.
The Yorkshire Post  went with a simple summary, but also had a reaction from A4e: "For the past 21 years, Ms Harrison has taken substantial and significant risks in growing the company.  Like all entrepreneurs, she has provided personal guarantees and invested a significant amount of her personal capital into the company during its lifetime.  Having built a private company with her own resources, and continued to invest and take risks, her remuneration is in line with that of a successful entrepreneur.”  But that simply won't do.  There has been no risk whatever in these contracts.  In the 2006 and 2009 contracts providers made substantial profits despite achieving roughly half of the outcomes promised.  In the numerous other contracts A4e has secured, the money comes in however good or bad the performance turns out to be.  This is not entrepreneurship.  The Telegraph headlines "David Cameron's families adviser 'shares £11m dividends pot'"  Their take on it is that "The disclosure is likely to prove embarrassing for the Prime Minister, who has urged restraint on pay among companies which rely on state contracts.  Mr Cameron has previously heaped praise on Mrs Harrison, claiming he had confidence in her to deliver on its targets to get people into work."
The Star, Sheffield's local paper,has a short summary, but also quotes Nick Clegg, a Sheffield MP.   “I know the work of A4e very well. The payments a private company makes are something the Government cannot stop. I will be asking through the Treasury that every department in Whitehall has a very close look at whether they are getting the best value for money with companies paid through the public purse.”  
Clegg is right, and the "outrage" of some politicians is a little forced.  It was Labour's David Blunkett who decided that private profit was going to be the best incentive for New Deal.  It was a Labour government which designed the contracts, unworried by how much money the companies were making.  No doubt all the fuss seems terribly unfair to A4e.  Why aren't they getting at Serco, G4S or any of the others?  They have made the same sort of profits.  Well, if you seek publicity as avidly as Emma Harrison has always done it can come back to bite you.  If you own 85% (or is it 87%) of the company your personal income comes under scrutiny.  If you bandy about phrases like "social purpose company" and "doing well by doing good", while the other companies just get on with business, you invite the sort of publicity you're now enjoying.
The Independent on Sunday has a leading article which uses the affair to illustrate why the government's welfare reforms are going wrong.  After expressing doubts about the benefits cap they say: " while we support many of the fine principles set out by Mr Duncan Smith, we fear that the design of his reforms will cause needless hardship, while the spending cuts of which they are part will hurt the economy and mean that there will be fewer jobs into which people can be helped."  They then say that while Labour's privatisation of New Deal was "a plausible idea" but, "Unfortunately, the contracts seem to have allowed some private providers to cream off large profits. The Public Accounts Committee last week criticised the £8.6m dividend paid to Emma Harrison by her "social purpose" company A4e, which used to be called Action for Employment. Her company's record on getting people into work seems unimpressive, yet Ms Harrison was appointed the Prime Minister's adviser on "problem families", and her generous pay derives entirely from public contracts.  She stands as a symbol of how hard it is for governments to get people off welfare and into work, and how hard it is for this government in particular to do it in such a way as to convince us that we are 'all in it together.' "
The Guardian has moved on to a related issue, unpaid work schemes. Sainsbury's have followed Waterstones in deciding to have nothing to do with any of these compulsory free labour schemes, and the unions are calling on the other high street chains to do the same.  "John Hannett, Usdaw general secretary, said: 'Usdaw is not opposed to schemes that genuinely aim to give young people  appropriate work experience or help long-term unemployed people get back into work, but schemes should be voluntary, participants should receive the rate for the job, and there needs to be transparent checks and balances in place.'"  The TUC says that it could simply encourage employers to use free labour rather than recruit young people into jobs.  Tesco comes up with some figures.  In the last 4 months they have had 1,400 people working free for a month, and have taken on 300 "jobseekers".  Even assuming the figures are correct, that means that 4 out of 5 don't get a job.  We are going to need really detailed figures on this, from individual stores.  And there's a very important news item by the BBC's Paul Mason showing that even those who do get jobs in supermarkets will still have to be subsidised by the state because the wages are so low.  It puts Emma Harrison's pay into perspective, doesn't it?

Friday, 10 February 2012

Emma gets the Daily Mail treatment

The unemployed are used to it.  Being demonised by the Daily Mail is something you have to put up with if you're out of work.  But today the paper turns its fire on Emma Harrison, following the Public Accounts Committee hearing.   "Fury as families tsar gets £8.6m in one year (and the bulk of it comes from taxpayers)" is the headline.  And the focus is on money.  She "pocketed £8.6m", which was up 300 per cent on the year before".  Margaret Hodge is quoted as saying it's an outrage.  There's an insert on Thornbridge Hall, her home, and we're told that, "She is now worth an estimated £70million, putting her at 968 on The Sunday Times rich list. A4e is worth £80million, with her stake put at £68million."  There is then a write-up of the committee's proceedings, and the response of Andrew Dutton.  The article has no less than 4 photos of Ms Harrison, a signal that they're targeting an individual.  Last night A4e put out a statement saying that their performance was better than the industry average.  

I doubt it will bother Harrison too much.  Two days ago she was at a charity reception at 10 Downing Street.  And don't they say, "all publicity is good publicity"?

Thursday, 9 February 2012

A4e's "abysmal" record

The Public Accounts Committee yesterday launched a blistering attack on A4e during a session on the introduction of the Work Programme.  (See the Guardian)  Why, the committee wanted to know, did a company with such an "abysmal" record get contracts.  Andrew Dutton, A4e's CEO, had to respond to questioning about the company's UK turnover last year of £160m - £180m, all of it from government contracts, and the £11m it paid out in dividends, 87% of which went to Emma Harrison.  The committee chair, Margaret Hodge (a hero of mine despite her politics) ensured that they "spent some time trying to establish where money paid to A4e to deliver government contracts ended up."  She told Dutton, "You're one of the first examples we have had of a company which is entirely dependent on public contracts for your existence. We, in terms of looking for value for money, have an interest in following the pound. All your business is public contracts. You and Emma Harrison have to accept that there will be a different interest in the remuneration and profits made because the profits you make come from the taxes that ordinary, hard-working people pay."   The example of abysmal performance cited was the Pathways to Work programme, with 9% of clients got into work.

Several members of the committee expressed amazement that companies with such a poor record could get new contracts.  But the DWP's permanent secretary, Robert Devereux, confirmed what we have pointed out before - that they can't take past performance into account.  Lots of them had poor records (!)  And since some of the companies bidding were new entrants it wouldn't have been possible.

Fiona MacTaggart MP raised an interesting point about "job substitution" - "companies delivering the Work Programme, getting paid for pushing their clients into jobs that would otherwise have been filled by other jobseekers without the need for a third-party payment."  "In my constituency," she said, "a lot of people are being given work experience, unpaid, in retail, and then the retailers, I think, are being directly encouraged to employ people who have been given this one-month or two-, three-month interview process … and when they're offering jobs, a company like A4e, which operates in Slough, can say to Primark, if you want more of our free workers, I hope you are going to give our people 20-hour-week jobs. I'm sure it's not quite as overt as that, but I believe there is a risk of that happening."  All that Devereux could say to that was that a job was a good thing.  Another civil servant had a more wordy response but didn't answer the question.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

One in seven

There was an interesting item on the BBC news today about the Work Programme.  Mark Easton went to Liverpool, to A4e's office there, after meeting Cheryl, a 21-year-old who has been out of work for a year and is willing to do anything.  He follows her as she goes to A4e for the first time.  And then we learn that only one in seven of their clients there have found work after seven months.  That's just over 14%.  And it must be around the "dead weight" figure, of those who would have found work anyway.  We meet Dave, middle-aged, long-term unemployed and very worried.  It's a buyer's market out there, with only the prospect of shift work at the Jacobs biscuit factory if he's lucky.  A4e's Steve Wright, looking nervous, says that it's a competitive market, and he can't control the labour market.  Back to Cheryl, who is doing the rounds with her CV.  But employers say they get hundreds of them.  Finally, A4e admits that they can't create jobs.  (What about those "hidden jobs" Emma Harrison is always on about?)

This wasn't a hatchet job on A4e.  But it's good to see the BBC looking carefully at the Work Programme and sympathetically at the unemployed.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Emma pops up again

Emma Harrison made another appearance on the BBC today, this time on Pienaar's Politics on 5 Live.  I haven't listened to it yet.  Fortunately the Scottish Sunday Express has provided a summary of Harrison's views under the headline "PM warned over vulnerable families".  She is described as "the woman appointed by David Cameron to get families back into work".   And she's worried that the £26,000 benefits cap could harm some families with a number of seriously disabled children, families in which the parents are the full-time carers and which would cost the state millions without that parental care.  Can't argue with that.  And she's right that it's a "populist movement" (though I wouldn't use that phrase) that wants to cap benefits.  However, it grates when she says, "I know families ...".  We are always told that it's Harrison's personal knowledge of the unemployed which informs her opinions.  And she seems to row back a bit at the end of the article:"Of course we should reform welfare. We should make it work for today. Somehow it has become possible for 120,000 families to live on benefits. Now within that group of families there might be a small percentage who will always have to live on benefits because of some very, very extreme circumstances." 
If Harrison is going to use her position to challenge the government's more extreme moves, we can only applaud.  But she will need to be armed with some genuine figures.  And she will need to face some informed questioning about A4e's activities.
Perhaps I'll grit my teeth and listen to the programme tomorrow.

Monday:  Harrison's remarks have made other newspapers, including the Financial Times, (which thinks her remarks will be a blow to David Cameron), the Mirror (which says that the "Jobs Tsar" has turned on the Tories) and a brief piece in the Scotsman.  

Friday, 3 February 2012

Work Programme - item on PM

The PM programme on Radio 4 tonight included an item on the Work Programme which managed to pack most of the issues into a few minutes.  The headline is that the ERSA (the trade body for welfare-to-work companies) has been allowed by the DWP to publish some rough and ready figures about how the WP is doing.  Among the first batch on the scheme, who started 6 months ago, 20% have found work.  But that figure disguises the fact that in two areas of the country, the South West and part of Scotland, the proportion is actually only 10%.  And in Liverpool A4e has managed only 10%.  No one mentioned the "dead weight" figure, the number which would be expected to get work without any intervention - but it's more than 10%.  One man interviewed (one of our correspondents, I believe) said that he had been on the New Deal programme, Flexible New Deal and now the Work Programme, all with A4e.  He felt he had received no help, and had had only one interview, which he got by his own efforts.
Barnsley Council is a WP contractor, and their spokesman was less reticent than other providers to talk about the problems.  There are simply not enough jobs.  Employers will not take the long-term unemployed, preferring immigrant workers if they can't get recently employed British workers.  Providers, he said, are picking the low-hanging fruit i.e. concentrating on those with the most recent work record.  
A voluntary organisation which has a proven track record in getting the hardest to help, like ex-offenders, into jobs said they were being asked by prime contractors to deliver programmes for them - for no payment.
Chris Grayling was briefly interviewed, and reminded me of someone who sticks his fingers in his ears and says, "La la la, can't hear you!".  It's in line with expectations, he said.  It's on track.  No, that's not over-optimistic.  You're just misusing figures.  The NAO report was wrong.  There will be no changes.


The Guardian is keeping up its interest in the subject of workfare with an article on those firms which have taken people on placement - including Waterstones, which has decided to make its branch managers end the practice "as it did not want to encourage working without pay".  Other companies involved say that they can't give figures because the placements are arranged locally. One point raised by an anonymous member of Holland and Barrett's staff was that they believe the placements are destroying paid work.  "We have had a number of placements in our store and have noticed that the hours for part-time staff have been reduced. Staff are upset because we are all struggling to make ends meet," the employee said.  "The real benefactors of this scheme are the companies who receive millions of pounds worth of labour absolutely free of charge and the losers are the jobseekers who see potential jobs being filled by workfare placements for months at a time and the loyal part-timers who find their regular overtime hours savagely cut."  The article also updates us on Cait Reilly's action against the DWP.  Court papers have now been filed.  The DWP's defence is "that having benefits docked does not equate to forcing the unemployed to work."  "Where a person is required to perform a task and, if he or she does not do so, loses benefit, that is not forcing a person to work."  Well, yes.  Very interesting.

That appearance by Emma Harrison yesterday on The Daily Politics - I'm still wondering how and why she came to be there.  

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Emma Harrison on the Daily Politics - again

The BBC's Daily Politics programme is going on at the moment, and the "guest of the day" is A4e's Emma Harrison.  She was introduced as if she had never been on the show before, but she's been on twice to my knowledge.  So, how is she doing?  Her first contribution was an intervention in a discussion on the Miliband brothers, though with nothing useful to say.

A report was cited that says that 4 out of 10 employers say they hire immigrants rather than British youngsters because the British lack the "soft skills" such as how to deal with customers.  Emma said that A4e teaches the soft skills, it's of prime importance.  She said that it was more of a London issue.  And her clients are getting and keeping jobs.

Now she's intervening in a discussion on French politics!  Neil asks her to comment.  And now we're on to the Lib Dem away-day.  Why is Harrison on the programme at all?  She is asked to comment on what the journalist says about the Lib Dem agenda, and she says that they should ask what people want, represent the voice of the consumer; and "get in early with the SME stuff".

And that's it, programme over.  Harrison has had some completely painless exposure and unchallenged publicity for A4e.  

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Telling it like it is

An excellent article was published in the Guardian yesterday.  They went to Hull, where the unemployment rate is among the worst in the country, and looked at how the Work Programme is actually operating.  This is not propaganda, but reality.  The contract is held by G4S, but is sub-contracted here to Pertemps.  "Officially," says the article, "the barrier is never simply that there are 58 jobseekers for every job available in the city (and in any case, staff point out cheerfully that the latest figure for Hull has dropped to just 22.6). The barriers they diagnose could be difficulties with basic literacy and numeracy, it could be drug or alcohol problems, it may be lack of transport, self-esteem, experience, skills or training. All of these things are problems to which Pertemps has solutions. The subtext is that external economic factors can never be the cause of someone's unemployment: the problem must somehow lie with the individual."  We know that that's a major complaint of people on the WP - that their unemployment must be their fault - and it's feeding the perceptions of government and the wider public.  Pertemps is apparently not meeting its target in Hull but the Guardian is not allowed by the DWP to publish the figures.

It would do ministers good to read about the people described here.  

Meanwhile, the voluntary sector is still complaining.  They are finding that their volunteers are being taken away to go on the WP.