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.


  1. Given that MWE is compulsory for the over 25's (and fertile A4e sanction material) will the companies that participate in this require a change in the regulations as well as to make it optional?

    1. I'm wondering about this as well. 18 months ago, I had to fight, wheedle and cajole the Job Centre staff into letting me work for a for-profit company for no more than 15 hours a week because I'm trying to return to work after a lengthy career-break so I need as much up-to-date experience as possible.

      For the first 4 months, all was OK. I was religiously including this 15 hours a week on my "Work Search" forms, the Job Centre staff initialled that every fortnight and everyone seemed happy.

      Then one day, a new woman at the Job Centre suddenly started treating me like some sort of hardened criminal. Acording to her, I was "not permitted" to do any work other than for a charity. She added that "nobody" in my own professional field would work for free, not even for one minute. Her arrogance was coupled only by her abject ignorance, frankly, so I made a formal complaint about her immediately.

      I took fright and agreed with the friend who was kindly providing the "re-learning" for me that we would abandon the experiment immediately, so as to protect both of us from any further unjustified and unjustifiable claims by anyone from the DWP or the Job Centre.

      Some months after I lodged the formal complaint about the Job Centre woman, I was invited to meet with her Manager. Who confirmed that I had not been breaking any laws so she tried to encourage me to revert to doing the 15 hours a week. I tried to explain that I refuse to do that when the Job Centre staff are so unpredictable and contradict one another the whole time about what is lawful and what is not.

      The Manager seemed bemused by my insistence that I would want everything confirmed in writing by them, in advance, from now on. Doing that would be far too well-orgainsed for the Job Centre, so it obviously would not happen......

      I am now one of the over 50s on the Work Programme and a customer of A4E. If A4E try to tell me that I must stack shelves free of charge but that I am not allowed to do any work experience that might actually help me then I will go straight to the Press. I don't believe that politicians can be trusted, especially not my own dear Christopher Huhne MP, considering that he is being prosecuted for attempting to pervert te course of justice.

      But I wonder? Can A4E force me to do something pointless whilst preventing me from doing something useful instead? The A4E man told me that I am not allowed to find any work experience off my own bat, which I believed at the time but now I am wondering?

      If anybody knows the answer, I would be very grateful for a reply.

    2. I tried to get unpaid work experience in a practical skill by asking if people where I live would allow me to do the work for free on the basis that I am learning and so it would take longer etc than if I was a pro. The JC told me I am not allowed to do this because it is work that most people would be paid to do (the woman brought out a document and showed me it, but said I wasn't allowed to have a copy), even though they understood why I wanted to do it. They also said I am not allowed to do work experience because I am over 25. However, having found an organisation which will allow me to do the same work for nothing they are quite happy with me doing it - because the organisation looks for volunteers and so that is what I am. Volunteering is acceptable, it looks good on your CV and the organisation you are volunteering for writes you a reference. Then you get a paid job somewhere.

      I found this voluntary work when I was on the ND, A4E didn't find it for me. They were quite happy for me to do it, but it required them to go out and speak to the people running things. A4E's insurance required them at the time (and probably now too) to check the H&S arrangements at the placement site; I'm working outdoors but they went to the organisation's offices which I have never seen. I also wanted to do some work with another organisation but that didn't come off because A4E couldn't get to the offices to satisfy their insurance. I did a one day placement with a school on a trip because they had been to the school and satisfied themselves that the H&S was OK for somebody else. The trip was to a farm 50 miles away from the school, but apparently the H&S procedures still held good.

      So I'd guess A4E have a range of organisations they've checked out as being OK and they send people along to them, anywhere else will take them time to get sorted out so they'll avoid doing it.

      When they turn up at the offices they will bitch about job seekers being lazy, the person in charge must make sure they turn up on time etc because they will try not doing so, if your job seeker doesn't turn up they must be reported because then they can be sanctioned (this was on the ND, I see no reason that it will have changed). You, as job seeker, of course don't know about this. I only know because the director of the place I am doing my voluntary work with happens to be an acquaintance of mine and having in a previous job been a social worker with disadvantaged families (understanding more about "barriers" than A4E) couldn't believe the attitude.

    3. "The A4E man told me that I am not allowed to find any work experience off my own bat, which I believed at the time but now I am wondering"

      Well remember the recent case of Cait Reilly who had found her voluntary job in a museum but was forced to leave it for Poundland ..... now challenging this legally .....

  2. I am glad to read that the young can now opt out of the scheme after a week and not incur any benefit deductions

    However I think large companies should be legally compelled to employ 18-24 year olds the way they have to employ a certain number of disabled, and at the very least the JSA should be topped up to meet the minimum wage, this being paid by either the Government or the employer. It would act as an incentive to continue to the end of the eight weeks for the young employee.

  3. The above comment mirrors my experiences with A4E almost exactly. My degree
    is in IT and yet I have not been allowed to find my own work placement. I was offered 8 weeks in local Poundland stacking shelves (this was before Poundland re-assessed their involvement). None of this seems to make any sense. I would quite happily talk to the press about this. To quote Terry Pratchett " Where's the money?" I have an idea - why not take the money given to companies like A4E (about 120-180 million pounds) and lend THAT MONEY to businesses who will invest and hire people?! Simples...

  4. Simone: In the late 1980s you used to get an extra tenner if you were on the Employment Training (ET) scheme. More commonly known as the Extra Tenner scheme.

  5. Anon at 01:46. Have you tried making a formal complaint?

    I work for an IT charity repairing and upgrading donated computers so they can be used by the disabled.

  6. Yes Milly I know! I was a recipient! then I received it also under New Deal 2008/2009l. You were expected to pay your additional fares to Work Directions/Ingeus and anything left over was yours. If you were doing the Intensive Work Activity ie going in five days a week, you would be expected to buy a travel card and they would pay the difference. The company issued you with documentation which enabled you to get discounted travel on London Transport.

    (Boris when he came into power introduced a similar scheme for all the unemployed in London.)

    Work Directions encouraged me to take advantage of these clothing vouchers, up to £200 worth but quite honestly a suit Dorothy Perkins? Eh no!

  7. Ill give the work programme another 6 months at most before it fails, and thats being generous.

  8. From A4E website
    "We’ve trialled new welfare to work concepts on behalf of DWP; financial inclusion test pilots for HM Treasury & FSA; and, cutting edge legal aid service reforms with the Legal Services Commission.
    We don’t wait for Government though to commission pilot programmes; we also advise them where, when & how they can improve value for money & service outcomes based upon our own experiences.
    For A4e, pilots matter. They are the public services of tomorrow."

    Seems like A4e and the Government have a much more involved relationship. It rather does stink doesn't it?

  9. Anon 01:58. I agree - maybe. The Work Programme is being exposed for what it is - utter Government mendacity coupled with obscene amounts of profits for the Government's cronies - but otherwise a complete waste of both time and public money.

    I was supposed to go to an interview with one of A4E's sub-contractors tomorrow, A4E evidently having decided to "park" me. The A4E man and I both spoke to the new outfit on the phone, who promised to write to me confirming tomorrow's appointment.

    Well - they did write, as promised. Unfortunately their letter explained that these subbies had just ceased trading with a view to immediate liquidation. Not quite what I had been expecting, but still.....

    The finances of the whole WP scheme are unravelling. Apparently all the figures depend on stacks of people who have been taken off ESA or DLA. They are the only people who can attract fees of £13,700 for A4E et al. However, this Hobbling Money is not being referred to the Primes in large enough quantity because the Hobblers are appealing against Atos etc. That fact stuffs up the original sums, it appears.

    Which sounds encouraging but according to the Press, A4E et al will just go back to IDS and demand more money, which he is likely to pay because his own political neck is on the block about the Work Programme and Welfare Reform.

    The Job Centre are rumoured to be chuckling about the entire fiasco because the PCS Union have always insisted that the Job Centre gets better results at far less expense.

  10. A4E et al will just go back to IDS and demand more money

    Surely this would not only be a HUGE scandal but lead to the resignation of IDS as well as a public outcry against the bailout.


    A4e state they are 'on target' (clearly b-s if you read the leaked figures that show less than 9%) so what do they mean?

    Margaret Hodge is asking why were they given the previous contract despite appalling performance? A 2nd bailout would be political suicide?

    We all know that.

    The focus now should be on resisting any bailout. Because it will be a bailout based upon previous lies and deceit.

    The DWP aren't looking to good either.

    1. To Anon at 02:37
      Thank you for your reply. I agree with you that A4E will miss their own/the Government's targets but I think that the same will also be true of all the other Prime Contractors in the Work Programme. The WP scheme is so poorly-designed in so many ways that it is certain to fail commercially, I reckon. It will have to be propped up by more Government money in order to keep it alive. BUT - FND failed and ND failed before that, so what's new?

      A4E will get most of the flak, I suspect. The DWP have made it clear that they will protect the DWP and if it becomes necessary to do that by throwing A4E to the wolves then so be it. Cameron has already made it clear that he's going to protect David Cameron so he has aready thrown Emma Harrison to the wolves in order to protect his own skin.

      I think that A4E have two main problems. The first is whether their banks will continue to support them - which the banks will do as long as the banks are confident that the Government will underwrite any losses.

      A4E's other big problem is its own (and/or Emma Harrison's) utter vulgarity, it seems to me. A4E's website is remarkable only for its illiteracy and its endless outpourings of absolute claptrap, imho. In Andrew Dutton's shoes, I wouldn't have sent for a firm of lawyers. I'd have sent for some "corporate image consultants" instead.

      From the Government's point of view, A4E is not indispensable. So if the Government does not succeed in putting a public lid on the scandal then the Government will be seen to blame A4E and that will be that, I expect.

  11. Looks like Emma Harrison has gone to ground. Her twitter account @emmachat has been deleted.

    What next!?

  12. After hearing some negative thoughts about the WP, I thought I'd share my experience of the scheme.

    I was with Ingeus in Norwich at the time - who not only let me continue with the voluntary work I was doing with BTCV then, they actively encouraged me to do so. In addition, the adviser who worked with me wasn't patronising at all, was willing to take my own point of view into consideration (which never happened at A4e), and, most importantly, did not push me into applying for jobs which were clearly unsuitable for my skills and quaifications. Simply put, I was treated like a human being while I was there.

    1. Mark. I'm interested in your experience with Ingeus. I only discovered the other day that Ingeus is 97% owned by Therese Rein - the wife of the former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

      Australia has been running a scheme similar to the UK's new Work Programme for several years (my close family live in Australia.) Apparently the Aussie Government discovered that letting these privately-owned, profit-driven "providers" run the whole thing according to their own agendas was a iisaster, so the Aussie Govt put Centrelink ("the dole office," according to my Australian sister) back in charge. The Aussie "WP" scheme now works a lot better than it used to according to Professor Dan Finn in his Report accompanying the National Audit Office report into the likely workings of the Work Programme. Prof Finn's report must be music to the Job Centre's ears.

      Also, Ingeus had the wisdom to do a joint venture with Deloitte when Ingeus bid for the UK's Work Programme. So Ingeus have some respectable accountants as their own partners and the Ingeus website is (a) literate and (b) restrained, unlike the hysterical drivel on the A4E website.

      Ingeus don't operate in Hampshire, where I live. We have A4E and Maximus (American, apparently) instead.

      A4E seems to be the only one of the big players which is remarkable only for its spivviness and its commercial ineptitude. A4E have been running around like unruly, ill-disciplined, immature brats in charge of a toyshop, it seems to me, but they do seem to be alone in doing this.

      In fairness to my local A4E office, they are nice people. (Half of them were poached from CDG whilst I was doing the ND with CDG last year. I first got to know my local A4E crowd when they were working for CDG, so this Welfare-to-Work game is obviously very incestuous!)

      The young man from A4E who claims to be my "advisor" is nice as well. He is as new to the Work Programme as I am.

      I then examined the adverts for job vacancies at A4E, on the A4E website. To do the young man's job, experience in sales is an advantage, so it says. That rules me out, then. I've never sold anything where I have not been convinced about the intrinsic value of the product and I wouldn't make a good job of trying to. Pity about that because otherwise I could have made the millions that Emma Harrison has made.

  13. £67.50 a week is a basic human right and should not come with conditions.


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