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 sacked. One 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.