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.