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.



    I'm afraid it's still on the front page, and I doubt it will get better any time soon.

  2. Something for everyone in this saga! The Telegraph can both ridicule the Work programme in a cartoon and fulminate against the SWP leading the protests. Private gain v public money. Lack of accountability - unbelievable that A4E are exempt from OFSTED inspections. Opposition MP's can slate the government and another example of poor judgement by David Cameron. Somewhere in this mix are civil servants 'benefiting' from awarding all these contracts to a less than satisfactory private company! Yes, young people do need support but the Connexions was abolished and 16 & 17 year olds directed to a website.

    The public do NOT like what seems like exploitation from wealthy companies - let's get back to the moral high ground and start helping our fellow citizens because we want to!

  3. What is so disturbing is that this company is so obviously inept and the economic market so poor that the chances of it turning a profit using the commission based structure will be quite literally an impossibility.

    I think a government bailout would be not only an outrage if it were to happen but stink of corruption at government level.

    I think A4e are hoping for a bailout or larger government contracts (taking the DWP contract as a loss leader) - this now will not happen I understand. Even if the company comes out of its self-funded 'independent' audit clean many will see it as a whitewash.

    Of course this may all be academic if the contract is terminated as many expect it may be.

    The brand is irreparably damaged. The government should wash its hands quickly before they get burnt.

    1. "Of course this may all be academic if the contract is terminated as many expect it may be."

      but if the contract is terminated, what happens to the customers? Do we get sent back to the Job Centre while they try and get one of the other WP providers to take over? And how will another provider find the required staff quickly? (Easily, all those unemployed people!) Will they want to take on A4E staff given the claims of fraud? OK, not all staff would have been committing fraud, but at the moment its not going to look good on their CVs is it?

      In addition to A4E in this area there is also another provider whose staff travel halfway across the country to come here a couple of days a week. If they took over A4E's contract here they'd need new staff immediately, plus a building to operate from.

    2. Polly

      Do you really think anyone cares about the unemployed? Neither the DWP nor the Government would likely transition the clients.

      I expect they would go back to a normal signing process and eventually be absorbed into other (professionally run) schemes.

      One thing is for sure as the previous poster mentioned - the A4e brand is irreparably damaged.

      They are now shoddy goods.

  4. One thing is clear, it wont be back to buisness as usual for some months if ever. Job security is becoming a popular topic within A4e ironically.

  5. Well it seems to be there is some revisionism going on, editing and deleting documents. Scary

    Yet More Disappearing DWP Documents – Now It’s a Freedom of Information Request.

    The Case of the Disappearing Workfare Documents


    A police crackdown on anti-capitalist extremists who invade shops to sabotage the Government’s work experience programme has been ordered by Ministers.
    Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has asked the police to act amid growing fears in Whitehall that the protesters’ wrecking tactics are succeeding

    This is scary, very scary.

  7. In Chapter 3 of the Work Programme Provider Guidance I distinctly remember reading some months ago that 'claimants must be forced to undertake a unpaid work placement so as to avoid Minimum Wage legislation'.

    That bit (as above) has now been removed from Chapter 3. We now have a statement that says clients can be mandate to undertake etc.

  8. Fiona Mactaggart, the Labour MP for Slough who also sits on Mrs Hodge's committee, said she was 'deeply concerned' about A4e.

    She added: 'My view is that this company has demonstrated that it is unfit to hold this kind of contract.'


  9. It's interesting that the BBC took 8 days to cover what was all over the press. Then I looked up and Chris Grayling and discovered he worked for the BBC before entering politics!

  10. I smiled when I saw this as part of a comment. A4e - not Action For Employment but "ALL 4 emma"!

  11. Someone who works in a prison left a comment yesterday about an experience with A4e. Please leave a comment again with your email address. I won't publish it, obviously, but I need to get in touch with you.

  12. historian

    you are doing a fine job.



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