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.


  1. Its about time a4e was investigated i have been attending a4e and it beggars belief the way they can treat the most vuluable people. Take this job any job it doesn't matter if u are qualified or not its all about making money for a4e nothing to do with helping the unemployed, who benefits from these schemes not the unemployed for sure.

  2. Its come to my notice that the staff at best in leeds, are possibily on bonuses for each person they put into work. i cant say for certain but if i hear anything else ill post the details.

  3. Well of course they're on bonuses! The staff have targets for everything - numbers placed in jobs, numbers referred to "money advice" (because a4greed get paid for that) - numbers sent on courses (especially Learn Direct ESF earners)etc. etc. The downside is that if they don't meet targets they are out on their ear!
    Wouldn't surpise me if there were also targets for number of sanction doubts raised - number of people bullied into signing off etc. etc.

  4. I agree, the entire work programme needs to be reviewed if only to see if its value for money. I think this investigation should be done without letting them know an inspection is coming. I wouldnt mind training under the charity, I do object to the Millions that is given to them with no oversight.

    I read the article, and it seemed to be fair. If we can just carry on with reporters like him the better it will be.

  5. And so it goes on and on and on...

    But it has now emerged that the company, whose chair is an adviser to David Cameron, has been investigated nine times by the Department for Work and Pensions since 2005.

    In one case, fraud was proven following a criminal trial; in four inquiries, there was evidence of irregularities but it was not pursued further through the courts after money was returned; in three cases there was found to be no case to answer; and one inquiry, in Slough, is still on-going.

  6. That would explain why I'm getting sent on a course to learn how to write cover letters.

    Being University educated does make it difficult to write a decent letter - no wot i mean....

  7. So A4e claim that they performed better than other providers in four out of the five areas where they ran the Flexible New Deal - The national average was 10% and 6% for short and long term outcomes. The highest achieved by A4e was 13% & 8%, the lowest, 9% & 5%. I don't have the figures to hand regarding the contracted targets for each provider, but I'm fairly sure it was much, much higher than the final results. How ever you spin the numbers, it is still crap performance.

    As for the fraud investigation that "centre around four individuals" and "are not allegations against A4e" - Once again, management are trying to avoid taking corporate responsibility for the actions of employees (either current or ex). Sorry Ms Harrison, your staff indulge in fraudulent activities in the name of your company, the buck stops at your door !

  8. A4E have not been able to get me into one job since July 2010, I managed, by hard work to get a trial for two weeks at a company, I was most likely to get the position but A4E scuppered that. They insisted the company I was to have the trial improved its H & Safety before I went on the the trial, they company withdrew its offer to me. I needed that job I am 56, I have now applied for 1336 jobs, managed to get 18 interviews. I was a highly skilled manager, but still A4E have not performed. I was told at a recent A4E advisor meeting that it was not A4E's job to find work but only to help prepare to work, what a mess, does any of there employees know what they should be doing. My advisor said that A4E had changed the way they work and now have a team contacting all companies in the area re possible positions, wait and see.

  9. Changed the way a4e work? does that mean they did not work before? an admiission of guilt?

  10. What I don't understand is why we in the UK are so hard on successful businesses that are trying to actually make a difference, of course A4e are not perfect, but name me one company that is? They are using government money helping to get people back to work, and everyone is quick to criticize even before anyone has been found guilty. I would like hear from the 1000s of people A4e have helped back to work and get their take on it.

    1. There is a great deal of publicity out there, on various A4e websites, which answers your point.

  11. I worked in A4e. I don'tthink the figure was ever 30%. Mind you, I don't think that figure is do-able.

  12. I worked in local government delivering these schemes a few years ago. They were INTERVIEW guarantee schemes, not job guarantee, that said our success rates at getting people into jobs were consistently in the 80/90% range. Because we were non profit all the funding we received went into training our clients. We worked with the coop, tesco, the nhs, social services amongst others. A few years back we were told we could not bid for these contacts anymore, as a government body bidding for government funds was unfair, so only private companies were allowed too bid. Private companies have to make money, and there is the problem. Out of the funding received facilaties and wages need paying. If emma has made sooo much money it is at the expense of the clients and the facilaties offered them.

  13. They are on are BEST staff. The incentives were more so before Work Programme. Getting that job outcome ticked and stamped was worth £100 per client to the job advisor, I'm not sure what it is now as the ideal is supposed to be about "job sustainability".

    So do the maths - a 'good month' of an advisor getting say 10 people in work at the new supermarket that opens nearby. £1000 in the following month's wage. The probability of some of those clients being back the following month as either they ended up being sacked/were offered less than 16 hours/etc - HIGH. And so the cycle begins again.

    It beggars belief that an advisor could earn more money a month from an outcome (that was still claimable even if they lasted one day) than their salary.

    Glad to be away from there and all the badness attached to a company that clearly gained from the unfortunate positions of many genuine jobseekers.

    I hope HRH Harrison gets her just desserts.


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