Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The scandal of A4e, an insider's view

Our intern K spent some time at Her Majesty's leisure at HMP YOI Feltham.
Here's his view on the   contracts announced today for learning and skills for offenders in prison and in the community for scandal ridden company A4e.

A4e are a company who are meant to deliver a service which they are  contracted to do with tax payers' money. They should be, and are responsible and accountable to us, the general public, for  delivering the various services which are procured by Government and are trusted and funded with large amounts of tax payers' money to ensure they deliver their services efficiently,  in the very least.

However, it appears this is not the case. A4e cannot clearly be trusted  to deliver contracts  procured by  Government, they are paid to deliver a service which they are not providing efficiently, and it looks like most of the tax payer’s money is just getting pocketed by these fat cats such as Emma  Harrison, the Chief Executive who recently stepped down as Family Tsar and  who  helped herself to £11m in bonuses over the last two years. Whilst she enjoys herself on the loot, living lavish, customers on her company's programs are floundering and are feeling the lack of provision  and witnessing first hand that A4e actually doesn't provide a service which helps them find employment but just make matters worse for them. People are beginning to “feel let down by the service that is meant to help them”. For example, Ms Verwaerde, 25, from Leicester who said that, she was put up for an interview by A4e, as part of the Coalition's Work Programme. The job was in sales, offering £7,000 a year plus commission. But after A4e told her she had been offered the position, she says she was discouraged from asking for written confirmation of her hours and pay; she was told she could have her benefits sanctioned if she did not accept the position, and was then told by two A4e staff that she could "give it (the job) a go" without having to notify the Jobcentre. Ms Verwaerde, whose ambition is to work in the police service one day, said she feels she has been failed by the very service meant to help her. "It felt like I was being pushed into a corner."  If she did not notify the JobCentre, she would be committing a fraud and would have faced sanctions, such as having her Job Seekers' Allowance cut or worse, criminal charges.

This raises serious concerns about whether  A4e are  fit for purpose, to deliver services to prisoners , especially  to   prisoners who are already vulnerable and a target to police because they will be on supervision licenses. Is it safe to allow them to be managed and forced into committing criminal acts, unknowingly by the employees of a company riddled with systemic fraud which is paid to assist them.   As evidenced  in  the case with Ms Verwaerde A4e are relaying the responsibility onto their vulnerable clients.

What the Government are doing taking on board A4e when they knew   serious allegations of systematic fraud existed regarding the  company and there have been numerous whisteblowers come forward since the most recent spate of arrests three weeks ago? It’s just as bad as letting an armed robber work as a cashier  in your bank is there a clear risk factor there. A4e have no other interest than to make a huge profit and deliver the service however inefficient it may be,  however how can we have a company with such problems internally be given contracts to help with the ex-offender community who really need help. An ex offender in work is far less likely to reoffend and gets a strong footing on his desistance  journey.

As someone who’s been prison before I want the Government to give out contracts to companies that are reliable, accountable and genuinely want to help me to get employed and not make life harder for me by pretending they are helping when really they are not doing nothing actually and potentially jeopardising my freedom.
But with the latest round of prison education contracts  announced today , others fear that in reality a system already under strain is about to become even more stretched, as ever more unworkable demands are heaped on it and its staff. In its submission to the Making Prisons Work review, the University and College Union told ministers its members were struggling to maintain standards in an environment increasingly hostile to learning, blaming the competitive retendering system. 

Cost-cutting in the pursuit of profits, attacks on staff pay and conditions, instability and bad management practises, including bullying, have resulted from the process, UCU claimed.
Charities subcontracted by the big private providers to deliver the service have warned they face going bust under harsh contracts that only pay out if they get a client into work and keep them there for six months, and last week, analysis by the National Audit Office found that rather than the 40% of people the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) estimates will get jobs via the programme, the figure is likely to be closer to 26%. That, the NAO said, increases the risk that providers might seek to protect profits by favouring those they can get into steady work more swiftly. There are fears that adopting a similar system in prison education will bring the same problems, the distorting effect of targets merely replaced with a similarly problematic focus on outcomes. Alastair Clark, co-leader on offender learning at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, talks of the "perverse incentive to go for the quick wins" offered by payment by results; 

 "The people you can easily get into a job, and who can sustain it, could probably have done it themselves," says  Maria McNicholl from St Giles Trust. "Who is then helping people like a lot of our core clients? They're just being left as usual; nobody's paying you to help the people who need it most."

No comments:

Post a Comment