Firm lands government contract to find jobs

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A PRIVATE Sheffield firm is set to be one of the biggest winners of a controversial government scheme that will pay contractors millions of pounds to get people on benefits back into work.

The Department for Work and Pensions selected A4e - Action for Employment - to deliver five contracts to find employment for hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

The Sheffield-based company will be paid an upfront fee for every person who finds a job, followed by a bonus if they stay in work.

The payments range from just under £4,000 for an unemployed person who is kept in work for 18 months to £14,000 for someone on incapacity benefits who stays in work for two years.

Government ministers say the £5 billion Work Programme will be paid for by savings as people stop claiming benefits.

A4e will deliver the scheme in South Yorkshire, the East Midlands, North-West England, East London and the South-East.

The firm was handed five out of 40 prime contracts, the second-biggest winner as the Government announced which organisations would run the scheme.

Critics described the programme as ‘obscene’ and said it would lead to profiteering by a small number of private-sector companies.

But Employment Minister Chris Grayling said the Work Programme will provide a new approach to getting people back to work and emphasised that 300 charities would work alongside the big firms.

Mr Grayling said: “This is a radical change to the way we deliver back to work support in this country. For the first time those charities and voluntary sector organisations across the country with the know-how to help people with real difficulties in their communities get back to work are being given the chance to do just that.

“Millions of people on out of work benefits who have previously been shunted from dole queue to training room to dole queue again will finally be able to access support that’s built around their needs.”

Mark Serwotka, former Sheffield shop steward and current general secretary of the PCS trade union, said: “It’s obscene that the bosses of private companies that get up to half their total revenue from the taxpayer are paid such astronomical salaries, and it ought to be a national scandal.”

A4e chair Emma Harrison, who lives at the 12th-century Thornbridge Hall in the Peak District, has an 85.5 per cent shareholding in the firm and receives a salary of £365,000 a year.

Last year she also received a further £462,000 from A4e for the company’s use of her home for conferences and administrative work.

An A4e spokeswoman said the payment for the use of Thornbridge Hall last year was part of a leasing arrangement covering several years.

She added: “Over the past 20 years Emma Harrison has grown A4e from a small, Sheffield-based training business to one of the largest social purpose companies in the UK, helping unemployed people back into work. This has been a long journey, at times involving significant personal financial risk.”