Emma Harrison, yet another poverty pimp. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Another poverty pimp making money off the back of all the Tory reforms, this time by the back door 🙁

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Emma Harrison set up firm to pitch for government cash on project she devised” was written by Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, for The Guardian on Sunday 11th September 2011 22.25 Europe/London

David Cameron’s senior adviser on troubled families has set up a firm to bid for work under a programme to get 120,000 households into work that she helped design, despite publicly saying that to make money from the scheme would be a “conflict of interest”, according to documents obtained by the Guardian.

Emma Harrison, the multimillionaire founder of private welfare company A4e, was anointed the “families champion” last December. The prime minister singled her out in a key post-riot speech last month, saying she had “develop[ed] a plan to help get these families on track”.

Harrison told the Guardian she withdrew from bidding when the government announced the first tranche of contracts, worth £200m, in February. She said she had accepted the unpaid role but had been “shocked” to learn there would be hundreds of millions of pounds in funding.

“Chris Grayling [the welfare minister] told me he had got £200m. It was a bit of a shock … I thought: ‘Oh crikey, that makes me feel a bit awkward. We will have to withdraw [from the bidding].'”

But documents sent to private firms who did bid for the work reveal that Harrison’s company had set up in January a “partnership” called Families Unlimited, with a former civil servant who until this year was running the Department for Education’s “support services for families with multiple needs”, to pitch for the cash.

Families Unlimited offered to execute the work won by “prime contractors” for a fee. In blunt language, the documents say that “A4e will not bid as a prime contractor … due to a conflict of interest arising from the work of its founder and chairman, Emma Harrison, through the Working Families Everywhere initiative. However, DWP [the Department for Work and Pensions] have advised that no conflict arises where A4e is acting as a subcontractor.”

The bidding documents stress the complex nature of dealing with families where adults often have a mental illness or an addiction to drink and drugs that renders them incapable of even rudimentary parenting.

They point out that 28% of such families have child protection issues and 82% have engaged in “antisocial behaviour”. Navigating local authorities and the “plethora of agencies and services” means “few prime contractors will have specialist experience in delivering services to families who present with significant levels of need”, the documents say.

Families Unlimited states its “credibility with DWP” and that A4e’s relationships with 10,000 employers are reasons to hire the firm. In a frank admission on how it will help these chaotic families get jobs, it suggests setting up family businesses to “engage the whole [household] in self-employment”. By its own admission, a fifth of such family enterprises do not last more than six months.

Debbie Abrahams, a Labour member of the work and pensions select committee, called on No 10 to “reassess Harrison’s fitness as an adviser”. Abrahams said the PM “needs to urgently decide whether Harrison is fit to remain in her current role as his families champion. If she is using her position as a government adviser to win government contracts, that would be utterly unacceptable.”

A spokeswoman for Harrison said Families Unlimited “would be doing consultancy and service delivery to help families get into work” and that A4ewas not bidding at all for the work. “If contractors choose to work with Families Unlimited, then that’s up to them.”

Helping all 120,000 families requires a change in government spending. Labour tried to help troubled families but helped just 7,300 households in the four years to 2010. Part of the reason is cost – an average of £20,000 a family is required to pay for the services they engage with each year, ranging from social services to the police and child protection officers. At this level of spending, the government’s programme would cost £2.5bn a year.

With up to 20 agencies supporting each family, coalition ministers say this is “ineffective and costly”. David Cameron told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he would invest to save the public purse in the long run. The government’s own figures suggest that in some cases the taxpayer shells out more than £250,000 a family each year. “It’s going to be done … it will be a great investment to save money,” said the PM.

Ministers have told Harrison that about 50,000 of the 120,000 troubled families are ready for work. As a first step, she says this will need about 5,000 “family champions”, paid by local councils to chivvy and cajole workless families into work.

Doubts have been raised as to whether there are enough jobs available for all these families, especially when in some deprived areas there are 30 people chasing every vacancy but, according to Harrison, there are “hidden jobs everywhere” as two-thirds of jobs are never advertised. “Family champions will need to know where the jobs are. They need to bang on employers’ doors,” she said.

She claims her own company, A4e, has been doing this for years, but critics point to evidence suggesting it has failed to meet performance targets. One project in London, which was supposed to help 400 people find long-term work at a cost of £2,500 per client, helped just 14 into jobs a year later.

Harrison said she did not know the details of such criticism, but explained that many jobless people did not bother to take up offers of help. “You know, we get schemes where 30% of people never show up. But they also sign off benefits.”

Last month, the prime minister lavished praise on Harrison during a post-riot speech, in which he talked of fixing Britain’s “broken society”. Cameron said her ideas were being “held back by bureaucracy”.

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