Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 133-139)


14 FEBRUARY 2006

  Q133 Chairman: Good morning and welcome to the evidence session on financial inclusion. Can you introduce yourselves for the shorthand writer, please?

  Mr Lovell: Certainly. My name is Mark Lovell from A4e, Group Chief Executive.

  Mr Trigg: I am Jon Trigg and I am A4e's Group Project Development Director.

  Mr Hart: I am Steve Hart, the Regional Service Delivery Manager.

  Q134 Chairman: Welcome to the Committee; we are delighted to have you all here. Can I ask you to speak up in your answers because we are a little bit away from you here? First of all, Mark, could you tell us about your organisation?

  Mr Lovell: Yes, I can give you a bit of background on us. A4e works across a number of different areas of government. We deliver business services, we deliver welfare services and help people back into work; we are involved in some urgent financial inclusion and exclusion. We work with the DTI, the DWP, the Department of Constitutional Affairs, Sure Start—it is quite broad ranging. Recently it has been interesting because our work has taken us overseas to work with governments in the Middle East, the US and some of the eastern European countries. So it has been very interesting for us to compare and contrast the work we are doing in the UK with government and some of the overseas work. So I will keep it brief and short and probably get into some of the detail that the Committee is interested in.

  Q135  Chairman: And you are a not for profit organisation?

  Mr Lovell: No, we are a private sector company.

  Q136  Chairman: So how do your services help promote financial inclusion?

  Mr Lovell: For the past 20 years we have been working in a welfare arena and over the years one of the key issues that we have noticed to become of increasing importance in helping people back into work was around poverty and financial inclusion and exclusion, so over the past two to three years a lot of our work has majored on looking at developing services and support for people in poverty and people who do not have access to financial products and services and to begin to address that gap. And that has taken us into areas of work with the DWP, the Department for Work and Pensions, the DTI on debt advice and also the Department of Constitutional Affairs on debt advice. It is probably helpful if Jon gives an outline and precis of precisely what we do.

  Mr Trigg: I always say that we got into this via a Bic biro. At a conference, Mr Chairman, at which you were the key note speaker, an official from the Department for Work and Pensions dropped his pen, I lent him a replacement and over lunch we got chatting about the work that we did, in particular with those out of work and about getting them back into the work arena, and in particular focused on the financial inclusion issues that they had to become work ready, to have access to an account and so on, and access to money advice and get them out of debt if they were in that situation. That led on to our work on a payment modernisation programme to support individuals to access appropriate accounts—and I stress appropriate, we are not about selling any particular account over any other. We wanted to broaden out our work from that because financial inclusion, as you know well, has many facets to it, and so that has seen us move very firmly into the area of debt advice and money advice in general, and so on to supporting individuals really to control their cash flow, I think is the best way to look at it. We do that obviously on a national basis. One of the big points that I would like to get over is that what we are able to do is to touch thousands of people; in terms of direct payment we convert over 100 people a day, so it is not a small affair. What we have increasingly come up against, and so on, is that we think there is a gap in the service provision at present, and where there are many organisations operating at the sector in present and doing some very good work, and that includes from the public, the private and the voluntary sector, we just do not think that the solution is more of the same, and so on, because this has been going on some time and the problem is still there and growing.

  Q137  Chairman: Your website states that A4e helps thousands of people back into employment every year. In order to receive employment assistance from your organisation is it mandatory for individuals to hold a bank account?

  Mr Lovell: No.

  Q138  Chairman: How do you go about it if they do not have a bank account?

  Mr Lovell: In terms of helping them back into work?

  Q139  Chairman: Yes.

  Mr Lovell: I think that is where our work on financial inclusion began, in that in many cases one of the barriers that some of the people that we work with face is access to effective information, advice and guidance in setting up a bank account. I think for many years we have delivered services outside the mainstream financial inclusion agenda; so we have helped people set up bank accounts simply as part of what we do. If it was a barrier to helping someone into work we did it as far as—

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