The chairman of one of Britain’s leading welfare-to-work companies resigns – the day after quitting her post as the government’s “family champion”.
Emma Harrison decided to go after it was revealed that A4e, which plays a major role in the government’s work programme for the unemployed and earned £180m from state contracts last year, had been forced to pay back public money five times after a series of investigations into fraud allegations.
Details of the nine investigations, dating back to 2005, emerged on Thursday, following the arrests of four former A4e employees last week.The company insists that none of the allegations relate to government contracts.
This has been a very tough decision for me, as I have spent my entire 25-year career building up this business. Emma Harrison
Ms Harrison said in a statement: “This has been a very tough decision for me, as I have spent my entire 25-year career building up this business and I believe so strongly in the importance of the work it does.
“But it is precisely because this work is so important that I do not want the continuing media focus on me to be any distraction for A4e, for its more than 3,500 employees, and for the tens of thousands of people across the UK and globally that look to this company to give them hope of finding employment.”
A4e chief executive Andrew Dutton said: “A4e would not exist but for the passion and ambition of Emma Harrison, who has helped improve the lives of thousands of people, and has been an inspiration to all our staff and customers for more than 25 years.”
Mr Dutton said that to reduce “speculation and uncertainty”, he had appointed the international law firm White & Case LLP to carry out an independent audit of A4e’s controls and procedures.
The review will be carried out in collaboration with A4e’s funders, including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, Margaret Hodge, has said the government should suspend all contracts with A4e. The committee heard this month that she had paid herself £8.6m in dividends.
Ms Harrison has been the star of Channel 4’s Make me a Million and Benefit Busters, as well as BBC 1’s Famous, Rich and Jobless.
The government’s work programme was launched in June 2011. It helps the long-term unemployed, and those at risk of becoming long-term unemployed, to find work.
A4e is one of the so-called “prime providers” of the scheme, with payments based on results.