‘Back to work’ tsar at centre of fraud probe over claims ‘funding went on jobs lasting just a day’

By Christopher Leake and Russell Myers

Last updated at 1:43 AM on 19th February 2012

Emma Harrison's company called A4e is being investigated for alleged fraud

Emma Harrison’s company called A4e is being investigated for alleged fraud

The company run by David Cameron’s ‘Back to Work Tsar’ Emma Harrison is at the centre of a fraud investigation.

The Department for Work and Pensions confirmed last night that a probe into A4e – headed by Mrs Harrison – was under way.

A source at the company told The Mail on Sunday that on Friday afternoon, officers from Thames Valley Police visited the company’s offices in Slough, Berkshire.

The source said they stayed for up to four hours and demanded staff hand over documents and computer files dating back two years. He confirmed: ‘Police were in the office on Friday going back over contracts.’

The source added that police had indicated they planned to make further visits to other A4e offices throughout the country.

It is also the source’s understanding that the police were investigating claims that the company had put some people in jobs for just one day, but claimed the funding nonetheless.

It is believed that Work and Pensions Minister Chris Grayling was last night made aware of the investigation into A4e.

The company is majority-owned by Mrs Harrison, who has made millions from running her work programmes under both Labour and the Conservatives.

Last week it was revealed that she had been paid an £8.6 million dividend after A4e’s turnover rose to £234 million.

The disclosure that A4e is being investigated for alleged fraud will be an embarrassment for Mr Cameron.

'Posh commune': Emma Harrisons home Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire which she shares with friends

‘Posh commune’: Emma Harrisons home Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire which she shares with friends

Last year, he appointed Mrs Harrison as his ‘Families Champion’, giving her responsibility for getting problem families back into work.

Mrs Harrison, 48 – who is reportedly worth £70 million – is chairman of A4e, a global multi-million-pound training company. She was once jobless before she drove A4e from a small company set up to retrain redundant Sheffield steelworkers to an operation spanning 11 countries.

The firm has received Government contracts worth millions of pounds over the past 20 years.

Mrs Harrison with her husband Jim

Mrs Harrison with her husband Jim

Mrs Harrison lives with her husband Jim and their four children – two boys and two girls – in Thornbridge Hall, a Grade II listed 12th Century mansion. It is an opulent ten-bedroom property set in a 100-acre estate in Derbyshire.

They share their home with 11 close friends and the six children they have between them. Mrs Harrison has reportedly described the set-up as a ‘posh commune’.

After completing an engineering degree at Bradford University, she joined her father’s training company but eventually set up her own firm, Action For Employment, in 1991 to provide redundant steelworkers with training to find new jobs.

Multi-million-pound government contracts followed for the Sheffield-based company. In the year to March 2011, A4e’s turnover rose from £190 million to £234 million. Pre-tax profits rose by £5.5 million to £15 million.

Mrs Harrison has appeared on a number of television programmes, once trying to find worthy causes to help on a council estate in Dagenham for Channel 4’s The Secret Millionaire.

In 2010, A4e featured in two episodes of the series Benefit Busters and earlier this year she was on screen again, guiding four celebrities in the BBC1 reality series Famous, Rich And Jobless.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: ‘We cannot comment any further on an ongoing investigation.’ But a source said that the probe related to fraud.

Thames Valley Police said it was unable to either confirm or deny whether A4e’s Slough premises had been visited by its officers.

A spokesperson for A4e said: ‘If there are any allegations or investigations of fraud in any of our activities, we will co-operate fully with the DWP and also anything referred to the police.

‘We have a zero-tolerance policy of fraud in A4e.’

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