A4e chairman Emma Harrison steps down

24 February 2012 Last updated at 17:55

Emma HarrisonEmma Harrison has run the company A4e since it began

Emma Harrison has stepped down as chairman of her welfare-to-work firm A4e, she has said in a statement.

It comes a day after she quit her role as the government’s “family champion” amid a police probe into irregularities at the Slough-based company.

As part of its work, A4e handles millions of pounds worth of government contracts for welfare-to-work schemes.

She said she had confidence in the business and hoped her latest decision would help the management team.

‘Tough decision’

In the statement, Ms Harrison, who is also one of the company’s five shareholders, said: “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.”

On Wednesday it was revealed former workers at the company – two women, aged 28 and 49 and two men, aged 35 and 41 – were arrested last month on suspicion of fraud and bailed until mid-March.

A4e said the alleged case dated back to 2010 and had been uncovered by its own internal investigation.

£11m dividends

There currently remains two police investigations into allegations of fraud linked to the company, although the latter probe is believed to involve a subcontractor.

On Thursday Margaret Hodge, Labour chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that all A4e’s welfare-to-work contracts should be suspended until the fraud investigation is completed.

Ms Harrison has been at the forefront of criticism of the company after it was revealed that its shareholders were paid £11m in dividends while all of its £160m-£180m UK turnover last year came from government contracts.

A4e started in South Yorkshire more than 20 years ago to provide retraining to large numbers of Sheffield steelworkers who became redundant when the industry started to decline.

The entrepreneur stepped back from her government role late on Thursday.

The prime minister, who had appointed her to the position in 2010, thanked her for her work.

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