Heat turned up on training firm

a4eBS''Emma Harrison, boss at A4e at the premises at Queens House, Queens Street, Sheffield
a4eBS''Emma Harrison, boss at A4e at the premises at Queens House, Queens Street, Sheffield

SHEFFIELD-based training company A4e and its high-profile chair Emma Harrison came under fresh pressure this week after police launched an investigation into claims of fraud at one if its offices.

Thames Valley Police said four people had been arrested and bailed on suspicion of fraud at the Slough office of the firm, which operates the Government’s welfare-to-work contracts.

The investigation has prompted Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, to press the Department for Work and Pensions to suspend contracts with A4e until that inquiry was completed. Already she has described A4e’s record as “abysmal” because of a failure to meet Government targets in the now defunct Pathways to Work programme.

A4e said the incident relating to the inquiry occurred two years ago and relates to four former employees out of a workforce of over 3,500. Three of the staff were suspended once the allegations had been made to allow for full investigation and the other had already left.

The firm said it discovered the situation through its internal systems and reported to the DWP within 48 hours.

Chief executive officer Andrew Dutton said: “A4e has zero tolerance towards fraud and any instance of fraudulent or otherwise illegal activity is completely unacceptable.

“We take our responsibility very seriously and we are committed to using taxpayers’ money effectively and efficiently to deliver the best services to the public.”

Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Mrs Harrison as ‘families tsar’ in December 2010, to advise the Government on how to get 120,000 households back to work.

A4e’s five shareholders were paid £11m in dividends last year, of which Ms Harrison received more than £8m.