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Issue #1537      29 February 2012

Cameron’s family tsar Emma Harrison quits after scandal

The millionaire boss of scandal-hit welfare to work firm A4E has dramatically quit her role as David Cameron’s “family champion.”

Mansion-dwelling Emma Harrison, chairwoman of A4E which is the subject of a police investigation and has seen four ex-members of its staff arrested, said she did not wish the probe to “distract from the government’s efforts to help vulnerable families.”

The arrests, made in January, were confirmed following a visit by Thames Valley Police to the firm’s headquarters in Slough.

A4E said that the probe was one of two outstanding cases out of nine it had referred to the Department for Work and Pensions following internal investigations.

The company has been condemned after it emerged it paid out £11 million in dividends last year, 87 percent of which went to Ms Harrison herself, despite all its £160 million to £180 million turnover deriving from government contracts.

Despite the controversy it has been reported that the firm has been named preferred bidder for a £15 million contract with the Skills Funding Agency to provide education to prisoners in London and work advice on release.

Commons public accounts committee chairwoman Labour MP Margaret Hodge questioned why the firm continued to get contracts despite a “dismal” track record.

“It is the right thing that she has stepped aside because there are huge question marks about the organisation,” Ms Hodge told BBC Radio 4’s PM.

“It is hugely important that all the contracts that A4E currently run with government departments should be suspended until the police investigations are completed.”

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “We have consistently opposed the use of private companies to carry out the now even more urgent and vital task of getting people back into work.

“Back in 2009, when A4E was investigated for fraud and bad practices over contracts with the previous government, we warned that staff would come under increasing pressure to bend the rules to boost profits.

“But instead of facing sanctions - like people entitled to benefits are constantly threatened with - A4E has been handed even more contracts under this Tory-led government’s work program, while its head Emma Harrison creams off millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.”

The minister in charge of the welfare to work program Chris Grayling claimed his email had been hacked by opponents of the scheme.

Mr Grayling accused a group of socialist activists of pressuring firms to quit the scheme amid accusations that it was “slave labour” because youngsters are forced to work for nothing or risk losing their benefits.

Morning Star  

Next article – Behind the scenes: The secret NATO report on Afghanistan

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