CITY businesswoman Emma Harrison stepped down last night as chairman of her Sheffield training company A4e - a decision she said was ‘very tough’.
Ms Harrison, who paid herself an £8.6m dividend from A4e in one year, stood aside just 24 hours after resigning as Prime Minister David Cameron’s Family Champion.
In a statement, the 48-year-old 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.”
Ms Harrison is married to Sheffield brewer Jim Harrison, and lives at 20-bedroom Thornbridge Hall near Bakewell.
On Thursday night she quit her role as an unpaid Downing Street adviser amid controversy over a police fraud investigation into A4e.
Four members of staff at A4e’s headquarters in Slough are on police bail until next month.
A4e chief executive Andrew Dutton paid tribute to Ms Harrison, saying she was ‘devastated’ to be leaving.
“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,” he said.
Mr Dutton said that in order to reduce ‘speculation and uncertainty’ he had appointed international law firm White and Case to conduct 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.
“I have asked White and Case to carry out their review as quickly as possible,” he said.
“It is of paramount importance to myself and the A4e board that the ongoing Press speculation is laid to rest as quickly as possible, and I believe this independent review will answer the concerns raised over recent weeks.”
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “We have nothing to add to what we said on Thursday.”
There is growing pressure from a Commons public spending watchdog for A4e’s Government contracts to be suspended.
A4e has been under fire for paying £11m in dividends last year - 87 per cent to Ms Harrison - despite all of its £160m to £180m UK turnover resulting from Government welfare contracts.
Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, questioned why the firm continued to get contracts despite a ‘dismal’ past record, and called for a suspension.
But A4e has been named as the preferred bidder for a £15m contract with the Skills Funding Agency to provide education to prisoners in London and work advice on release.