BREAKING: Chairman of under-fire Sheffield firm steps down

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BUSINESSWOMAN Emma Harrison has stepped down as chairman of Sheffield-based welfare-to-work company A4e – a day after quitting as an unpaid Downing Street advisor.

Ms Harrison said she was leaving as she did not want the “continuing media focus” on her to be a “distraction” for the company, which is the focus of an ongoing police fraud investigation.

In a statement the mum-of-four, who lives at stately Thornbridge Hall near Bakewell with her family, 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.”

A4e has contracts worth £180 million and helps run the Government’s Work Programme, a replacement for New Deal and other retraining schemes for the unemployed.

The firm has hit the headlines over after chairman Mrs Harrison received an £8.6 million pay award, followed by news of two separate police investigations and calls for an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

Her decision to stand down as the Government’s ‘family champion’ yesterday came after four ex-members of staff of A4e were arrested on suspicion of fraud at the company.

A4e chief executive Andrew Dutton paid tribute to Ms Harrison, saying that she was “devastated” to be leaving the firm.

Mr Dutton said that in order to reduce “speculation and uncertainty” he had appointed the international law firm White & Case LLP 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.

See tomorrow’s Star for more on this story.