I was bullied out of A4E, says company founder Emma Harrison

 

The founder of a welfare-to-work firm has claimed she was “bullied” out of her job in a Westminster “maelstrom” as she rejected claims that it was missing targets for a Government work scheme.

Emma Harrison, who quit as chairman of A4e in February amid fraud investigations into the firm, said she had been a "useful face for the politics people to have a go at".

And she complained that her children had also faced bullying as a result.

She hit out as she was grilled last night by Channel 4 News about figures it said suggested A4e had found jobs lasting at least six months for fewer than 4% of people referred under the Work Programme.

That would be below the 5.5% minimum demanded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for private firms involved in the payment-by-results arrangement.

Ms Harrison, who remains A4e's biggest shareholder, repeatedly said the information was "wrong" but that she was not able to supply the correct figures.

"What really, really matters is that through the Work Programme tens of thousands of people are getting jobs," she said - claiming the taxpayer gets £2 back for every pound spent.

Official statistics on the performance of the programme are due to be released by the DWP, which declined to comment on leaked information, later this year.

A4e came under fire for paying £11 million in dividends last year, 87% to Ms Harrison, despite all its £160 million-£180 million UK turnover resulting from Government welfare contracts.

Amid pressure for it to be suspended from Government work pending fraud investigations, she quit first as an adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron and then as head of the firm.

An increasingly vociferous Ms Harrison repeatedly insisted that the latest figures were "all wrong" and part of an ongoing attempt to discredit the operation of the Work Programme.

"I was bullied out of a job that I had been doing for 25 years.

"It's time this bullying stopped. Bullying entrepreneurs like me, someone like me who has invested tens of millions and employed thousands of people, it's not good for the UK."

She went on: "We were caught in this political maelstrom. I am a useful face for the politics people to have a go at.

"I am not a politician, I am not a civil servant, I am not experienced in this stuff.

"But I was really useful to have a go at. And they used me and my organisation and I stepped down as the chairman, which is still incredibly upsetting as it's something I loved doing.

"When I meet people in the street and they say 'Oh, I recognise you, your lot got me that job. I'm now working at Marks & Spencer, it's transformed my life', I bloody love the work I do."

A4e, which said Ms Harrison was "speaking in a personal capacity", said: "We can categorically state that the information obtained by Channel 4 News at this time is out of date, has been previously cited, and is not data we recognise.

"Furthermore this data does not give a full or accurate picture of Work Programme performance."

It said the full figures would undergo "robust validation" by the DWP before publication.

Ms Harrison had not received a chairman's salary or dividend payment since stepping aside, a spokeswoman added.

A DWP spokeswoman said: "We don't comment on leaked data which we cannot verify.

"Early performance data will be published next month, and we will be working hard with providers to ensure the long-term unemployed have the best chance of getting into work."

PA

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