How Cameron's £70mback-to-work tsar was left fighting for her own job

Pressure on PM to suspend entrepreneur over alleged fraud scandal

Entrepreneur, visionary, philanthropist: David Cameron's back-to-work tsar, Emma Harrison, sells herself with the unashamed punch of a competitive religious leader.

Her A4e [Action for Employment] consultancy's motto – "doing well by doing good" – has been sold to two successive governments as an economic gospel capable, like the miracle of water into wine, of turning the jobless into skilled, in-work taxpayers.

Ms Harrison uses language that mixes Wall Street with the Bible belt to describe finding someone a job. "I walk by their side, hold their hands and we go on a journey together," she says. Her "holistic" approach swayed Gordon Brown. And when jobless problem families were deemed a root cause of last year's riots, Mr Cameron became a born-again follower.

However, A4e yesterday described as "disproportionate" calls for its government contracts to be suspended after police visited its offices following new claims of fraud, thought to relate to four staff. The police inquiry was dismissed by one of A4e's consultants, the former Home Secretary David Blunkett. He said: "This is the same story as two years ago when the company took action themselves and informed the Department for Work and Pensions rather than wait for a probe." Mr Blunkett is paid between £25,000 and 30,000 a year to help A4e with its £50m contracts overseas.

Despite her humble origins at an agency helping to re-skill Sheffield's washed-up steel industry, Ms Harrison has turned her father's small A4e business into a consultancy thriving on £300m of essentially public contracts in 11 countries. Admitting to running "illegal tuck shops" at the age of nine, and subsequently making a "total mess" of her A-levels, she now employs 3,300 people. Her personal worth of £70m is within the top 100 of the Sunday Times Rich List.

Although A4e's official literature boasts of "improving lives all over the world", not everyone buys the back-to-work, private-sector evangelism. The MP Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, warned that A4e's fortunes were based on public cash, but it was doing what state agencies often did for less. "We should be looking for others companies like this to appear soon," she said. "This is what creeping privatisation looks like – and we are not looking hard enough."

Ms Harrison, however, is not afraid to look and sound different from the old state-run jobcentres. "This isn't an empire we're building. It's a global social movement," shouts the firm's literature. Although she insists "vision and purpose" must be explained and understood within 30 seconds, economic psycho-babble permeates A4e's promotional material. There is talk of "owning outcomes", the "personalisation of public services" and of "vibrant supply chains".

"Improving lives" with public cash has brought Ms Harrison within touching distance of her childhood dreams. The neo-Gothic mansion she bought in the Peak District a decade ago for £5m was the study centre she visited to learn Russian as child. "I used to imagine myself sweeping down the stairs in a long, red dress. So I bought it," she said.

Other homes she shares with her husband, a successful businessman, and their four children include a £3m mews property in London. Ms Hodge thinks the success is unwarranted, that job-finding targets set for some of A4e's larger state contracts have been "abysmally" missed, and that credit should instead go to the low-profile employment charities routinely sub-contracted key work from Ms Harrison's "visionary" empire.

As a Labour minister, Ms Hodge may forget it was Gordon Brown's first New Deal scheme in 1997 that accelerated A4e's expansion out of Sheffield with initial contacts worth £80m. Termination fees worth tens of millions in the Treasury's switch from Alistair Darling to George Osborne, and a recent £8.6m dividend as A4e's major shareholder, have brought Ms Harrison closer to what she admits is the "billion-pound target in my head".

Another target, if she ever gets the chance, will do more than prompt questions in the Commons. She said recently: "I've got another million people I want to help. I'm going to ... sort out the entire health system."

She also claims to have "a role in the Bank of England's regional consultations on behalf of the Monetary Policy Committee". The Bank questioned the use of the word "role", saying: "I think Emma's website needs a bit of an update."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower