A whistleblower has claimed that four workers arrested on suspicion of fraud at government Work Programme contractor, A4e, are being made into “scapegoats”.
Police officers carried out dawn raids on the home of two men and two women last month, but subsequently released them on bail until mid-March. Thames Valley Police
visited the employment agency’s offices in Slough, Berkshire as part of its investigation last Friday, however.
All of those arrested used to work for A4e, which handles tens of millions of pounds-worth of government welfare-to-work contracts each year and aims to help long-term unemployed people find jobs.
The company was chaired by Emma Harrison, who was appointed by David Cameron as his ‘Back to Work’ tsar in 2010 after she boasted that she could get problem families into work.
She stepped down from both posts on Friday because of the intense "media focus" currently on both A4e and herself and strongly denied any wrongdoing over reports in a Sunday newspaper that she received £1.7 million from leading out properities to A4e.
In a statement, she said that both her family’s finances and those of her companies were "legal, above board, open and transparent".
The Prime Minister told the House of Commons, meanwhile: “The investigation needs to be thorough, it needs to get to the truth and then we can take into account its findings.”
The government added that it understood the probe into A4e’s offices did not relate to its Work Programme.
A4e itself said that the alleged fraud dated back to 2010 and had been uncovered by its own internal investigation. It had suspended three of the staff when the allegations were first made as one had already left, but it no longer employed any of them.
Chief executive Andrew Dutton told the BBC
that the firm, which employs 3,500 workers both in the UK and overseas, had “zero tolerance” towards fraud.
“I will not sit by and let these accusations discredit the hard work that our staff do to support thousands of people into work. A4e has zero tolerance towards fraud and any instance of fraudulent or otherwise illegal activity is completely unacceptable,” he said.
According to the Daily Mai
l, however, a whistleblower is claiming that the workers in question are being made into “scapegoats”.
The source, who no longer works at A4e, said: “They are putting the whole blame on the workers. But the pressure from managers was relentless.”
Frontline staff were responsible for helping jobseekers to find work and, if successful, filled out a form declaring a ‘job outcome’, which earned them a £50 bonus, the source added.
The whistleblower also said that A4e could claim up to £1,900 in success fees from the government, however – even though, under the rules in place at the time, it appears that the money was only supposed to be paid after an individual had been employed for at least 13 weeks.
The source continued: “At no stage was I ever told about this requirement or asked to check if people had been working for 13 weeks. We would put in the paperwork to our managers as soon as someone had got a job, the very same day if possible.”
Margaret Hodge, Labour chairperson of the Commons public accounts committee, has called on the government to suspend its welfare-to-work contracts with A4e until the police investigation is complete.