Posts Tagged ‘Public Accounts Committee’

Private Eye from 2012 on the Failure and Misgovernment at the DWP

March 13, 2016

In their edition for 1st – 14th June 2012, Private Eye devoted nearly a page to the disgusting actions, policies and general misgovernment in aIDS’ DWP. Here it is.

Not Working: A DWP Special

Freudian Slip
How serious does the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) treat cases of alleged fraud in its multi-million-pound employment programmes, under which private companies are meant to help benefit claimants find work?

Last week pressure from ministers led Tory MPs on the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) to oblige their colleagues to listen in secret to whistleblowers describing potential fraud by welfare-to-work firms like Working Links and A4E.

This was just the DWP’s latest attempt to hide its dirty washing: it has been shifty about possible cheating by the “benefit-busting” firms for years. Take, for example, the mysterious “annual report” on employment programmes which was promised to MPs before disappearing from sight.

In 2010, MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee said that reports of the “Risk Assurance Division”, which investigates allegations of fraud by workfare companies, “must be published where wrongdoing is found”.

While the DWP argued that publishing the reports would be unfair on contractors, its “delivery director” Alan Cave instead promised some “regular reporting of trends and lessons learned” in an annual report.

This March, when the Eye asked to the report, the DWP press office responded with contradictory answers. The report was published, it said, and a copy would be sent. Then it announced that the report was about to be published. Finally it stopped returning the Eye’s calls altogether.

Unable to get any sense from the press office, the Eye made a freedom of information request. The DWP pointed to a March admission to MPs by Mr Cave that the report had not been delivered. Cave said because of the new government and new Work Programme, it “seemed sensible to put a pause on that while we got the new system up and running before returning to that.”

Really? The Eye made another freedom of information request to see any papers relating to the report-but the DWP says there are none. In other words, all the work in providing MPs and the public with information on workfare fraud apparently hasn’t generated a single email, minute, letter or note.

In fact, the entire proposed annual report appears to be a fob-off, as it seems the DWP didn’t put any work into it anyway.

Missing Links
The evidence of Eddie Hutchinson, former head of internal audit at “benefit-busting” firm Working Links, confirms what the
Eye has been saying repeatedly: there is something seriously wrong with this company, which gets more than £100m a year from taxpayers (via the DWP) to help the unemployed.

Hutchinson told the Commons public accounts committee that fraud was “extensive” and “systemic” at Working Links, explaining: “All these frauds involved the falsification of job outcome evidence to illegally claim monies from the DWP, together with the false claiming of bonus payments by staff through the company’s incentive bonus system”.

In 2006, DWP research showed the firm failed to meet targets on benefit-busting schemes, whereas JobCentre staff did twice as well. The government responded by taking JobCentre staff of the job and handing more schemes to Working Links. In 2009 Ofsted found that Working Links was failing to meet targets – so the government stopped Ofsted inspecting benefit-busting programmes!

In 2011 the Eye saw a leaked report showing the DWP had caught Working Links claiming money for people it had not helped into work in Liverpool. Hutchinson’s evidence suggests that DWP clawed back cash for similar fiddles in South Wales (2007), Glasgow (2007 and 2008), Hackney (2008) and other areas. However, while the DWP asked for the money back, it does not appeared to have punished the firm.

* it may be generating bad headlines for its sloppy internal financial controls, but A4E still knows how to find work for people – if they happen to chums with the chancellor anyway.

A4E recently hired lobbyist George Bridges and his firm Quiller Consultants to help with its crisis management. Bridges, a personal friend of George Osborne, became head of Conservative Campaigns in 2006 and helped Osborne run the Tories’ election campaign in 2010.

Quiller Consultants itself is owned by Tory peer Lord Chadlington, who also happens to be Cameron’s constituency party chairman in Witney. His links with the prime minister caused embarrassment last year when it emerged that the lobbyist lord had sold Dave a strip of land used as a driveway and garage at the PMN’s Witney home. Chadlington bought the land and sold it to the prime minister, raising questions about lobbyists’ access to Cameron.

Downing Street meanwhile is considering hiring another Quiller Consultant, Stephen Parkinson, to pep up Number 10’s spin operation. Parkinson was also previously a Conservative Central Office apparatchik, underlining the close links between a4e’s new friend and the government.

Factory Fibs
Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith refused to apologise for declaring that disabled people in Remploy’s supported factories were “not doing any work at all… just making cups of coffee”.

Perhaps he was bolstered by Remploy chairman Ian Russell’s own foreword to the recently published 2011 accounts claiming that workers “have little or no work on most days of the week”. The comments help the case for closing 36 of the remaining 54 Remploy factories, despite union figures showing that 85 per cent of disabled workers made redundant in the last round of Remploy cuts remain unemployed.

One problem – a recent congratulatory internal letter from Remploy Enterprise Businesses (EB) managing director Alan Hill paints a different picture of life in the factories. “I am delighted to say the overall performance of EB has been outstanding,” writes Hill, reporting that sales have grown 12.2 per cent in the last financial year, reaching £117m.

Indeed, after cutting costs as well, the Remploy factories’ overall operating result had improved by a whopping 27.9 per cent, according to Hill. A KMPG analysis produced in Mary found that some of the Remploy businesses – such as making car parts and monitoring CCTV – were viable and even profitable, while others could also be made sustainable.

NEST beg

Misleading advertising is nothing new when it comes to financial product mis-selling, but few would expect the government to exploit a loophole to produce its own dodgy sale pitch.

The DWP has been busy pushing “workplace pensions”, using adverts that feature toy people building a rising wall. “A simple step to a better future” is the unequivocal message.

The principle “workplace pension” being promoted is the government’s default scheme into which employees will soon be automatically enrolled, the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST). But tis is a stock-market based scheme in which there will be a large number of losers after fees, the loss of other means-related benefits and the fact that stock markets can go down as well as up. Go in at the wrong time and you’re effectively screwed.

The standard disclaimer to this effect is, however, missing from the government’s adverts because, the DWP tells an Eye reader, its lawyers agreed that the adverts’ purpose “is to promote the general concept of saving through workplace pensions, rather than saving through a specific product”. Never mind that almost all such schemes, including the reassuringly branded NEST, are now stock market-based.

The government is effectively saying that volatile investments will be a good bet for a safe pension, risk-free. The next big mis-selling scandal, in other words.

This catalogue of incompetence, lies, fraud and failure also puts the lie to another claim by the Right: that Socialism somehow punishes excellence. By redistributing wealth and putting checks on the rapacity of senior management, the argument goes, Socialism and the welfare state somehow punishes the superior skill and talents of private entrepreneurs. This shows the opposite: that it actively rewards failure and punishes excellence. How else can you explain the determination to stop JobCentres finding work for the unemployed and hand it over to fraudsters like Working Links, or close profitable and potentially profitable Remploy factories? Or promoting potentially underperforming ‘workplace pensions?’ This is all about supporting failing private industry, the Tories’ paymasters, and punishing excellence in the state sector. This even goes as far as the personnel selected to run the Department. Ian Duncan Smith stands out as a man of precious little talent, but somehow this massive failure of a man has been awarded an entire department to run, and run into the ground.

Advertisements

Atos Accused of Misleading MPs to Get Government Contract

March 22, 2014

atoskillsgraf

Atos were in the I newspaper again yesterday following accusations by MPs that the company got the contract through deliberately misleading statements about providing access for disabled claimants in the tender document it submitted to the Department of Work and Pensions. Atos claimed that over 700 healthcare providers, including 56 NHS hospitals, had agreed to provide accommodation to claimants at the place of assessment. This would create a ‘hyper-local’ network, which would mean that no claimant would be more than an hour’s journey away from the assessment centre.

The Public Accounts Committee, however, were told that in fact Atos had contracted less than 100 hundred healthcare providers to provide claimants with the accommodation they needed. As a result, since the scheme was launched, 40 per cent of all claimants had been forced to travel for more than an hour to get to an assessment centre.

The company, naturally, claimed that they had done nothing wrong, and said that they had the written agreement of all the trusts referred to in the document that they could be named.

The last statement does not refute the point made by the Public Accounts Committee. They may have had the agreement of the trusts they mentioned that they could be named, but Atos has not said that the trusts had contracted to provide accommodation. So, more lies by a company now notorious for its mendacity and deliberate deceit in throwing claimants off benefits.

And they’ve won yet another government contract, this time to provide the childcare support vouchers. Yet another example of how nothing exceeds like failure, corruption and incompetence in modern Tory Britain.