Ministers told to reveal back-to-work fraud claims – Telegraph
Ministers told to reveal back-to-work fraud claims
Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the public accounts committee, said it was wrong that the Coalition has not provided a full breakdown of all investigations.
Photo: DANIEL JONES
Last Updated: 10:53AM BST 08/04/2012
Pressure is growing on the Government to disclose the full extent of fraud and misconduct within the back-to-work industry after it emerged that more than 100 cases of alleged wrongdoing at providers, besides crisis-hit A4e, had been investigated in the past six years.
MPs have urged ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to come clean over which providers of welfare services have been investigated for fraud and how many of those inquiries led to prosecutions.
Last month David Cameron said authorities had investigated 125 cases of alleged wrongdoing at various providers since April 2006. Just 11 of those were A4e-related but the Government has so far refused to divulge details of the other 114 cases.
Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the public accounts committee (PAC), told The Sunday Telegraph that it was wrong that the Coalition has not provided a full breakdown of all investigations.
“It’s outrageous. We should be able to follow the taxpayer’s pound wherever it is spent,” she said. “There have been 125 cases and yet they hide behind this cloak of confidentiality.”
Ms Hodge said it was quite possible that malpractice was widespread within the welfare-to-work industry, following allegations of fraud at A4e, because “the system allowed it”. Even the Coalition’s new scheme, the Work Programme, which is worth £5bn in public contracts, is open to abuse, she said.
“We’ve had a few letters and emails about other providers, alleging fraud. They are screwing down the prices so much – with a payment by results system – that the incentive is there to cut corners,” she said.
Although any big organisation is susceptible to wrongdoing by a few rogue employees, taxpayers had a right to know the details when their money was involved, Ms Hodge argued.
Jackie Doyle-Price, Conservative MP for Thurrock and a member of the PAC, agreed that where cases had been settled there was no reason for secrecy.
She said: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant. We should aim for an atmosphere of transparency. The onus is on the contractor to say what they are doing about it.”
She warned taxpayers should not assume that fraud has been widespread in the industry, where plenty of providers were helping thousands of unemployed people back to work.
But she added: “If contractors say nothing [about past investigations] they are leaving themselves open to accusations of being corrupt.”
Last month, Chris Grayling, the employment minister responsible for the Work Programme, said most of the 125 cases had been eliminated as “accounting errors or similar”.
However, he said there were a small number of cases relating to “employee malpractice” which resulted in some prosecutions.
The Department for Work and Pensions told The Sunday Telegraph it was weighing up whether disclosing the details of all the investigations was in the “public interest”.
Mr Grayling has repeatedly said he will terminate contracts at A4e if the DWP’s internal inquiry into A4e finds alleged fraud was “systemic” at the provider.
The Prime Minister is under pressure to suspend the firm from bidding for future contracts, after police arrested several former A4e staff.
Meanwhile, the National Audit Office is conducting an internal inquiry into the DWP’s approach to investigating allegations of fraud across providers in the back-to-work sector.
The findings of that inquiry will feed into a PAC evidence session on May 23.
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