Concerns raised about Seetec in a Disability News Service (DNS) investigation were put this week to Robert Devereux, the Department for Work and Pensions’ permanent secretary, by members of the Commons public accounts committee.
DWP launched an “investigation” last autumn into fraud claims made to DNS by two whistleblowers, who claimed Seetec had been artificially inflating the number of jobs it said it was finding for disabled people through the specialist Work Choice jobs programme.
But DWP completed its investigation and cleared Seetec of fraud without interviewing either of the whistleblowers.
When asked this week by the committee’s chair, Labour MP Margaret Hodge, why DWP did not interview the whistleblowers, Devereux said: “We have talked to the whistleblowers.”
But this only took place after DWP received complaints about its failure to interview them before completing its investigation.
Devereux suggested to the committee that DWP had called one of the whistleblowers out of courtesy, because the department “did not think there was a case to answer”.
But Hodge told him that there was a case to answer, and that there were “definitely issues with Seetec” – thanks to evidence from a third whistleblower – including its over-use of sanctions on the mainstream Work Programme.
She said the third whistleblower had alleged that Seetec had been claiming DWP payments for the Work Programme illegitimately, persuading clients to declare themselves as self-employed, and had “manipulated data showing the level of contact they had had with the client”.
Hodge said that an investigation by the National Audit Office into allegations by the third whistleblower had found “quite a lot of failing performance” on the Work Programme, including “inappropriately large gaps in contact between Seetec and participants” and that Seetec “seemed to be providing little direct support to the majority of participants”.
Hodge also pointed out that Seetec’s boss, Peter Cooper, who owns 80 per cent of the company, paid himself £1.7 million last year, which was “mainly money that he’s earned from the taxpayers’ pound”.
Hodge now plans to write to Devereux again with further questions about the Seetec Work Choice claims highlighted by DNS.
A Seetec spokeswoman said: “We currently do not wish to comment on this matter .”
17 July 2014