Labour will this week ask MPs – and the National Audit Office (NAO) – to investigate allegations that Atos, the government’s “fitness for work” contractor, used misleading claims to win two lucrative disability assessment contracts.
Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, is to write to the NAO and the Commons public accounts committee to ask them to examine concerns about the documents used by Atos to win contracts worth nearly £400 million.
The NAO scrutinises public spending on behalf of parliament, and part of its job is to help MPs “hold government departments to account”.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced in August that Atos had won two contracts to assess claimants’ eligibility for the new personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for disability living allowance.
But Disability News Service (DNS) revealed two weeks ago that Atos had suggested when tendering for the contracts that it would be working closely with organisations “such as” Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, Disability Cornwall and ecdp if the bids were successful.
Atos also suggested that such “claimant representative groups” would help it to design “disability awareness training” for its staff, and to communicate with PIP claimants.
In all it mentioned six disability organisations and all six have since confirmed that they had had no discussions with Atos about PIP assessments before the tender documents were handed to the government in May.
Four of the six went further and spoke of their shock and anger when told by DNS that they had been mentioned in the documents, first unearthed by a supporter of the grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts.
DWP itself has denied that references to disabled people’s organisations in the tender documents had any impact on Atos winning the contracts, even though the DWP’s own Touchbase e-magazine stated that the “successful bidders… demonstrated close working with disabled people’s representative groups”.
On Monday, McGuire questioned the new Conservative employment minister, Mark Hoban, about the tender documents, but was told that Atos had “made it very clear that it would look to work with disability organisations to improve outcomes”.
Following the government’s refusal to act over the allegations, Labour decided to refer the concerns to the NAO and the public accounts committee.
McGuire said: “We still have no satisfactory answers as to why Atos put all these organisations into their bid and indeed the minister added even more confusion to the issue [on Monday].”
8 November 2012