A company controlled by the disgraced US outsourcing giant Maximus apparently lied when it promised that user-led organisations would help it deliver a vital part of the care watchdog’s inspection programme, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.
Late last year, Remploy – the disability employment business formerly owned by the government but now mostly owned by the scandal-hit US company Maximus – was awarded three of four regional contracts to run the Care Quality Commission’s Experts by Experience programme.
Under the programme – which will cost nearly £6 million in 2016-17 – people with experiences of using services, including many disabled people, accompany CQC inspectors on their visits to services such as residential homes, hospitals and home care agencies across England.
At the time, there was criticism of the decision to award the contracts to an organisation mostly owned by Maximus, which already had a huge chunk of Department for Work and Pensions contracts and had a lengthy record of discrimination, incompetence and alleged fraud in the US.
And Remploy was hit almost immediately by accusations of incompetence when it took on the Experts by Experience contracts, with claims of resignations, confusion and cutbacks.
There was also anger after it emerged that Remploy planned to pay its Experts just £8.25 per hour, compared with more than £17 an hour they had received under the consortium that previously ran the scheme, forcing CQC to promise to subsidise wages for existing participants for the first six months (a subsidy that was extended this month by another six months).
But evidence has now emerged that shows that Remploy/Maximus lied about the involvement of user-led organisations in its new contracts.
When it was awarded the three contracts, Remploy insisted that user-led organisations would deliver “the majority of the contract, supported by Remploy”.
CQC itself has previously refused to say which user-led organisations had signed up to work with Remploy, claiming in a response to a freedom of information request that it did not possess that “data”.
But now, in a magazine sent out to members of its Experts by Experience programme, Remploy has revealed the identity of its six partner organisations, and not one of them – Equal Approach, Kate Mercer Training, Lifeline Project, Enham Trust, Dementia Partners and Addiction Dependency Partners – appears to be a user-led organisation.
When asked by DNS to explain the discrepancy between its promise that user-led organisations would deliver “the majority of the contract” and the list of partners, a Remploy/Maximus spokesman said: “I think this is a no comment.”
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said the secrecy surrounding the identity of the partner organisations had been “worrying”, and this was compounded by the news that the organisations were not user-led.
He said: “We have come a long way since the General Social Care Council and the CQC’s predecessor the Commission for Social Care Inspection and other social care organisations convened a participation steering group to try and build user involvement in all their activities from the bottom up.
“Even in spite of reduced funding and growing insecurity there are many true user-led organisations and disabled people’s user-led organisations with enormous experience and expertise in providing experiential learning from a diverse range of service users/disabled people.
“I wonder what level of diversity across equality issues the present Remploy arrangements have generated. I would need to be reassured.
“As Shaping Our Lives’ Department of Health-funded project Beyond The Usual Suspects [published in 2013] highlighted, leaving out key voices makes a mockery of involvement and without skill and commitment that is too often the reality.”
Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said she was also concerned.
She said: “Whilst CQC can be justly proud of its co-production working and the involvement of people who use services in its activities, its procurement methods do let the organisation down.
“The procurement of the Experts by Experience programme was muddled.
“We, along with other disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), did write to express our concerns but never received a full answer.
“The complexities of the process meant that it was difficult, if not impossible, for DPOs to successfully tender for the programme.
“From the benefit of my long experience of the Expert by Experience programme, I would say that it is essential that experts are supported by people and organisations that they trust and can relate to.
“I think DPOs are in a perfect position to provide that role. I would urge CQC to think about how they can procure services that add social value to local communities.”
Meanwhile, about 30 current and former Experts by Experience have submitted fresh evidence to the Commons public accounts committee, following last year’s inquiry into CQC.
They say in their evidence that people working on the Experts by Experience programme are operating in “a fragmented, confusing, bewildering and energy-sapping environment”, and warn that “more and more experienced Experts in three regions are intending to resign”.
They want the committee to ask CQC why it is failing to terminate the three Remploy contracts, and they contrast Remploy’s performance with that of a consortium headed by the charity Choice Support, which secured the contract covering the central region of England, which they say is “running effectively”.
They also say that the “disparity of the quality of the Experts by Experience service in the Central region compared to the other three regions is causing frustration, stress, dissatisfaction and resentment amongst CQC staff and Experts”.
A CQC spokesman said: “Our decision to award the new contracts focused on expanding the numbers of Experts involved in our inspections, ensuring that the high quality contribution they had provided to date was maintained and delivering value for money.
“Contracts were awarded on the basis of a formal procurement that focused on quality and value for money.
“We would not want to comment on the specifics of their bids or comments made by Remploy about its partners.
“We are aware of the recent submission to the public accounts committee and will consider a response.”
A spokesman for the public accounts committee said he was unable to comment on the latest evidence and what action the committee might take, because parliament was in recess.