The US company that won the lucrative contract to deliver the “fitness for work” test has been forced to defend its decision to employ the former senior civil servant responsible for government policy on the assessment.
The decision of controversial outsourcing giant Maximus to hand consultancy work to Bill Gunnyeon comes just months after he quit his Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) post as chief medical adviser and director for health and well-being.
As part of that brief, he had overall responsibility for policy on the work capability assessment (WCA).
Gunnyeon left DWP in August 2014, after nine years. Two months later, the government announced that Maximus had been awarded a contract to carry out hundreds of thousands of WCAs every year across England, Wales and Scotland, taking over from the equally-controversial Atos Healthcare.
Weeks before Gunnyeon left DWP, Maximus had been handed another contract, this time to deliver the government’s new health and work service in England and Wales.
Together, the two contracts are worth hundreds of millions of pounds to Maximus, although the exact figure is not yet known.
Maximus insisted this week that Gunnyeon had not breached the government’s business appointment rules for civil servants, which detail the circumstances under which a former civil servant needs to secure approval to take up a new post.
The rules were designed to ensure that civil servants were not able to exploit their position in the hope of securing a future private sector job, or “improperly exploit privileged access to government or sensitive information”.
There is no suggestion that Gunnyeon has done either of these things, but he was forced to ask DWP to vet his new work with Maximus, and approval was granted.
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “There is a code and it is absolutely vital that it is rigorously complied with.
“People in his position and companies that employ people in his position have to be aware of perception and how this may be interpreted by disabled people.
“I would expect that he and Maximus would want to be very, very cautious about anything that might give rise to concern among disabled people that his position had been compromised.”
She added: “Maximus really need to be very aware that a stream of stories that are in some way negative is not a helpful start to their contract to carry out the WCA.
“They should be managing very carefully decisions that they take that cause concern and undermine the trust people have in their ability to carry out that contract.”
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last October that Maximus was poised to win the WCA contract despite a “chilling” record of incompetence, discrimination and alleged fraud in the US.
After the contract was awarded, Maximus attempted to distance itself from its past US record, claiming that these concerns were “historic issues overwhelmingly”, and that there was now a “different leadership team” in place which had “put those issues right”.
But despite its attempt at promoting a picture of a clean start, Maximus has now confirmed to DNS that Gunnyeon will be “doing some consultancy support for us”, although he would not be working either on the WCA contract or on the health and work service contract.
A Maximus spokesman said Gunnyeon would not be allowed to provide any advice, make any suggestions, or contact staff working on the two DWP contracts.
Instead, he will be working on “UK business development” for the company.
The Maximus spokesman said his understanding was that Gunnyeon had no role in the awarding of either of the DWP contracts to Maximus, despite his senior position.
But he admitted that Gunnyeon had been involved in developing the health and work programme.
And he said that whatever Gunnyeon’s involvement in developing the WCA, that policy “goes back a number of years”.
The Maximus spokesman said: “He is not breaching the code at all. He is not working on those [two] contracts.”
He added: “There is a civil service code of conduct, which governs all commercial relationships, and those terms have been completely adhered to. No rules have been broken.”
But DNS has already learned that Gunnyeon attended an induction meeting with other senior staff this week at which the WCA contract was discussed at length.
Mario Dunn, director of communications and marketing for Maximus UK, said: “He is subject to restrictions under the Civil Service code which means he is not allowed to work on contracts he previously worked on in DWP for a six-month period.
“In respect of Maximus this would apply to our contracts for [the WCA contract] and Fit for Work [the Health and Work Service].
“I confirm that in accordance with the provisions of the code, Bill has not worked in any form on those contracts for us.”
He said Gunnyeon had not attended any management meetings relating to the WCA or health and work contracts.
But he added: “He was present at a staff induction meeting where people are inducted into the broadest aspects of our business globally.
“At the point the conversation turned to [the WCA contract], Bill made clear to the meeting he was unable to participate in that discussion.”
When DNS suggested that employing Gunnyeon so soon after he left DWP might raise concerns, the Maximus spokesman said: “If you write in a conspiratorial manner that somehow the objective of this is whatever it is you think we are doing it for, then of course that is the way it is going to look.
“The story would be if somehow the rules were subverted and he awarded the contract to us and then came to us.
“My understanding is things like that used to happen but that is why the rules were brought in.”
He said Gunnyeon was being used by Maximus because “he has a great deal of expertise, he is available and we want to expand into other markets”, and added: “Someone with obvious talent and experience, businesses are going to want to have access to that talent.”
He declined to say what the “other markets” might be, and said he had “no idea” whether Gunnyeon might be looking at future contracts from DWP.
A DWP spokeswoman said in a statement that the decision to appoint Gunnyeon was made by Maximus.
She added: “The application to accept the appointment was made and considered according to the business appointment rules which are designed to uphold the core values of the civil service, integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality and apply to all civil servants.
“These rules apply to senior civil servants for two years from their last day of service.”
Gunnyeon has so far not responded to a request from DNS to comment.
8 January 2015