Stephen Crabb Has Put Maximus ‘Under Scrutiny’
STEPHEN CRABB, the new work and pensions secretary, is seeking to tear up government contracts with private “welfare to work” contractors as part of a radical overhaul of Iain Duncan Smith’s benefits revolution.
In the first sign that Crabb will make changes to the government’s flagship reforms, he held a crisis meeting about the troubled universal credit on Thursday and ordered officials to come clean with him and the public about the problems.
Whitehall sources say one of Crabb’s first moves will be to “get out of” problematic government contracts.
One firm under scrutiny is Maximus, which replaced Atos in providing health assessments for claimants of the employment and support allowance, the new benefit for the disabled.
The National Audit Office (NAO) reported in January that since Maximus took on the contract for fitness-for- work tests in March last year the cost to the taxpayer had doubled to £579m. It also said that one in 10 reports is rejected by the government as below standard, compared with one in 25 under Atos.
Maximus did not respond to a request for comment but at the time of the NAO report a spokesman said the company had brought in new staff “to meet the requirements of the contract going forward. We are confident about the future and remain fully committed to delivering a high quality service.”
A senior Whitehall source said: “Stephen [Crabb] is a sceptic of throwing ever-more millions [at private companies]. One contract in particular — Fit for Work — he will be looking to get out of that contract pretty quick. Fit for Work is an early candidate for some serious reworking.”
During Thursday’s meeting, which lasted for six hours, Crabb “lifted the bonnet” on universal credit.
Only 200,000 people have claimed the benefit despite forecasts that 1m would have enrolled by 2014.
Crabb ordered weekly updates on the programme, which merges six benefits into one, and told officials to stop blocking freedom of information requests.
From next month five jobcentres a month will begin operating the full universal credit system for whole families, not just servicing single claimants.
The source said: “We need much greater transparency. This is such a public-facing project, we have nothing to fear from public scrutiny.”
Crabb will lay out his approach to welfare in a speech on April 12, saying he wants “work coaches” who are delivering universal credit to be held in the same esteem as nurses are in the NHS.