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latest update 12 February 2010

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Senior social services officers suspended in Wirral Council whistleblower inquiry set for return

Wirral Globe – by Justin Dunn

TWO senior officers in Wirral Council’s social services department – suspended from work for nine months after a Globe report into an alleged cover up of serious financial abuse of vulnerable people – are set for a return to work this week.

The suspensions followed our exclusive front page article on November 5 last year about an Audit Commission report into claims by a council whistleblower that adults in supported living accommodation may have been routinely overcharged for several years.

Moreton Conservative Councillor Simon Mountney believes the overcharging of vulnerable people by the council could amount to around £1m.

And today he described the news that the two suspended officers were returning as “a classic example of a large organisation closing ranks”.

“I’d like to know what they would have said if they had been dismissed,” said Cllr Mountney.

An email was circulated to Department of Adult Social Services staff on Tuesday written on behalf of director John Webb, advising them of the officers’ return to work this Friday, July 24.

The email, obtained by the Globe, says the pair will “take some time to get back up to speed on issues and developments within DASS and across Wirral”.

“Colleagues will recognise that there is a need now to reflect on the specific accountabilities” of the officers “with changing demands across the department”.

The email ends saying that Mr Webb is “sure you will join me in welcoming” the officers back to the department.

However, the Globe understands that the news has been met with a mixed response.

Some staff are reported to be happy at their former colleagues’ return to the DASS HQ at Westminster House in Birkenhead, while others have threatened to resign in protest.

In November, the council whistleblower had claimed hundreds of thousands of pounds “at least” were owed to some of the council’s “service users” – vulnerable adults in contracted-out supported living accomodation.
An Audit Commission report addressed the whistleblower’s concerns that there was a “special charging policy” which cost vulnerable people extra money dating back as far as 1999 that had not been approved by the council and was “excessive and unlawful”.

In its findings, the Audit Commission report said it had “confirmed that a charging policy was applied at some supported living establishments” and that “it is not clear from discussions with [council] officers the extent to which the charging policy was in place or whether it was approved by members [of the council]“.

On the issue of whether vulnerable people were still paying more than they should several years after a new policy was implemented, the commission noted: “There remains a substantial risk that users receiving services from one of the council’s service providers are being charged unfairly.”

It said that despite a request from the council, one contractor had still “not arranged for the completion of financial assessment forms for service users”.

The report also stated: “The council does not always know the actual contributions that the provider requires service users to contribute…

“Consequently, the council is not in a position to know whether the aggregate of charges levied on service users by the council and contributions required by the provider are in compliance with the guidance” on fairer charging.

It added: “It is not clear who is currently ensuring that these service users are receiving adequate protection from the risk of financial abuse.”

The council has today confirmed to the Globe that the two officers are returning to work on Friday.

A statement on the matter is expected later.

© copyright Wirral Globe. Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

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