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COVER UP CLAIM: TWO SUSPENDED
TWO senior officers in Wirral council’s adult social services department were suspended last week in the wake of a Globe report about an alleged cover up of serious financial abuse of vulnerable people.
The suspensions followed our exclusive front page article 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.
This week, a councillor leading an investigation into the claims told the Globe that he believed the overcharging of vulnerable people by the council could amount to around £1m.
Tory Cllr Simon Mountney also says that further money the adult social services department failed to collect from council “clients” able to pay could run into many more millions. Last week we revealed how the Audit Commission’s report into the whistleblower’s claims stated that there “remains a substantial risk” of people being overcharged.
The report added: “It is not clear who is currently ensuring that these service users are receiving adequate protection from the risk of financial abuse.”
Last Thursday afternoon, a day after the Globe was published and just hours before the council’s ruling cabinet committee was due to discuss the Audit Commission findings, the two senior officers were suspended.
A council spokesman said it taken “decisive and appropriate action and is investigating allegations” and would not comment further on the suspensions.
Cllr Mountney told the Globe: “I really believe that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg on this issue.
“It beggars belief that someone within the adult social services department raising concerns over a number of years about vulnerable people being at risk from the very organisation there to care for them - Wirral Council - should have had those concerns thwarted at every possible turn.
“As I have said before, the Audit Commission report essentially exposes a cover up of the way vulnerable people in our care have been open to the abuse of their finances.
“It also raises questions about how those concerns were then dealt within the council itself.
“The question that needs to be answered properly is whether we as a council are more concerned over being found out to have acted improperly or carelessly, than to have actually acted in that way in the first place.
“I am not at all satisfied with the answers I’ve received so far on this in that they have failed to address the fundamental issue, and that is: Has the council done it’s job properly?
“It certainly doesn’t look like it.”
The Audit Commission report was addressing the whistleblower’s concerns that the overcharging - dating back to 1997 - was “excessive and unlawful”.
Regarding Cllr Mountney’s assertion that this could amount to around £1m, a council spokeswoman said: “Eight individuals have been identified as having been the subject of overcharging who will be reimbursed.
“This reimbursement totals £78, 000. Further work is taking place as a matter of priority to identify any other individuals affected.”
The Globe also asked if it was the case that the borough had failed to collect millions of pounds it was fairly owed by “clients” because of a failure to implement the fairer charging policy.
In reply, the spokeswoman said it had “introduced the fairer charging policy slowly with full consultation from all service users.”