THE company carrying out controversial back-to-work health checks for the UK Government is on the cusp of securing a major contract with Scotland's criminal background checks agency.

Atos is the preferred bidder for the multi-million-pound contract with Disclosure Scotland, the Scottish Government agency which conducts criminal background checks on individuals applying for jobs with vulnerable groups.

Loading article content

Atos was one of five firms bidding for the 30-month "Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Interim Maintenance Contract".

Sources insist the French firm will be an administrative gatekeeper and will not carry out police checks or deal with background information on job applicants.

BT had held the contract for the past decade, with Atos selected via the Scottish Government's procurement systems due to its track record in IT.

The move comes just two months after Atos Healthcare announced it had been in discussions with officials for "several months" about ending its £500 million work capability assessment contract, which was due to run to August 2015, due to persistent death-threats to staff.

It claimed it recorded 163 incidents a month last year of people assaulting or abusing its staff in person and online.

It has been the subject of public and political criticism for its handling of work capability assessments, used to gauge eligibility for employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit.

There have been routine allegations people were wrongly classed as fit for work, sometimes with severe consequences.

Although the value of the latest contract is still subject to negotiations, it is understood to be around £33 million.

Atos already holds Scottish Government contracts, including one for a counselling service, and is a major sponsor of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

But even Scottish Government ministers have criticised its healthcare division, while the SNP in Glasgow has tried to have it dropped as a Games sponsor.

Politicians across the spectrum have been keen to create a distance between the healthcare wing of Atos and its IT division.

A source said: "The controversial stuff around the work capacity assessments is carried out by a very different part of Atos.

"They've got an international track record in the type of stuff they'll be doing for Disclosure Scotland. The role will essentially see Atos initially process all the job applications and pass them to Disclosure Scotland, who will do the background checks."

Dave Moxham, the Scottish Trade Union Congress deputy general secretary, said: "We have concerns that the Scottish Government awards any contract to the company involved in these healthcare assessments."

A Disclosure Scotland spokesman said: "Following a competition, Disclosure Scotland has selected Atos as its preferred bidder for the PVG Interim Management Contract."

An Atos spokesman said: "Atos has invested heavily and continues to invest in jobs and development in Scotland employing 1500 people in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Linwood, Livingston and … in Forres."