Fraud review: opportunity missed

The proposals of the government Fraud Review, published for consultation in
July were ground-breaking, exciting and constructive. They were designed to make
major improvements in the way fraud is reported, investigated and prosecuted in
this country. They generated much support and enthusiasm from both the public
and the private sector.

The government’s response, this month, to its own Fraud Review, however, has
been a damp squib. The process of putting the proposals into effect is not being
treated with enough urgency, suggesting that Whitehall continues to treat a
devastating human problem as a low priority. The hoped-for commitment by the
Home Office to put flesh on the bones of the recommendations was absent.

Where one hoped for a positive pledge of new resources for hard-pressed fraud
squads and a firm timetable for action, there is only a promise that the
Attorney General’s programme board will ‘publish information about the progress
of its work’ by the end of 2007.

This, despite figures released by the Association of Chief Police Officers on
7 March, confirming that financial crime is now costing the country at least
£13.9bn a year, increasing to £20bn when income tax and EU fraud are added. This
amounts to £330 for every man, woman and child in the country.

The great majority of the principal proposals will be cost neutral. These
proposals include; setting up a national fraud strategic authority; setting up a
national fraud reporting centre; the encouragement of plea bargaining and the
setting up of a virtual “financial court” to deal comprehensively with the
civil, criminal and disciplinary issues arising out of the same case.

But the proposals that will make the significant difference to the way fraud
is tackled, the recommendations to make fraud a policing priority that, “as a
minimum”, the existing capacity of fraud squads should be maintained and these
resources ring-fenced as far as possible, will cost money. Appropriate capacity
and capability to deal with level 1 frauds occurring at a local borough command
unit level, will also cost money. The Review estimates that a further £27m will
be needed to supplement the existing police resources dedicated to fraud

Fraud is a growing problem and is fast becoming more sophisticated.
Professional law enforcement needs to have the resources available to tackle it.
The initiatives which the Fraud Review team have developed are adventurous,
imaginative and bold. If only the money can be found to make them work.

Rosalind Wright CB QC is chairman of the Fraud Advisory

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