Brian Sims

Public Sector Fraud Authority launched by central Government

AN ALL-new team at the heart of central Government has been told to hunt down fraud committed against the public purse, with a £180 million target set for identifying benefits fraud in the first 12 months of operation alone.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Minister for Government Efficiency, has launched the Public Sector Fraud Authority, with the Domestic and Economic Efficiency and Value for Money Committee already challenging the new organisation to work with Government departments on agreeing longer-term targets by December.

The Public Sector Fraud Authority will be made up of counter fraud and data experts and employ Best-in-Class tools and advanced analytics to help Government departments and public bodies protect public money. It will be actively supported by a cross-sector Advisory Panel formed to provide expert advice and help shape the strategic approach taken towards public sector fraud prevention and reduction. The Advisory Panel’s chair will be announced in September.

Backed by £25 million of funding, the organisation will “modernise” the Government’s counter fraud response, working with Government departments and public bodies to test their fraud defences. Leading practice and modern techniques will be at the heart of the operation with the aim of putting stronger safeguards in place.

The Public Sector Fraud Authority will:

*agree ambitious counter fraud plans for Government departments and public bodies and review progress

*regularly and directly brief Cabinet ministers (including those from Her Majesty’s Treasury and the Cabinet Office) on the latest fraud landscape

*provide expert support to Government departments and public bodies about the fraud risks and threats they face and then assist them in designing defences against them and testing their effectiveness

*build a new National Counter Fraud Data Analytics Service that will provide advanced data capabilities (such as social network analysis) to fight and prevent fraud against taxpayers

*enhance the use of fraud intelligence across the public sector and, in tandem with other sectors, combat specific threats

Attacks on money earned

Jacob Rees-Mogg noted: “Public sector fraud is not an attack on a single person, and so to many the pain feels less sharp than when directed at individuals. That said, fraud attacks on Government are attacks on money earned by much put-upon taxpayers. They are attacks on the Emergency Services whose funding they deplete. Similarly, they steal money from infrastructure projects.”

Rees-Mogg continued: “As criminals develop more sophisticated tools, we too must adapt and modernise. That being so, we’re attracting the brightest minds and equipping them with tools to detect, prevent and deter those who seek to steal money intended to fund vital public services.”

The Public Sector Fraud Authority’s target of working with Government departments and public bodies to detect and prevent £180 million of fraud will be delivered – at least in part – by supporting the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and bank lenders with advanced data analytics expertise and tools to find fraud and recover fraud linked to the Bounce Back Loan scheme.

Simon Clarke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, observed: “The launch of the new body will put a laser-like focus on fraud and renew our efforts to combat people taking advantage of our public services and support. It will reinforce wider investment in Government to crack down on fraud and misclaiming, including £210 million for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to further tackle fraud and £510 million for the Department of Work and Pensions to target welfare fraud that occurred in 2021.”

Clarke added: “Tackling fraud will drive efficiency, saving taxpayers’ hard-earned money, which is even more important as we know people are struggling at present with the rising cost of living.”

Leadership team

Ahead of a permanent head being appointed, the Public Sector Fraud Authority will be led by Mark Cheeseman OBE, an internationally recognised expert in public sector fraud who led the creation of the Government’s Counter Fraud Profession and the set-up of the International Public Sector Fraud Forum (itself a collaboration between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and the UK designed to share, agree and publish leading practice on fraud management in the public sector).

Cheeseman commented: “The creation of the Public Sector Fraud Authority represents a landmark in our fight against public sector fraud. We know that fraudsters are a committed, capable and evolving adversary. To respond to this, we must raise our ambition and challenge ourselves to increase our impact on this often unseen and underestimated crime. The Public Sector Fraud Authority will support public servants across Government and public bodies to take that step. We will innovate and modernise our approach to countering fraud.”

​​The launch builds on the recent success of the National Fraud Initiative, a service run by counter fraud experts in the Cabinet Office that uses technology and data matching to find and prevent fraud. Between 2020 and this year, the National Fraud Initiative has been used to detect and prevent more than £200 million of public sector pension fraud.

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