Sunak’s fraud squad will target thefts from taxpayer
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is setting up a special taskforce to crack down on fraudsters who steal taxpayers’ money.
He is enlisting an elite team of experts backed by £25 million from the Treasury for the new Public Sector Fraud Authority that will be operational by the summer.
Mr Sunak said it means the Government is doubling its central counter fraud capacity.
The new body will recruit data analytics experts and economic crime investigators to recover money stolen from Covid support schemes and spot suspicious companies and people seeking Government contracts. Counter fraud experts will also mount mandatory inspections on Whitehall programmes to uncover vulnerabilities.
The move comes after it was reported that suitcases filled with cash from taxpayer-backed Covid loans were seized at the border as people tried to smuggle them out of the country.
Border force officials have stopped people at airports across Britain “carrying large amounts of money suspected from coronavirus bounce-back loans”, a Home Office source told The Times.
Other recipients of financial support during the pandemic used the money to fund gambling sprees, home improvements, cars and watches.
They are among dozens of company directors who have been disqualified after misusing the loans scheme that was set up to support businesses during the pandemic.
In many cases the individuals took out the loans before immediately transferring the funds into personal bank accounts and spending the money on themselves instead of their companies.
It is estimated that as much as £17 billion of the £47bn the government spent on bounce-back loans for businesses will never be paid back and about £4.9bn of that is suspected to have been lost to fraud.
Home Office sources said passengers had been stopped at UK airports trying to smuggle large amounts of cash that they had taken from bounce-back loans. The money was confiscated under the Proceeds of Crime Act and inquiries are under way.
Rachel Reeves, Labour shadow chancellor, said: “These stories are the shocking consequence of Rishi Sunak repeatedly ignoring warnings about a lack of anti-fraud measures in his support schemes. It particularly painful when the government is piling new taxes on working people and businesses.”
Ahead of announcing his new authority, Mr Sunak said: “We will chase down fraudsters who rip off the taxpayer. This elite fraud squad, backed by £25 million, will ensure the latest counter fraud techniques are being used to track down these criminals.
“People are rightly furious that fraudsters took advantage of our vital Covid support schemes, and we are acting to make sure they pay the price.”
Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “Hardworking taxpayers must and will be protected. Anyone who tries to defraud the public purse will know that we as a government are coming for them and we are going to put them behind bars.”
Recruitment for the chief executive of the Public Sector Fraud Authority will start in the coming weeks, with candidates picked from counter fraud experts. The new CEO will answer directly to the Chancellor and the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency.
Mr Sunak will unveil details of the new counter fraud squad when he chairs the first meeting of the government’s new Efficiencies and Value for Money Committee later today, set up at the request of the Prime Minister.
At the committee the Chancellor will also launch the Government’s Plan for Protecting the Taxpayer to cut waste by slashing the Government’s property bill, doubling the NHS efficiencies target, reducing non-front line civil service head count, as well as “quango” budgets and cracking down on fraud and error.
The committee is chaired by the Chancellor and deputy co-chaired by Simon Clarke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Jacob Rees-Mogg, Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency.
The full membership of the committee, confirmed today, is Steve Barclay, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Oliver Dowden, Minister without Portfolio and Michael Ellis, Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office.