Thursday, April 25, 2024
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HomeOpinionCommentaryBuilding new partnerships, and finding new ways to counter fraud

Building new partnerships, and finding new ways to counter fraud

– Cabinet Office Minister Baroness Neville Rolfe addressed the Counter Fraud Conference 2024 at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre

By Baroness Neville Rolfe

Last year I posed a question. What are we missing in our fight to protect taxpayers’ hard-earned money from the crime of fraud? A crime that puts billions of pounds of taxpayer money at risk. Since 2021, the government has invested £1billion to tackle fraud, and we continue to up our ambition and go even further.

Today I want to talk about the progress we are making through this investment and how we are furthering our efforts, building new partnerships, and finding new ways to counter fraud. There is no silver bullet to countering fraud. We must prevent fraud where we can, mitigate risks, uncover fraud where it happens, and pursue those responsible.

And we know that while developments in technology are helping us to find new innovative ways to tackle this crime, it is also enabling fraudsters to find new ways to target the public sector. From the rise of deep fakes, to generative AI and large language models creating professional videos to defraud people and businesses of their money. Fraudsters continue to target the public sector in new and surprising ways. But we have been bold and ambitious in our response, with significant achievements to date.

Progress

Since we last met, the Public Sector Fraud Authority reported on its first full year in operation. Across its first 12 months, the Public Sector Fraud Authority far surpassed its initial target to achieve £180 million in savings, preventing and recovering instead a total of £311 million. We have been striving to find new and innovative ways to not only find and recover funds from fraud, but to bolster our ability to prevent fraud before it even happens.

Thanks to the recent development of the High Fraud Risk Portfolio, we are now starting to identify the areas of the public sector most at risk of fraud, enabling departments to better prioritise the allocation of counter-fraud resources. We have launched a new risk, threat and prevention service. Allowing teams of experts to surge into departments at critical points, to scrutinise and improve oversight of spending, to ensure that fraudsters cannot profit from the public purse.

Tom Tugendhat in the Home Office is also making a huge push on tackling fraud against individuals and businesses with his Stop! Think Fraud Campaign and next month the first ever Global Fraud Summit. The government has also introduced new laws, deterring those who wish to exploit the system and ensuring we go after those who benefit from this crime.

The Procurement Act will raise procurement standards by taking tougher action on fraud and corruption. Bodies convicted of certain fraud offences will not be able to bid for contracts unless they can show that they have taken appropriate action to ensure the situation leading to the conviction won’t occur again. The Online Safety Act imposes duties on online platforms to take stronger action on fraudulent advertising. It means they must take steps to mitigate the risks posed by online fraud and scams, if they don’t they could see their services blocked in the UK or fines of up to £18 million or ten percent of annual turnover.

Technology and data partnerships

We are building new partnerships across and beyond the public sector to better harness the opportunities that technology and data provide us.

A key service run by the Public Sector Fraud Authority is the National Fraud Initiative, which collects and compares data sets from across the public sector. The Initiative is running a range of pilots across a number of fraud types. And earlier this month I approved the retention of the debt and fraud powers of the Digital Economy Act.

These powers allow the sharing of data between public bodies and have resulted in more than 100 data-sharing pilots across 70 local authorities and 17 government departments since 2018. This has saved taxpayers £137 million since coming into force, including circa £99.5 million of fraud identified in ongoing Covid loan pilot and a further £5.1 million of fraud identified in companies’ “shadow accounts”.

We will also continue to reach beyond the public sector, collaborating with industry to make the most of cutting-edge developments. The benefits of this have already been seen through the partnership between the Public Sector Fraud Authority and UK-based tech unicorn Quantexa, who I think are here today, and I visited them last year. They are using a new AI platform to analyse millions of pieces of data, such as those from Companies House, to detect patterns to identify fraudsters and fraudulent activity.

International partnerships

Our international partners are facing many of the same challenges that we face at home. The UK is a world leader in understanding, finding and stopping fraud against the public sector. However, we recognise that learning from our closest partners can only increase our resilience.

In September we hosted the International Public Sector Fraud Forum summit bringing together leaders from The Five Eyes to share best practices and to keep across new developments in fraud from around the world. We have also further built upon the formal partnership between the Public Sector Fraud Authority and the Australian Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre, developing a secondment programme.

Currently, one of our own Public Sector Fraud Authority experts is in Australia developing a Fraud Loss Measurement Framework for the Australian Government.

We are also keen to learn from those beyond the Forum. Over the last few months the Public Sector Fraud Authority has hosted delegations from Malaysia and South Korea. And [tomorrow] they will be meeting with counter fraud experts from the governments of Cyprus and Singapore.

People and skills for the future

To find and fight fraud, we need the right people and the right skills at all levels. And we need them to be open to learning and looking beyond their own organisation to develop new approaches to countering fraud. There are over 500 apprentices right across the UK in both central and local government who are being trained to counter fraud and boost fraud defences.

I met several earlier this month during National Apprenticeship Week. We discussed a number of groundbreaking investigations they were working on. A good example is the Department for Work and Pensions’ efforts to combat DNA fraud in Child Maintenance cases, where fraudsters have been known to use other people’s DNA to avoid maintenance payments.

Another is Brent Council’s work on tackling tenancy fraud through the National Fraud Initiative, detecting and preventing fraud – where tenants have another property or generous balances in their private bank accounts, but claim to be destitute.

The Public Sector Fraud Authority has also just launched the new Counter Fraud Leadership Programme with participants from a range of organisations including the NHS and National Highways. This is aimed at senior civil servants, the programme will ensure that leaders have the knowledge and skills to build counter-fraud capability within their organisations and departments. Designing counter-fraud into public policy is a very important objective.

We now have 13,000 people working across the public sector on counter fraud. By bolstering capability at all levels, and increasing collaboration across the sector, like we’re doing today, we can ensure that we build an effective workforce for the future.

Before I close, I want to reiterate what has been a clear theme throughout the conference today. No individual, single public body or department can solve this problem alone. Those committing fraud will always try to find gaps to exploit the cracks in our defences. And some are very clever and innovative.

Through collaboration and combining our efforts, we can stop fraud at the source. So I would like to finish my speech this year as I did when we met last year, by presenting a challenge to you all – How can you work with those outside your own organisation to improve the UK’s defences against fraud?

It is only if we are all supporting each other, that we will tackle public sector fraud.

I would like to thank you all for being here and for the work you do and extend a special thanks to PSFA CEO Mark Cheeseman and his great team, who I see several of here. I very much look forward to hearing about the progress of your partnerships in the year to come.

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