Latest Public Sector News

02.06.16

A new strategy for fighting fraud and corruption locally

Source: PSE Jun/Jul 16

Rachael Tiffen, head of the CIPFA Counter Fraud Centre, discusses the new Fighting Fraud and Corruption Locally strategy and the importance of strong leadership to enable change.

Over six years ago I sat in a room with a number of other civil servants at the National Fraud Authority, and we agreed that something had to be done to support local government in designing a national strategy for tackling counter fraud; this strategy is now known as Fighting Fraud Locally (FFL). 

It was launched in 2011. As the first national strategy for local government, FFL laid out the challenges fraud poses to councils and the keys steps they needed to take to put in place robust counter fraud measures. The initiative centred on three core principles:

Acknowledge: Acknowledging and understanding fraud risks and committing support and resource to tackling fraud in order to maintain a robust anti-fraud response 

  • Prevent: Preventing and detecting more fraud by making better use of information and technology, enhancing fraud controls and processes and developing a more effective anti-fraud culture 
  • Pursue: Punishing fraudsters and recovering losses by prioritising the use of civil sanctions, developing capability and capacity to investigate fraudsters, and developing a more collaborative and supportive law enforcement response 

FFL was the product of over a year of research, workshops and negotiations. The process brought key players to the table: LGA, DCLG, the Home Office and local authority leaders. 

After extensive discussions, we agreed to set up a Board, chaired by Ian O’Donnell, executive director of corporate resources at the London Borough of Ealing, to oversee the delivery of the project. In addition, we put in place around 30 pathfinders and pilots which covered the next two years and eventually delivered around £11m savings, some of which were reported in the Annual Reports for FFL.  

Strong leadership required 

In 2014, the FFL Board tasked CIPFA with updating the strategy. In preparation, my team carried out extensive research, organising workshops and face-to-face interviews. Our findings suggested that whilst there had been some progress, many of the challenges from 2011 had not been resolved. 

Firstly, there were still communication issues within organisations, leading to limited awareness and understanding of fraud threats. Counter fraud practitioners cannot operate effectively unless leaders of local authorities champion the strategy and visibly promote the message that fraud and corruption will not be tolerated. Strong leadership of local authorities is vital to enforce this message.   

Councils were also concerned about resources. Tight local authority budgets often resulted in staff losses, reducing the capability of counter fraud departments. We saw the need for an approach that would use resources more effectively and support professional competences. To do this, we decided to introduce a separate, more practical, companion guide to the strategy. In addition, we broadened the scope to include corruption as a distinct problem that shares many characteristics with fraud. 

New Fighting Fraud and Corruption Locally strategy 

The new Fighting Fraud and Corruption Locally strategy 2016 is now available for councils to use freely. The strategy document is aimed at local authority leaders. It provides advice on how to lead and communicate anti-fraud and corruption activity for the greatest impact. It also covers resource management and investment in counter fraud operations, including the essentials for making a strong business case with measures that will demonstrate the significant return on investment that anti-fraud and corruption campaigns will yield. 

An important element in getting more for less is to invest in technology that supports collaboration among local authorities. Combining the efforts of multiple teams can generate significant economies of scale and enable a range of information and data to be shared, keeping local services one step ahead of the fraudsters. One of the greatest challenges in local fraud prevention has always been the difficulty of working across authority boundaries. Fraudsters, of course, have no such difficulty and have often exploited blind spots that these boundaries create; fixing this vulnerability really is a top strategic priority. 

The companion document is aimed at both local authority leaders and counter fraud professionals. It outlines examples of good practice when combatting fraud and corruption, ranging from supporting whistleblowers to spotting financial anomalies. 

Overall, the Fighting Fraud and Corruption Locally strategy and companion documents provide a strong framework for local authorities to implement a robust and comprehensive approach to tackling fraud and corruption. A co-ordinated, consistent approach is absolutely vital to make sure that weaknesses are spotted before fraudsters can exploit them. As anyone involved in counter fraud will tell you, prevention is far better than cure.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

 

Comments

Trevor Lawrie   26/01/2017 at 08:28

I have conducted a lengthy 3 investigation into fraud and corruption in a TMO which include rigged elections where the same members are back on the Committee year on year, bogus projects, hugely inflated costs, intimidation of residents asking questions by threats of eviction, conducting all meetings including AGMs behind barricaded doors, cutting off all communications between Management Residents, after all TMO are supposed to be Residents involvemnent- Who is the best authority to forward my findings to besides the Local Council which I have a degree of distrust as the corruption might include some of their staff and their Consultants.

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