The view from: Derek Elliott FCCA, head of the Audit Commission’s Governance and Counter Fraud Practice
A. Exciting – but worrying. A key aim of the Audit Commission is to raise awareness of risks of fraud and help improve the effectiveness of counter-fraud arrangements in local public bodies. We produced our first Protecting the Public Purse-Local Government report in the mid nineties. There have been many positive governance and cultural changes since then and the importance of fraud fighting as a profession is now recognised. Our recent report records some excellent results where councils have seized opportunities. But good practice is not universal and fraudsters are becoming more skilled in finding new ways of attacking organisations and citizens. Periods of intense pressure on services, combined with declining financial resources and staff cuts, can provide new opportunities for organised fraudsters if appropriate steps are not taken.
Q. What plans do you have to extend your operations?
A. We are introducing a new annual survey of fraud in local government. Information from this will help the bodies we audit improve the effectiveness of their counter-fraud arrangements and inform future work. The survey results will also help the new National Fraud Authority as they assess national fraud risks.. We have a highly successful data matching operation, the National Fraud Initiative, which is growing and helps focus counter-fraud activities in the public sector on high risk areas.
Q. Have you lost your faith in people’s honesty yet?
A. No. However, the numbers of individuals and organisations under financial pressure will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. All organisations must take the right steps to protect the purse of the public, as well as the public purse. That will help to ensure that there is still an ‘honest majority’.
Q. How does being an FCCA assist you?
A. It helps me keep up-to-date with the issues facing the private and public sector.
£2bn – value of social housing occupied by tenants obtaining them fraudulently
£100m – annual cost of fraud by residents falsely claiming council tax single person discount
Derek Elliott is a trustee and treasurer of the whistle blowing charity Public Concern at Work.
He has an MA in Fraud Management.