There is a wise old Chinese saying, 'Give someone the key to your front door and they will steal your children', which is fine, but what if your child has something valuable in their pockets when they are stolen? Another proverb of identical origin goes: 'It's only one pangolin and it's quite tasty, where's the harm?'
There was a time back in long-lost memory when human beings used to go to large buildings with rows of seats facing a raised platform at the front and people, some of whom will never serve in the army like their dad hoped they would, would sing and dance for money and we would call these 'musicals'. One such 'play with songs' was widely known as 'The Glums', and it is jotted down on the back of an envelope somewhere that there have been around 45,000 performances of Les Miserables seen by over 70 million people and, with an average ticket price of £50, £3.5 billion has been spent watching it (and that's without a tub of ice-cream during the tear-streamed interval). (Stay with us, here ...)
The reason we in the NTI newsroom mention this is that, at the beginning of Jean Valjean's story in The Glums, our hero is so hungry and desperate he steals silver candlesticks from the house of a bishop who is sheltering him. When he is caught red-handed and taken back to the bishop to fess up, his former host says to the police officer that rather than M Valjean being a thief, in fact he forgot to take more, which had been offered to him ... and so the story begins.
Well, the bishop is 00 Sunak and, with breathtaking irony, the exact same amount that has been spent around the globe to date watching the Glums has been nicked from him in fraudulent furlough claims, as today it is reported that up to £3.5 billion in Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme payments may have been claimed fraudulently or paid out in error, the Government has said. (It was worth it in the end, wasn't it?! - a story, a wise ending and a connection to nicking from benevolent sources. Oh, you got that?)
Speaking to MPs on Monday, HMRC's permanent secretary, Jim Harra, said: "We have made an assumption for the purposes of our planning that the error and fraud rate in this scheme could be between 5 per cent and 10 per cent. That will range from deliberate fraud through to error." Yeah, Jim, sure it will; those pesky 'errors' will get you every time. A popular scam is to furlough employees, get them to work from home and spend the loot on Bentleys.
So far, 8,000 calls have been received to HMRC's fraud telephone hotline, most of them in comedic regional accents through what appears to be scarves. HMRC is now looking into 27,000 'high risk' cases where they believe a serious error has been made in the amount an employer has claimed. Mr Harra said that any employee who suspects their employer of doing such a thing can squeal by filling in a form on the HMRC's website.
They are coming to get you. They know where you work. There is no place to hide. As a Chinese proverb says: 'The tongue may weigh little, but it can crush a man'.