We have a maths problem for you this Friday afternoon (3 December). It's not too tough, but it may momentarily distract you from the chocolate-laden donkey behind the third window of your advent calendar. How many times does 50 go into 2,100? We ask because the National Investigation Service (whose code name is 'NITS') has received more than 2,100 intelligence reports on suspected fraud in relation to Government lending by way of Bounce Back loans, but only has enough capacity to pursue up to 50 investigations per year.
Its end-of-term report card doesn't make brilliant reading for its parents in the Treasury. "Only 33 investigations have been carried out, resulting in 43 arrests and the recovery of £3 million: could do better".
The National Audit Office (NAO) have long been a bunch of busybody troublemakers and they have it in for NITS (but, to be fair, they have it in for the Government and everyone else, too). In a report issued today they say that the target to recover just £6 million of taxpayer money lost to Covid fraud is "inadequate" and investigators have been "woefully underfunded". The attempts of NITS to claim back our money, stolen by bad and nasty people, amounts to just 0.1 per cent of the £5 billion thought to have been lost to fraudulent applications for emergency Bounce Back loans during lockdown.
The NAO said (irascibly) that ministers failed to provide enough protection against fraud as they rushed out almost £50 billion of Government-backed loans to businesses battling for survival during the pan ... blah, blah, blah. The Government sniped back, saying that they have only just provided an extra £32 million for counter-fraud operations, provoking the NAO to send them the 'drop in the ocean' emoji, together with one of one finger extended.
The slightly embarrassing situation for the Government is that it faces the real risk of spending more on fighting loan fraud than it actually claws back. This led to the NAO calling for the Department of Business and Quite a Lot of Other Stuff to draw up a new strategy to tackle Bounce Back fraud by April 2022.
Meg Hillier, a Labour MP known only to her family, but chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said that Government’ counter-fraud efforts have come too late. Meg said: “It’s now focusing on recovering money from organised crime, yet many of the smaller scale fraudsters will have slipped through its fingers.”
The Government shot back ... “We are continuing to crack down on Covid-19 fraud and will not tolerate those that seek to defraud the British taxpayer."
They failed to add that, at the current rate, it will take about 42 years to get to all those fraudsters.