Lesley Hume: Why we’re building a government Counter Fraud Profession

Cabinet Office executive director Lesley Hume reflects on the need for a Government Counter Fraud Profession to recognise the work of people in the field and increase the government’s ability to identify and deal with fraud

By Lesley Hume

04 Nov 2016

If you ask people which crime they are most likely to come across, they usually respond with answers such as theft, burglary or assault. The correct answer, though, is fraud. 

Most of us can recall having received emails from fictitious companies or people masquerading as law enforcement officers asking for bank details or personal information. Nearly all of us have experienced this, and many of us know someone that has fallen foul of these scams too.

The fraud problem in the UK goes far beyond those email scams, however. Fraud is estimated to cost the UK government between £29-40bn each year. It is useful to think of that £29-40bn as an iceberg. 

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There is the detected fraud, that is visible to us and sits above the waterline. This detected fraud is in areas such as tax, welfare and healthcare. But then there is the more significant part of the iceberg that is submerged beneath the waterline and is, for now, partially invisible to us. Immediately beneath the waterline is estimated fraud that is measured but not detected and tackled. Then, perhaps most importantly, are the frauds that we, across government, do not currently detect, measure or tackle at all.

If we in the public sector are to deliver true value for money to the taxpayer then it is imperative that we continue to shine a light on the fraud problem that exists, and increase our capability to detect, prevent and deal with it. We need to continually push the iceberg up to get it higher and higher above the waterline.

Setting standards and building a Counter Fraud Profession

Over the past few years government has seen much greater professionalisation within a wide variety of specialist fields. We now have over 27 established professions, including areas such as planning, policy and operational delivery. So what does being part of a profession actually mean?

Firstly, it means recognition for the work people are doing within their field. There is lots of fantastic work taking place across government in counter fraud. The Government Counter Fraud Awards last month, which the Cabinet Office run with the National Crime Agency and CIPFA, recognised the work of a wide variety of departments and local authorities in detecting, preventing and tackling fraud at all levels. 

Being part of a profession provides formal acknowledgement on a day-to-day basis of the specialist role of counter fraud staff, and it gives this excellent work the profile it deserves.

Secondly, a profession provides a whole set of mechanisms that support its success and enable continuous improvement. These include: a set of standards and competencies, a clear governance structure, a curriculum and qualifications as well as formal and informal networks and career pathways.

The Cabinet Office Centre of Expertise for Counter Fraud is determined that the work of counter fraud specialists across government is recognised and that we build up our counter fraud capability. That is why we have set about working with specialists across government to build market-leading standards that detail what is needed in each counter fraud specialism.

Government specialists on counter fraud have come together to inform this work and bring expertise so that learning is cross-fertilised across departments. We are now building a development programme that will provide formal training, accreditation and recognition for counter fraud professionals in their various fields. The Professionals’ Board, which oversees this work, have a vision to — in their words — “create an internationally recognised and competent counter fraud profession”.

The journey ahead

We still have a long way to go and, as can be seen from our estimated fraud loss figures, there is more fraud to unearth. At our recent Find More Fraud Conference, John Manzoni spoke candidly about the need for us to professionalise quickly, and that is exactly what we plan to do. So, a call to arms!

All civil servants have a duty to promote the counter fraud agenda and be alive to the risks of fraud in their area. If you are interested in finding out more about identifying fraud, then do come and speak to us. 

If you know people who work in counter fraud then make sure you tell them about the profession that is being built — we want to hear from them! If you want to join a career pathway that really is all about securing taxpayers’ money for frontline services then please join the profession. This is an exciting time. We are starting to detect, measure and prevent more fraud than ever. But we still have a long way to go and want all public servants, in various ways, to be part of this journey.

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