Watchdog says Tory cuts make crime pay

Written By: David Hencke
Published: March 20, 2016 Last modified: October 25, 2016

Theresa May’s claim that “crime doesn’t pay” has been totally undermined by public spending cuts targeting trained financial investigators employed to confiscate the assets of wealthy criminals.

A report by the National Audit Office this month revealed that the amount of outstanding uncollected debt from crimes has reached a record £1.156 billion – up £158 million over two years.

The report says: “Much of the debt now relates to orders which are at least five years old and HM Courts & Tribunals Service assessed that only £203 million of this total debt can realistically be collected.”

But although an extra £22 illion has been confiscated in the last two years – the number of confiscation orders has dropped by 7 per cent.

The report adds: “The total value of orders imposed also fell by £31.5 million to £247.3 million between 2012-13 and 2014-15 (an 11 per cent reduction) after adjusting for inflation. We estimate that the reduction in the number and value of orders imposed is likely to continue in 2015.”

The NAO also reveals the number of as ‘confiscators’, has fallen from 1,440 in September 2013 to 1,358 in September 2015, down 6 per cent.

The report says: “The fall has mostly been seen across police forces. Reasons for the fall include budget cuts and greater demand for the skills of experienced financial investigators in the private sector.” In other words public officials who have had pay restraint have been lured to join the private sector.

Few police forces see asset recovery as a priority compared to other areas of law enforcement with only £10 million a year being spent on it by the Government. This compares with HM Treasury committing £800 million (over five years) to fight tax evasion.

Last November, the Home Secretary boasted to the Police Federation that new Government legislation giving longer sentences to criminals who refused to disclose where their loot was hidden and “rewards” for police forces that succeeded in recovering the assets would ensure “crime doesn’t pay”.

But the NAO say it is too early to tell whether this is working and in the meantime the situation has got worse with the Government failing to implement a report calling for tougher action by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee two years ago.

New arrangements with foreign governments to try and find out where assets have been hidden abroad have so far had little success. Only £6.5 million of the estimated £300 million of criminal assets held overseas have been recovered, although for the first time the United Arab Emirates has returned £300,000 to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The arrangement seems to have benefited foreign governments more with £28 million being returned to Macau from criminals working in Britain.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “This is a disappointing result.”

About David Hencke

David Hencke is Tribune's Westminster Correspondent