The Audit Commission's biennial National Fraud Initiative has made headlines today after uncovering £140m of fraud across England. Cross-referencing records from councils, public sector payrolls, GPs' surgeries and other bodies allows them to uncover fraud that had so far gone unnoticed, which is of course a welcome programme.
Time and again cases crop up of fraudsters who have conned taxpayers with scams that should have been picked up by the most feckless work experience staffer in the benefits office, but have somehow been allowed to continue for far too long.
For example, in this case Victoria Young was of course wrong to fraudulently claim child benefit for seven fictional children, but surely the authorities should have noticed something was up when she claimed to have had her sixth child only a week after the birth of her fifth? Next time you see a report of a benefits fraudster being sent down, check how much they stole - odds are it is in the thousands, as far too many people are getting away with it for far too long before being detected. If, of course, they are detected at all.
It's a certainty that some councils and agencies are better at this than others, and that some are really failing the public by their incompetence. The former deserve to be praised, and their successful anti-fraud techniques should be replciated, whilst the latter should be named and shamed to spur the improvement that is so sorely needed.
Why, then, have the Audit Commission refused to publish this information? The total figure alone is interesting, and certainly shocking, but it is of little use to man or beast in terms of solving the problem. By releasing the headline figures, it's evident that the Commission to recognise that the media and the public are interested in this issue, so they should take it one step further and harness that interest. Public opinion is a powerful tool, and people are annoyed that their money is being stolen from them - releasing a list of poor performers would be a great way to encourage improvement.