One in three departments expect to miss FY22 annual report release target

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At least eight departments have warned that they will not be able to meet deadlines for publishing their 2021-2022 annual reports and accounts (ARA).

The admission, revealed by Permanent Secretary to the Treasury Sir Tom Scholar, was updated to members of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. The senior official was answering questions about the latest cost estimates for fraud and error in relation to the departments’ coronavirus support programs.

Scholar said that for their 2021-22 reports, all departments were required to report on the impact of the pandemic on departmental goals, strategic objectives and priority results, and to provide an analysis of fraud and error of the Covid support programs.

But he noted that several departments had warned they were unlikely to be able to produce their main annual reports in time for the publication target before parliament broke for the summer recess at the end of July.

“We are back to an administrative deadline of June 30 for the placement of SCBAs,” Scholar said. “Eight departments have indicated that they will not get a laying date before the holidays for 2021-22 – partly due to legacy problems and delays in local government pensions. The Treasury is organizing forums to identify and resolve issues that may hinder faster reporting and will disseminate relevant advice when needed.

Scholar did not identify the departments involved. The Ministry of Education is a ministry that has historically struggled to publish its ARA in the summer, often due to conflicts between the accounting periods for schools and those used in central government.

The permanent secretary’s appearance came shortly before Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the government’s plan to create an ‘elite anti-fraud squad’ that would use the latest technology and data analysis techniques to pursue those who defrauded the business support programs provided at the start of the pandemic. .

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In response to questions from MPs about fraud and error in the Government’s Covid support schemes, Scholar’s letter repeated the estimates contained in the departments’ 2020-21 ARAs – most of which were published last year.

He cited HM Revenue and Customs’ estimate of an 8.7 per cent fraud and error rate in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – commonly known as the furlough scheme. A total of £60.7bn was paid out under the scheme in 2020-21, after voluntary repayments were made.

In relation to the Covid schemes administered by HMRC, Scholar reiterated the Government’s plans from March 2021 to recover up to £1bn of fraudulent or incorrect payments through £100m invested in the Protection Force taxpayers, 1,265 people strong.

“The Taxpayer Protection Task Force is fully funded for 2022-23, and HMRC will continue to pursue risk on schemes for many years to come through its wider program of compliance work,” Scholar said. .

He added that the return on investment in recovering from Covid loan fraud was “much more difficult to estimate”, particularly in relation to the Bounce Back Loan Scheme for businesses, overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial. Strategy.

“Collections for the vast majority of cases should be done by the lenders but in some cases, especially in cases of serious fraud, law enforcement will also have a role to play,” he said.

Although BBLS is supervised by BEIS and administered by the British Business Bank, its loans – up to £50,000 – have been made by retail banks, guaranteed by the government.

In January, Minister for Government Efficiency Lord Theodore Agnew quit his job in protest at what he described as ‘dismal’ oversight of the £47billion scheme by BEIS and BBB. Agnew went on to accuse the Treasury of having “no knowledge of or little concern for the consequences of fraud on the economy or society”.

The researcher’s letter cites BEIS’s annual report and accounts figures for 2020-21 which gave a range of errors and fraud of £3.6bn to £6.4bn for the loan scheme rebound. A National Audit Office report in December said £17billion of the total may not be repaid, although the figure is wider than fraud and error, also including legitimate borrowers who are not in able to pay.

Scholar’s letter said the police-led National Investigation Service had received an additional £13m in spring reporting last month to ‘double its capacity to investigate bounce back loans and fund new business of application”.

He said the BBB would receive £11million in funding over three years to bolster its fraud and insurance programme.

Scholar added that the BBB had commissioned a comprehensive, multi-year assessment of business lending programs, which is being conducted by London Economics and Ipsos MORI.

“The first report will be released this summer, subsequent reports will follow in 2023 and 2024,” he said.

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