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27 March 2012 | Adam Leach
Concerns have been raised that individuals suspected of fraud could hold government procurement cards because the Cabinet Office could not confirm if the National Fraud Database is checked before cards are issued.
Appearing before the Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) yesterday, Ian Watmore, permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office and head of the Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG) was quizzed by PAC member Stephen Barclay MP, over what security checks are carried out before civil servants are given a card. Watmore said government employees underwent security checks to levels appropriate for their positions.
Barclay, who looked into the matter ahead of the hearing, said that so far as he was aware, no government department currently checks staff against the National Fraud Database. This database includes names of individuals with considerable evidence against them for fraud but who have not been prosecuted because their employers decided to drop the charges. Barclay said: “As I’m aware, not a single Whitehall department actually data matches its staff against the national fraud database, so you’re potentially giving cards to people who are [on it] as of now.”
Watmore was unable to say whether the Cabinet Office checked names against the database but said the report on which the hearing was based, which was carried out by the National Audit Office, found no evidence of systemic abuse of the cards. He told the committee that their records put the number of potentially fraudulent transactions at less than 100 in four million.
Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the committee, questioned why there is not a mechanism in place to keep a record whenever action was taken against a government employee for card abuse and called for action to be taken. Watmore agreed the government should keep a centrally held list of such individuals in future. “Going forward, what should happen is that in any department, in this area [procurement cards] particularly, if there’s any prosecution or criminal intent [it should be recorded centrally]”.
The NAO report into procurement cards recommended that the government continue using them but consider measures such as real-time monitoring to crack down on misuse of them.