Politicians love simple slogans especially bashing criminals. Tony Blair was famous for his ” Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” mantra. Theresa May, the home secretary told the Police Federation last November that she was getting tough on criminals to ensure ” crime doesn’t pay” when it comes to forcing them to hand back their swag.
But a forensic inquiry across Whitehall by Parliament’s spending watchdog the National Audit Office tells a different story. Read it here. It exposes politicians like May speaking warm words on the subject and doing the opposite. Indeed it could be said she is creating circumstances so it is even easier for criminals to get away with it.
No doubt Teflon Theresa will deny this -pointing out new laws saying hardened criminals will stay longer in prison if they don’t cough up where they have hidden their ill gotten gains.
But Parliament can pass as many laws as it likes. If there are fewer resources to tackle the problem and no determination to do anything about it nothing will happen. So May’s words will remain just a meaningless political slogan.
Her ” crime doesn’t pay” mantra contrasts with the fact that uncollected debt from crimes is at record £1.156 billion – up £158m in two years.
True an extra £22m has been confiscated in the past two years but it hasn’t kept pace with crimes. And confiscation orders from the courts are DOWN 7 per cent.
The report says:“The total value of orders imposed also fell by £31.5 million to £247.3 million between 2012-13 and 2014-15 (an 11% reduction) after adjusting for inflation.”
It ominously warns : “We estimate that the reduction in the number and value of orders imposed is likely to continue in 2015.”
But even more seriously the NAO reveals the number of as ‘confiscators’, employed to find the stolen goods and money has fallen from 1,440 in September 2013 to 1,358 in September 2015, down 6%.
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.”
So Theresa May’s support for austerity is ensuring crime will still pay. In other words public officials who have had pay restraint and face spending cuts have been lured to join the private sector. Indeed even wealthy criminals could offer them better paid jobs.
The government has done some eye catching little initiatives to redress like giving a paltry £10m a year to police forces to boost their efforts. But as the NAO reveals this compares with £800m over five years to try and tackle tax evasion. Small potatoes.
And as for Theresa May’s claim that longer sentences will force criminals to disclose where they have hidden the money – the NAO say not proven.
New arrangements with foreign government to try and find out where assets have been hidden abroad have so far had little success. Only £6.5m of the estimated £300m of criminal assets held overseas have been recovered, though 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 £28m being returned to Macau from criminals working in Britain.
Probably the most damaging fact is that the Commons public accounts committee told the government all this two years ago – and precious little has happened.
Obviously Teflon Theresa has to be seen stopping criminals living a luxury lifestyle on stolen goods But she is not prepared to do much about it.
I have also written about this in this week’s Tribune Magazine.