Government spending on organised crime ‘not enough’

28 Jun 19

Funding arrangements to tackle serious and organised crime has been labelled “inefficient and uncertain” by the public spending watchdog. 

A damning National Audit Office report out today highlighted a gulf in spending to tackle crimes, such as modern slavery and human trafficking, compared to what they costs the UK economy. 

The most recent estimated cost of organised crime from 2015-16 shows a £37bn hit to the UK economy whereas total expenditure on tackling the issue was just £2.9bn in the same year. 

Work to tackle this type of crime through the government’s Serious and Organised Crime Strategy is “made more complex by disparate funding” coming from several “unconnected” sources. 

The NAO said relying on funds from a variety of sources, such as the Police Transformation Fund, the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund and National Cyber Security Programme can make accessing funding “overly bureaucratic”. 

“Governance and funding arrangements remain complex, inefficient and uncertain,” the report added. 

The watchdog also noted that Regional Organised Crime Units rely on funding allocations from the Home Office, which have often been delayed, making it difficult for them to plan and spend effectively. 

An estimated 79% of front-line spending by government and law enforcement went on pursuing perpetrators of these crimes in 2015-16 while only 4% went on prevention. 

This is despite the SOCS – initiated in 2013 and revised in 2018 - setting out the ‘four P’ principle to tackle organised crime – ‘prevent, pursue, protect and prepare’. 

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “The government faces an immense challenge in fighting this complex, evolving threat. 

“To deliver its new strategy, the government needs to better match resources to its priorities, improve its understanding of these crime and ensure governance and funding fit with its ambitious plans.” 

The watchdog noted that certain types of organised crime is on the rise with a 36% increase in potential modern slavery and human trafficking victims from 2017 to 2018 and 9% rise in child sexual exploitation in the same period. 

The National Crime Agency and the Home Office are also unable to evaluate whether their efforts are effective and if their resources are being used on the highest priority areas.

“It is disgraceful that the Home Office and the NCA are effectively flying blind as neither have any idea whether their efforts are working or not, or genuinely alleviating the misery and suffering of those who they should be protecting,” said Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee. 

NCA director general Lynne Owens said: “Demand on the NCA is already high, and continues to grow. However, there has never been a dedicated funding stream for SOC, and I welcome the NAO’s recognition that substantial improvements to funding arrangements are needed.  

“These would enable us to build capabilities in areas such as digital forensics, covert surveillance and financial investigations. To deliver maximum impact, it is vital that the NCA has the right capabilities at the right time.”

The Home Office has been contacted for comment. 

Further reaction 

Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association’s safer and stronger communities board, said: “Children’s services are now starting more than 500 child protection investigations every day, but face a £3.1 billion funding gap by 2025. This is forcing councils to divert funding away from preventative services such as youth work into services to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm.”

Reform researcher Aidan Shilson-Thomas, said: “Candidates vying to become prime minister need to think about what resources the police need to tackle crime in 2019 and pledging to introduce an arbitrary target for more officers is not the answer.   

“This is a complex challenge as organised crime is increasingly hidden and borderless. Bolstering law enforcement’s use of data and capability to tackle online threats must be a priority.”

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