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25 September 2017, 05:25
More needs to be done to prevent criminals and fraudsters cheating the public purse, a Holyrood committee has said.
The Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee set out key recommendations to improve the National Fraud Initiative (NFI) in a report published on Monday.
The NFI, led by Audit Scotland, matches electronic data to detect fraud or error in the public sector, such as overpayments of housing benefits and council tax discounts, blue badge misuse or pension fraud.
The committee said raising awareness about the NFI "could help to maximise its deterrent effect and therefore further reduce the cost of fraud to the public purse."
It is calling on the Scottish Government and Audit Scotland to consider how best to raise awareness about the NFI.
The committee also believes all public bodies and private organisations in receipt of public money should participate in the NFI, where this would deliver "clear benefits to the public purse."
Jackie Baillie MSP, the committee's acting convener, said: "There's no doubt that the NFI is a success story in Scotland.
"It has improved the transparency of our public finances and has clawed back millions of pounds that otherwise would've been in the pockets of fraudsters or lost due to system errors.
"However, we have outlined several ways in which Scotland's approach to stopping scams or preventing errors could be strengthened.
"One of our key recommendations is to raise public awareness of the NFI to help maximise its deterrent effect. By letting more people know the NFI takes place, how it works and highlighting its successful outcomes we can help prevent fraud occurring in the first place.
"We have also called for all public bodies in Scotland - and private organisations in receipt of public money where appropriate - to participate in the NFI given the clear savings to the public purse."
The committee believes it is important to extend the NFI's scope where this would help to tackle fraud in any spending areas not currently covered.
It also discussed the Scottish Government's new social security powers and called for confirmation of how much it will cost to align the new powers with the NFI.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We welcome the Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee's report on the effectiveness of the National Fraud Initiative in Scotland.
"We take the prevention, detection and investigation of fraud very seriously, ensuring our key financial controls are robust and by working with all public bodies to share fraud prevention information and good practice.
"The Scottish Government will be considering the recommendations highlighted in the report and will look to support the consideration of improvements to the effectiveness of the exercise in Scotland."