Councils should do more to tackle fraud and improve council tax collection rates, according to communities secretary Eric Pickles.
The minister has launched a multi-million fund to help councils reduce levels of fraud, saying it would help town halls tackle the budget deficit. The £16m fund will be awarded to councils that put forward innovative proposals for recouping money owed or to tighten fraud safety nets.
He also urged councils to ‘turn idle assets into money’ by using the cash raised from the sale of unused assets to improve local services and keep council tax down.
Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy’s (CIPFA) annual conference yesterday, Pickles said: ‘Fraud costs hardworking taxpayers £2bn per year. We are supporting councils to go further in catching fraud felons, and today I am proud to commit £16m over two years to ridding this scourge. This challenge fund will be allocated to the most innovative local authorities who plan to generate the most-effective savings.
‘Councils should also be channelling their energies into getting idle assets off of their books. With £220bn worth of assets, and £2.5bn of that earmarked as surplus, it is time to start asking: ‘what good is that empty, mothballed office block to the taxpayer?’
Rob Whiteman, chief executive officer at CIPFA welcomed the funding, saying the institute’s new Counter Fraud Centre would also help councils protect the public purse. He said: ‘This funding is hugely welcome, it will put resources into protecting taxpayer’s money at the front line and every pound saved increases the amount that can be spent serving communities across the country.’
Read our feature on how councils are using facebook to tackle fraud.