Working in partnership: a new public/private approach to tackle economic crime

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Jonathan Grimes

2018 saw a major drive across government to tackling illicit finance and economic crime on the basis that “corruption and economic crime undermines our economy, damages our international reputation and communities.” (December 2018 Anti-Corruption Strategy 2017-20 1 Year Update” see our related blog Tackling economic crime 2018-19). Key initiatives include the launch of the National Economic Crime Centre (November 2018 see our related blog The UK’s new National Economic Crime Centre) and the Serious and Organise Crime Strategy (November 2018). Most recently, the government has announced the launch of a new Economic Crime Strategic Board. What is this new “taskforce” and will it really achieve anything?

The cost to the UK of economic crime is estimated to be at least £14.4 billion per year encompassing fraud, bribery, corruption and money laundering. One of the Government’s strategies to tackle this is to work in partnership with the financial services industry and the professional services sector so that, in the words of the Chancellor, “by bringing together specialists across the public and private sector, we can use the best of our expertise to maintain our status as a global financial centre”. The Home Secretary stated that: “These criminals threaten the UK’s reputation as a world-leading place to do business and we have a joint responsibility to stop them.” There is no doubt that this will remain a government priority regardless of the nature of UK’s future relationship with Europe.

The launch of the Economic Crime Strategic Board on 14 January builds on previous public/private partnerships – exemplified through models such as the Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce. The Board will meet twice a year, and will set priorities, direct resources and scrutinise performance against the economic crime threat. The board includes CEOs and chief executives from the banking institutions Barclays, Lloyds and Santander as well as senior representatives from UK Finance, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Accountants Affinity Group and National Association of Estate Agents.

Even for those working in the area of money laundering law enforcement the number of recent government initiatives is bewildering and it is easy to write them off as window dressing: ultimately, making inroads into complex financial crime requires better funding for law enforcement agencies – and there is little evidence of that amongst the various announcements. That said, given the limited funding available, finding a way to harness the resources and expertise of the private sector is sensible: it may help to lighten the load as well as to achieve better focussed use of the limited resources that are available.