Crackdown on fraud by Southend Council staff 

Five Southend Council officers have “been fired or resigned” and 14 separate investigations are underway into alleged fraud by employees, according to council documents.

A report to the council’s audit committee, ahead of a meeting on Wednesday, shows three former council officers are currently being prosecuted following investigations by the counter fraud team.

According to the report, another long-running procurement fraud investigation involving a “supplier/partner to the council” was launched in 2013 and has resulted in a guilty plea from the “main defendant”, who will be sentenced on May 10.

Oliver Schneider, of Beadsman Crescent, West Malling, Kent, was charged in 2019. A guilty plea to five counts of forgery and false accounting was made on February 1 at Southend Crown Court.

In its report, the counter fraud team said: “The counter fraud team continues to operate in a challenging environment, needing to address a high volume of internal investigations while maintaining a good service to our key stakeholders and protecting the public purse.

“We have received 26 referrals concerning allegations of criminal misconduct by council officers since April 2023 and have 14 live investigations, some of which involve more than one officer.”

Tony Cox, leader of the council, praised the counter fraud team’s work to crack down on issues within the council

He said: “It’s right that we crack down on staff fraud. If we don’t we will haemorrhage money we can ill-afford to lose as a council. In this financial climate every penny helps.”

A council spokesperson said: “Since April 1, 2023, the council’s counter fraud team have dealt with, or are investigating 478 cases, which range from blue badge to grant related fraud. Their work generated a benefit to the council of over £560,000 in 2023/24.

“This case number also includes 14 live internal investigations relating to staff. These are beginning to produce results with three ex-officers currently being prosecuted and a further five officers being either dismissed or resigning while under investigation. It is expected that this will provide a deterrent to others that may be considering inappropriate activity.

“Whilst the council cannot comment on any individual staffing matters, ongoing investigations or cases while they are being pursued through the courts, the council’s counter fraud and investigation team will pursue those that commit crime against the council and recover losses where possible.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter