Launch of new Southend counter fraud team leads to almost 100 investigations in three months

Southend Council’s new counter fraud team has taken on almost 100 cases in just three months, including investigation into two council employees.

The investigation team was formed after Southend’s partnership with a Thurrock Council counter fraud team came to an end at the beginning of October and since then they have taken on 96 cases.

Among them are two investigations into council employees but the council has refused to provide details of what these relate to as they are still ongoing.

Investigations into council staff was a controversial matter under the previous arrangement with Thurrock after it was revealed by Conservative councillor Tony Cox that Southend had allowed Thurrock to carry out intrusive surveillance operations on its residents with limited oversight.

The council’s decision to bring the team in-house is likely to relieve some of those past concerns as it will now be Southend Council officers who oversee the investigations.

In the past, a Thurrock investigation into former Southend Council housing manager Stuart Burrell found the officer had conned taxpayers out of £307,000.

He was later jailed for 18 months.
Other cases investigated since October have involved tackling cybercrime, money laundering, fraudulent social care and fraudulent school applications.

The highest number of cases have centred on housing including unlawful subletting and right to buy fraud. Council papers show they have investigated 33 of these cases since the team was formed.

Councillor Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, said: “The changes made in October 2019 resulted in the council providing its own in-house counter fraud team after five years working with Thurrock Council.

“This newly formed team gives us greater autonomy over the direction of the service to ensure it meets the needs of the council and of course, the local tax payer.

“Identifying and tackling fraud is an important role for any large organisation, and our dedicated team is in place to investigate allegations of fraudulent behaviour against the council and, where appropriate, build cases against those committing such frauds.

“The team is fully funded from the resources that were previously being input into the shared service arrangement with Thurrock. At this stage in its development the team is focused on delivering this service for the council and its companies.

“However, as part of its work plan, we will be considering the identification of opportunities to provide the service to other locally-based organisations, which could generate some income for the council in the future.

“All 96 referrals received and investigations undertaken are in respect of issues to do with Southend Council and its companies, including two employee investigations being undertaken that are both in respect of council employees, but we cannot provide any further information in respect of these cases at this time.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter