This morning at Attorney General Questions I pressed the Government to look at the way the Serious Fraud Office is funded.
In my role as Shadow Solicitor General I asked Jeremy Wright, The Attorney General, about a report from HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, published this week, which found that the current funding model for the Serious Fraud Office does not represent value for money for the taxpayer. The report also found that the funding model does not support long-term strategy or the building of capacity for the future.
My concern is that the Serious Fraud Office could be subject to decisions made on the grounds of funding, rather than decisions based on the need to combat fraud and bring prosecutions.
In his response the Attorney General claimed that the current model does not allow for a 'Treasury veto' (i.e. decisions made on the grounds of budget) but I remain unconvinced. He did, however, confirm that the department would look carefully at the Chief Inspector's report and consider if changes are required.
The full exchange was as follows:
Jo Stevens MP, Shadow Solicitor General:
"This week’s report from HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate into the governance arrangements of the Serious Fraud Office found that the blockbuster funding model does not represent value for money – and it also found that it’s incompatible with long-term strategy, building prosecutorial capability and capacity in-house for future investigations and prosecutions.
"Will the Attorney look at alternative funding models to ensure that the SFO is on a sustainable footing and effectively not subject to a Treasury veto?"
Jeremy Wright MP, Attorney General:
"Well, Mr Speaker, the Honourable Lady will recognise that this particular report from the Chief Inspector, which I asked him to produce in order to look at the way in which the Serious Fraud Office is governed, was a very a balanced report. It put forward some very positive points, too, about the way in which the Serious Fraud Office has improved under the direction of the current director.
"But of course she’s right, questions were asked about the funding model and there is a balance to be struck here as I’ve indicated to her Honourable friend. We have to make sure that the Serious Fraud Office has the money it needs, and we will, and of course the director will never refuse to proceed in a case for lack of funding, so there is no Treasury veto as she suggests.
"But we have to balance the need for that money with the need not to have capacity which is not being used, and being paid for by the taxpayer. So the blockbuster funding model has so far been considered to strike that balance correctly. But of course I’ll look carefully at what the Chief Inspector says and we’ll consider further change as appropriate."
You can read the report here: