29 December 1995

Intervention Board detection record

IRREGULARITIES totalling £8m were uncovered by the Intervention Board last year, but the agency has still been advised to improve its administration of CAP schemes.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has told the board that it should systematically record its assessment of potential risks when designing detailed schemes and analyse in more detail irregularities identified by its controls.

It has also been told to improve training and guidance given to staff involved in checking schemes and record the internal sources which identify serious cases of irregularity.

The "knuckle-rap" from the NAO comes even though the board recovered £4.4m and undertook 19 successful prosecutions following special investigations of 200 cases between 1991 and 1993.

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said that while the present verification and scrutiny activity undertaken by the board met the European Commissions requirements, it ought to give greater publicity to its anti-fraud fight.

However, cases of irregularities in the UK were far lower than across much of the rest of the EU, where a total of £312m of irregularities were reported by the 12 member states in 1994.

Gordon Munro, IB spokesman, rejected allegations that the board was not doing its job properly: "We have agreed to all the recommendations put forward by the National Audit Office, and consider ourselves in the top echelon of nations reporting irregularities.

"With the Dutch and Germans, we are the most effective nation in combatting fraud and irregularities," he added.

While the amount of money reported in irregularities by the board has doubled in the past two years, NFU leader Sir David Naish said it was important to get the figures into perspective.

"While I do not condone fraud at any time and would be delighted to see it stamped out, the British are at the bottom of the league when it comes to irregularities," he added.