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Fraud (Small Businesses)

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 18 June 2009

11. When officers of the Serious Fraud Office next expect to meet representatives of small business organisations to discuss measures to combat serious fraud schemes aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises. (280582)

Reducing the harm caused by fraud to individuals and businesses is a key priority for the Serious Fraud Office, although it investigates serious and complex fraud whomever it is aimed at. Last month Richard Alderman, the director of the SFO, met representatives of Transparency International and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as it is now called, to discuss how the SFO could help small and medium-sized enterprises in that respect.

I am obviously grateful to the Solicitor-General for that reply, but is she aware that a Federation of Small Businesses survey showed that online crime and fraud costs small businesses £800 a year on average and that more than half of smaller businesses report that they have been victims of crime in the past 12 months? That is a serious cost to smaller businesses, which are very important to the economy of our country. What additional measures does she believe can be implemented to reduce the current level of crime, which is so bedevilling small business, and electronic crime in particular?

I do know about the FSB survey to which the hon. Gentleman refers—it is from February 2009, so it is quite up to date—which indicates exactly what he said. The FSB is working with the National Fraud Authority, and there are a number of agencies involved in the issue of fraud. Indeed, the National Fraud Authority, which used to be called the National Fraud Strategic Authority, is intended to have exactly that overview. [Interruption.] I am assured that NFA does not mean “No further action”; it means “National Fraud Authority”, and I am cheered by that reassurance. The FSB is on its programme board and stakeholder group, as is the British Retail Consortium and the British Chambers of Commerce. I can therefore give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the interests of small and medium-sized enterprises are directly acknowledged by the relevant authority and taken on board day to day.

Given that the SFO case load has increased by a third in the past 12 months and that it now faces budget cuts, could the Solicitor-General please identify the financial extent of those cuts and say whether they are likely to hinder the SFO’s ability to protect SMEs from fraud?

I will write to the hon. Gentleman with the specific details of the budget cuts, if that is what he would like. The SFO is going from strength to strength under the new direction of Richard Alderman. It is indeed contending with a rising case load, but it is coping with it well. The SFO has introduced a number of efficiencies and ways of distinguishing cases that can realistically go the whole distance from those that can be cut off short, so that a solution other than a conviction can be sought, such as a civil outcome. The SFO is genuinely trying to crisp up its act, and I am confident that progress is being made.