Staff cuts in crime agencies would ‘completely undermine’ UK’s fight against oligarchs, campaigners warn
Campaigners have called on the UK government to rule out plans to slash headcounts in the enforcement agencies tasked with fighting economic crime, after warning any cuts would “completely undermine” Britain’s bid to crack down on the kleptocrats, criminals, and oligarchs that seek to launder dirty money in the UK.
UK government plans to cut headcounts across the civil service would severely limit both the National Crime Agency’s (NCA’s) and Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO’s) capacity to fight economic crime, and in turn hinder the government’s own efforts to clamp down on oligarchs, the campaigners said.
The comments come after Whitehall departments were told to model the impacts of 20- 40 per cent cuts to headcounts, in line with the UK government plans to slash 91,000 civil service jobs over the next three years.
Dr Susan Hawley, executive director Spotlight on Corruption, said: “Even limited cuts would lead to a sharp drop in capacity at key economic crime fighting agencies, critically undermining their ability to effectively tackle economic crimes like money laundering and fraud.”
David Savage, head of financial crime at Stewarts, said any bid to “downsize” the NCA or SFO would send a “clear message to criminals that we remain a country willing to turn the other cheek”.
The plans come as critics have claimed the UK’s “over-stretched” and “under-resourced” enforcement agencies have left the country vulnerable to economic crime, as cuts have seen them outgunned by the criminals and kleptocrats they are seeking to fight.
Rachel Davies-Teka, from Transparency International, said: “Those tasked with investigating the country’s £100 billion a year dirty money problem already find themselves outgunned by criminals and kleptocrats, and overwhelmed by a mountain of potential cases.”
“It’s patently clear these agencies need more funding, not less,” Davies Teka said. “You can’t counter Putin and his cronies on a shoestring.”
Campaigners also warned plans to cut staff would pose a false economy, amid NCA estimates that economic crime costs the UK £100bn a year. For comparison, the NCA’s budget for 2022 is £797.7m, while the SFO’s budget is £55.07m.
“This investment would more than pay for itself in increased enforcement outcomes, and the prevention of the huge economic and societal harm that these crimes cause,” Dr Hawley said.
Cuts of 40 per cent would see the SFO’s headcount drop from 604 to 362, and see the NCA’s headcount drop from 5,687 to 3,412.