A CHESHIRE East councillor has sought assurances all steps are being taken to recover the £37K fraudulently claimed in Covid grants.

Cllr Rachel Bailey (Con) also asked acting internal audit manager Michael Todd what lessons had been learned to prevent public money getting into the wrong hands again.

Speaking at Thursday’s meeting of the council’s audit and governance committee, the Audlem councillor said: “It’s important for our residents who are currently facing a cost of living issue that they can be assured that all steps are being taken to recoup these monies.

“And I think it’s important that we have an understanding of, if there were any failings that resulted in this, if it’s just life, if we’ve done all that we can do.

Knutsford Guardian:

Cllr Rachel Bailey

“£37,000 as a percentage of the whole grant can be extrapolated as very little, but to my residents actually how many potholes would it fill? How would it help to fund school transport? So I think we need answers on that.”

Mr Todd stressed the business grants were issued at speed and the teams responsible for issuing them worked extremely hard and the checking procedures were very robust.

“They engaged with internal audit and we dealt in controls and checks in the application process and two members of my team worked full time undertaking the counter fraud checks,” he said.

Cheshire East paid out £160m in Covid-related support and the audit boss said £37,000 paid to fraudsters represented a very small percentage.

He said none went into accounts which had been identified as being connected to organised crime.

“I think it related to three applications and they’ve been reported to the National Anti-Fraud Network and to central government. It was central government funds that have been defrauded that we were issuing it on their behalf,” he said.

He added: “We’ve learned lessons all the way through. We understand organised criminals target any scheme like this, especially when it’s put in at pace, and we’re always trying to learn and look for ways we can do better and minimise that risk.

Middlewich councillor Carol Bulman (Lab) added: “I was relieved that, compared to other areas and compared to central government itself, we’ve done quite well.”