So, the LibDem conference got this bit of meat:

The £900 million drive against tax avoidance, evasion and fraud was announced on the first full day of the Liberal Democrat Conference....During a question-and-answer session, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and party leader, was accused by one activist of allowing the poor to bear the brunt of the forthcoming programme of spending cuts.
In his keynote speech to the conference today, Mr Clegg will try to soothe delegates’ nerves by highlighting the plans on tax evasion, making much of the impact on higher earners. He will say: “People who avoid and evade paying their taxes will no longer get away with it. We will be tough on welfare cheats. But unlike Labour, we’ll be tough on tax cheats too.”

Note that it’s a “he will say” story - i.e. the LD spin doctors briefed the content of the speech, and probably the intended interpretation, to the journalists in advance. You wouldn’t put your head on the block quite so obviously if you didn’t have a check-against-delivery copy of the text to help your editor sleep easy.

So the activists (and the fleeing Liberal vote more generally) are expected to be reassured by the news that the Treasury is going to have at rich tax-dodgers, as well as slashing housing benefit. How d’you reckon he’s going to do that? Best not ask.

Companies such as Capita have pioneered the use of lie detector tests to identify potential fraudsters for the Department for Work and Pensions. Sources at HMRC suggested that “voice recognition analysis”, which alerts investigators when a caller claiming benefits sounds nervous, could be used to identify those seeking to mislead tax inspectors.

Crapita and lie detectors? Can it be….surely not…oh yes it can! You may recall that they have an exclusive 10 year licence to resell a supposed lie detector application, and that they got a contract from the DWP to try this out on benefit claimants. The only problem is that it doesn’t work.

In fact, it can’t possibly work, and it’s based on a patent which is arguably rubbish. Its makers have a habit of sockpuppeting and editing their own Wikipedia articles.

When Swedish academics tried to replicate their claimed results, first of all they had to extensively debug the reference implementation to make it run, and then they found that:

there is absolutely no scientific basis for the claims made by the LVA proponents is an understatement. The ideas on which the products are based are simply complete nonsense

And what did they do? They sued the authors, at which point it became known that the poxy thing had been tested in the US and had failed miserably there as well.

When the DWP actually deployed it to a jobcentre in Nottinghamshire, predictably enough, it washed out there as well, after two-thirds of the claimants it detected as possible frauds turned out to be genuine. To put it another way, it would have been fair to say that being detected by the machine was evidence that your claim was genuine.

After this whole sorry saga of snake oil, bullshit, and bluster, it’s baaaaack.

Of course, what’s really doing the work in this story is the idea of hiring private debt collectors. As the piece admits, they don’t have the power to demand bank records, search premises, etc, but there is one thing they can do: ring up people who paid a few hundred quid less than the Revenue thinks they should have done, and make blood-curdling threats about their magic lie detector.

Companies proved particularly successful at forcing tax avoiders to pay small sums.

So the net effect of this plan is to make life somewhat easier for major tax dodgers, and harass (among others) people whose PAYE was miscalculated in the great HMRC cockup. The good news is that:

It is seen as a sop to delegates who have called for higher earners to bear more of the pain of the recession.

It’s a sop all right. We confidently predict that the lie detector will vanish again as soon as the matter hits the MSM.