Monday, 11 December 2017

Scrapping crime

Think back five years. Do you remember how the news was full of stories about metal theft?
Thefts increased dramatically after 2009, as metal prices rose significantly. Churches, schools, houses were being stripped of lead, copper and other metals. Our transport, telecommunications and energy sectors were being disabled. The damage being caused far outweighed the metal value.
It was clear that too many scrap metal merchants were either in league with the thieves or simply prepared to ignore the fact that metals being weighed in were clearly stolen.
Along with others, I argued that significant improvements would result from intervening in the supply chain. Eventually, the Scrap Metal Dealers Act was passed in 2013, with tough measures to crack down on the trade in stolen metal, including
  • requiring a scrap metal dealer to hold a licence
  • measures to close unlicensed sites
  • requiring dealers to verify the identity and address of persons from whom they receive metal
  • making it an offence for a dealer to purchase scrap metal for cash
  • prescribing record-keeping requirements, and
  • giving the police and councils the right to enter and inspect dealers’ premises.
Now, four years later, a report 1 on the impact of the legislation has revealed that the number of thefts has dropped from nearly 62,000 in 2012/13 to around 16,000 in 2015/16. Police-recorded metal thefts in England and Wales fell to fewer than 13,000 in 2016/17.
At its peak, metal theft was estimated to cost the economy more than £220 million per year. The Act has undoubtedly saved the national economy millions of pounds.
The Act is an excellent example of how legislation can cut crime, save lives and benefit families, organisations, businesses and the national economy.
But, we shouldn’t be complacent. The government and local authorities should continue to identify what else can be done to cut the number of crimes and to bring perpetrators to justice.
1 Review of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013