Monday, 13 August 2018

When cutting regulation increases crime

If you are tempted by the siren calls of populist politicians and journalists who try to seduce you with claims that our lives would be so much better with less regulation, I suggest you stop and think.
Last December, I wrote an article1 about legislation that had resulted in a dramatic fall in crime. After the Scrap Metal Dealers Act was passed in 2013, with tough measures to crack down on the trade in stolen metal, metal thefts dropped from nearly 62,000 in 2012/13 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. Thousands of homes, businesses and churches were saved from the lead thieves.
That Act was an excellent example of how legislation can cut crime, save lives and benefit families, organisations, businesses and the national economy.
Today, I want to draw your attention to an example of what can happen when regulations are removed in the name of ‘cutting bureaucracy’.
Since the mid-1990s, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) has shown long-term reductions in most categories of theft, with the overall number of theft offences having fallen by 69% since 1995.2
But recently, there has been an increase in some types of theft, particularly in vehicle-related theft. In fact, last year, vehicle-related theft increased by 17% and “theft of vehicles” increased by a massive 40% (to 82,000). In the West Midlands, vehicle theft has tripled in the last three years.
So, what the heck is going on?
Well, in 2015, the government removed the rule that, to get a salvage car back on to the road, the vehicle needed to obtain a vehicle inspection certificate certifying that it was fit for the road. It was all part of the government’s deregulation strategy.3
The unintended, but predictable, outcome is that criminals are stealing cars to break them down for parts. Then, they are using these parts to repair salvage vehicles which have been written off by insurers following accidents.
And, of course, we are not talking about minor accidents and cheap vehicles. The criminals make big money from expensive cars that have been involved in major accidents. It’s the luxury brands which are being sold at auction as fixable write-offs rather than as write-offs to be scrapped for parts.
Having bought the write-off, the Mr Bigs are then commissioning the theft of vehicles which will provide the parts for repair. The patched vehicles are then sold as second-hand through internet or auction sites.
Because these cars are being cobbled together in back-street workshops, rather than reputable garages and repair shops, the likelihood is that unsuspecting buyers are getting unsafe cars, especially in relation to safety elements, like crumple zones and air-bags.
The deregulation, which promised a better life, has actually resulted in a massive increase in car theft - including violent car-jackings and car-key burglaries - an increase in the number of unsafe vehicles on the road, and an increase in the number of people who are buying a pig-in-a-poke.
So, we have some very clear recent examples of how additional legislation can cut crime and improve our lives and of how cutting regulation can increase crime and seriously damage our lives.
I’m very clear. I have no interest in introducing or maintaining unnecessary legislation or regulation and we should keep these under regular review.
But neither do I – and nor should you – have any time for those who blithely assert how much improved our lives would be, if only we ended regulation and bureaucracy.
And, with respect to the single most important decision in front of us at the moment – Brexit – why is it that those, who loudly proclaim that Brexit will result in less regulation, have simply been unable to produce a schedule of laws and regulations that they intend to remove, despite being charged with that task for more than two years and having had thousands of people working on their proposals?
If you’re not worried, you ought to be.
1 Scrapping Crime, 11 December 2017,
3 This included the Red Tape Challenge and the One in Two Out rule and a Deregulation Bill with a range of measures “to reduce regulatory burdens on businesses and public authorities”.