Brian Sims

“Crime costing retailers £2.5 billion” reports British Retail Consortium

THE BRITISH Retail Consortium (BRC) has published the findings of its 2021 Retail Crime Survey, duly highlighting the sheer scale of violence and abuse faced by retail staff. The survey shows that there were 455 incidents of violence or abuse each day in 2019-2020. That’s up by 7% from 2018-2019. The total cost to retailers realised by acts of criminality and the procurement of crime prevention measures ran to £2.5 billion. This represents an increase of 14% on the previous year (when the total was £2.2 billion).

As the Trade Association for the retailing community, the BRC is now calling for a statutory offence for assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker. The Scottish Parliament has already taken decisive action to better protect retail workers through Daniel Johnson MSP’s Shop Worker Protection Bill. This means that retail staff are better protected in Dumfries than they are thirty miles south in Carlisle.

According to the BRC’s 25-page report, similar legislation must be introduced in the rest of the UK. The organisation is strongly urging the Bill Committee (whose members are currently scrutinising the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill) to support changes proposed by Shadow Policing Minister Sarah Jones MP.

A new statutory offence would toughen sentences for those who are violent or abusive towards shopworkers, deter future perpetrators and ensure that shop workers feel safer at work. In tandem, there are calls for police forces across the UK to prioritise retail crime and improve their response to incidents.

Cost of crime soaring

The total cost of retail crime has soared over the last three years, rising from £0.7 billion in 2016-2017 to reach a figure of £1.3 billion in 2019-2020. The most significant element of this has been customer theft, which cost companies no less than £935 million. This rise comes despite retailers continuing to spend record sums of £1.2 billion on crime prevention measures.

In September last year, the BRC launched its Shop Workers’ Protection Pledge, calling on politicians to stand with retail workers and support legislation for better protection. The pledge has so far been signed by over 55 MPs from all major parties. This move followed on from Prime Minister Boris Johnson informing Parliament that: “We should not tolerate crimes of violence against shop workers.”

Helen Dickinson OBE, CEO of the British Retail Consortium, commented: “Will retail workers in England and Wales ever receive the protection they deserve? Despite clear evidence showing the escalation of violence and abuse perpetrated against retail workers, the Government has time and time again chosen not to act.”

Dickinson continued: “These are not mere statistics. Those affected are our parents, our partners and our children, all of whom needlessly suffer just for doing their job. Many incidents arise as staff carry out their legal duties, including age verification and, more recently, implementing COVID safety measures brought forward by the Government. Despite retailers spending enormous sums on crime prevention, the situation is only worsening.”

In conclusion, Dickinson observed: “Scotland has sent a clear message that the rise in violence and abuse against shop staff has to end. The rest of the UK must follow its lead.”

This year’s Retail Crime Survey has been published slightly later than usual due to the Coronavirus pandemic and a resulting delay in gathering the statistics. It covers the period from 1 April 2019 through until 31 March last year and is based on responses from a group of BRC member companies representing around one fifth of turnover and employment in the industry.

Call for action

Within the report, the BRC calls for concerted action on retail crime. The organisation wants to see:

*a better understanding of the use of shop theft by organised crime and drug and alcohol addicts with an appropriate response both on actual incidents and on the causes

*MPs turn their pledges to fight retail crime into legislative action

*improved guidelines on sentencing for crimes of violence and abuse emanating from The Sentencing Council

*retail crime to form a key plank in Police and Crime Commissioners’ strategies

*better statistics from improved reporting and ensuring that all retail crime is recorded as such

*an extension of digital age verification to alcohol sales to bring them into line with other products

*improved police response

*the allocation of some of the time of extra officers to retail crime

*an inquiry into the approach adopted by the police towards retail crime

*clear guidelines from the Information Commissioner’s Office on data sharing about criminals and crime within the confines of the General Data Protection Regulation

*greater recognition by the police service that shop theft is a crime as much as any other and should not be regarded as part of the ‘cost of retailing’

*prosecutions rising from the current 6% for violence and abuse and more prosecutions for all retail crime including offences below £200 as the best deterrent

*greater prosecution of retail violence as aggravated offences such that it goes beyond the current 3%

*better sharing of Best Practice among police forces

*a single online reporting tool to boost reporting capabilities

Read the 2021 Retail Crime Survey in full by visiting the BRC website

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