Given my hon. Friend’s contribution, and that of my right hon. Friend Mark Tami, I will skip a couple of paragraphs in my speech and return to my planned order later.
These rises and these concerns come against a background of reduced police numbers. In 2009-10, I had the great honour of being police Minister for the Labour Government, and when I held that post, the Home Office had 20,000 more police officers than it currently does. That has real impacts: on neighbourhood reassurance first and foremost, and secondly on visibility, but it also has an impact on response times. Obviously, people will respond to higher-level incidents, such as armed robberies—we had one in my constituency, in Flint, only this time last week. Police will respond to those incidents.
However, turning to the Government’s response to incidents of retail theft through the police forces, I will quote John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation. He has acknowledged that shoplifting is not a priority crime for stretched forces; he has said that
“as forces struggle to meet 999-call demand, incidents such as these are increasingly likely not to be attended by officers at all which, as a serving police constable with 26 years’
service, I find quite shocking.”
That backs up the point that my hon. Friend Jim McMahon just made. Thames Valley police has informed its local shops that it will not send officers out to deal with shoplifters who steal less than £100-worth of goods. I do not think that is acceptable, and I do not think that the Home Office believes it is acceptable. In due course, I will return to address that issue in detail, but it is a point that has been raised, so it is important that we discuss it now.
Given what the Association of Convenience Stores has said, what do other people think about this? Let me put some quotes on the table. Paddy Lillis, general secretary of USDAW—the shop workers’ union—has said:
“The idea that shoplifting is a victimless crime is wrong. Theft from shops is often a trigger for violence, threats and abuse against shopworkers. The rising trend in shoplifting is extremely worrying” for his members. Mike Mitchelson, president of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents—one of whose members was murdered in the past month, in a shop in Pinner in north London, because of the type of violence that we are discussing—has said:
“Across the country we are suffering from increasing levels of verbal and physical abuse and it’s important that the full nature…of the problem is understood.”
“Violence against employees remains one of the most pressing issues retailers face,” yet its crime survey once again shows
“an increase in the overall number of incidents.”
James Lowman, chief executive of the ACS said:
“The financial implications of crime are clearly damaging for” local shops, but their urgent priority is tackling
“the impact of violence, abuse and aggression on people working in” communities. He said that “there is no excuse” for that abuse, and it must be stopped.
The Co-op Group retail chief executive has said that nothing is more important than colleagues’ safety. As a result, it has spent £70 million in the last three years on innovative security, crime prevention and colleague safety measures. However, it is clear to the Co-op that it needs support from the police, the judiciary and Parliament to make sure violence against retail workers is not tolerated.
We should be concerned not just about shop theft; violence and abuse against staff working in shops is simply unacceptable, and the Government must address it. The rise in theft is going hand in hand with violence.