Retail Crime — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:06 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Hugh Gaffney Hugh Gaffney Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill 3:06 pm, 11th April 2019

Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Wilson, and giving me the opportunity to repeat some of the statistics that may have already been mentioned.

I thank my right hon. Friend David Hanson for securing this important debate. The 2019 crime report produced by the Association of Convenience Stores illustrates the scale of retail crime in the UK. The association estimates that in 2018 retail crime cost the convenience sector more than £245 million. Through no fault of their own, shops across the UK are being subjected to a retail crime tax. It is estimated that local shops in my constituency lost more than £170,000 to retail crime last year. The businesses on Coatbridge and Bellshill Main Street provide jobs for the local community and contribute to the local economy, and it is frustrating to think that they are penalised by retail crime. If the rising costs of retail crime are not tackled, our communities will ultimately pay the price, with the loss of local business and jobs impacting on the local economy.

We often hear the Government talk about the importance of our high streets, but with no support, their shops are closing down. If the Government are serious about supporting high streets across the country, it is time they acted to prevent retail crime. The National Audit Office highlighted an 18% reduction in the police workforce. As the workload and pressure put on the police continue to increase, their ability to respond to retail crime is affected. That is why I call on this Government and the Scottish Government to invest in community policing. Retailers estimate that 79% of thefts against their business are carried out by repeat offenders, and that 50% of repeat offenders are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Perhaps it is time for the Ministry of Justice to review how repeat offenders are dealt with and to look for ways to tackle the root causes of reoffending, such as addiction.

Retailers have also expressed concern about the introduction of section 22A of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980. Unintended, that provision on low-value shoplifting—below the £200 threshold—may have helped to increase shoplifting, as it is no longer a police priority. I urge the Government to reflect on whether section 22A is helpful in the ongoing fight against retail crime.

When I was elected to the House, I said I would stand up and provide justice for workers, so I will talk about the impact of retail crime on shop workers. The ACS crime report estimated that there were almost 10,000 incidents of violence against shop workers last year; 41 of those incidents led to staff being injured. The Home Office commercial victimisation survey found that incidents of violence in the retail sector had more than doubled from 2016 to 2017. We know that shop theft is the No. 1 trigger of violence and abuse in the convenience sector. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his work to secure legal protections for shop workers who are responsible for enforcing age restrictions on products, and I am disappointed that the Government opposed those measures.

We await the outcome of the Government’s call for evidence on violence and abuse directed at shop workers. I am disappointed by the no-show of any other Tory Members; they must have a safe working environment, unlike shopkeepers. Anyone who wants justice for workers, vote Labour.