Retail Crime — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:24 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 3:24 pm, 11th April 2019

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have given specific money to deal with the increase in pensions. I think he would agree that it is important to make sure that our police officers have their pension rights adhered to and honoured.

Furthermore, in the west midlands, we recently had a meeting with the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable to talk about measures to tackle serious violence, which is a particular problem. I was therefore delighted when the Chancellor granted an extra £100 million to deal specifically with serious violence. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s area will benefit from some of that.

I am delighted that Ruth Jones joined us. I was most interested to hear her intervention. I hope she will urge her police and crime commissioner to spend some of his reserves, which stood at £56 million as of March last year, because that or just a bit of it could go some distance. I am sure she will do that as a good new Member of the House of Commons.

The national business crime centre is a significant step in tackling business crime more generally. We recognise the importance of ensuring a co-ordinated response to crimes against businesses. That is why we have supported the national business crime centre, which launched in October 2017 with the support of Home Office funding through the police transformation fund. The centre provides information for police forces and businesses, offers a targeted alert service to support businesses nationally and facilitates national consistency in the management of business crime. It has proved to be a valuable resource for all businesses, not just retailers, and continues to provide essential guidance and support nationally. The resources include advice, examples of things that retailers can do to prevent crimes and training for staff to defuse potentially violent situations to help protect businesses, staff and customers alike. I urge Members to see whether the centre can be of assistance to shops and businesses in their local areas. In addition, the Home Office runs its commercial victimisation survey, which is an important measure of business crime as well.

One of the six points that the right hon. Member for Delyn made was about gathering good practice. There is a great deal of good practice already in the system. For example, many business crime reduction partnerships operate across England and Wales and bring significant benefit to their members, the wider community and the police. We have heard about other schemes, such as Pubwatch and Shopwatch, which Judith Cummins mentioned. There is also BusinessWatch and Radio Link, which I saw for myself in the constituency of Erewash. I liken such schemes to a form of vaccination. If every shop in the local area participates, the whole community is strengthened and empowered through the scheme’s operation, but if one or two businesses do not sign up, it weakens the overall strength of the community response to these crimes. We are keen to encourage such schemes. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak challenged police and crime commissioners to make retail crime a priority. I agree with him; the point of police and crime commissioners is to set local policing priorities. I encourage Members to raise the issue with their PCCs.

Jim Shannon highlighted the importance of the response of local businesses. Indeed, there is lots of good practice from individual businesses that shows a very positive impact, such as the use of CCTV, which he rightly mentioned. It is much cheaper than it used to be. One plea to everyone who uses CCTV is to maintain it and replace the tapes. I know that seems a small, practical point, but regrettably investigations sometimes show that the CCTV evidence is not there because the machines have not been kept up to date. As long as businesses are able to do that, it is of real benefit. Some stores have invested in body-worn cameras to help to reduce levels of violence and abuse towards staff.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central made a point about the future high streets fund, which is £675 million to support local areas in England to invest in town centre infrastructure and to support redevelopment. He made an interesting point about whether the fund could be used to help with security, and I am happy to look into that for him.

My hon. Friend Gillian Keegan is sitting behind me. She takes a keen interest in these issues, but because of her commitments cannot contribute verbally to the debate. She has reminded me that we have business improvement districts, which are business-led partnerships created through a ballot process to deliver additional services to local business. Improvements may include extra safety and security. In Chichester, all retail and other businesses contribute a 1% levy, and some of that money is used to fund walkie-talkies to act as a security system for support for workers. There are many examples out there of interesting schemes. They may differ in their applicability to different areas, but there are schemes out there that may help, if Members are interested.

The right hon. Member for Delyn rightly raised the issue of drugs and alcohol, as did other Members. We know that drugs can devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities. Our approach to drugs remains clear: we must prevent drug misuse in our communities and support people through treatment and recovery. Although drug misuse is at similar levels to a decade ago, we are absolutely committed to reducing it and the harm it causes. We have done that through, for example, the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. Since it came into force, more than 300 retailers across the UK have either closed down or are no longer selling psychoactive substances. That has helped to remove the presence of such substances from our high streets. Of course, there is more to do. Our drugs strategy sets out our approach, bringing together the police, the health community and global partners to tackle the illicit drugs trade, protect the most vulnerable and help those with a drug dependency to recover and turn their lives around.