AFTER the expense of Christmas, many of us headed to the sales on the hunt for some January bargains.
But a minority of people on the high street weren’t out to spot an amazing deal – they were there to rip us all off. They were the criminals who target shops, looking to steal whatever they can get away with.
Shoplifting has reached epidemic proportions in the West. Locally, we’ve seen a whopping 41% increase in just 12 months.
One local shopkeeper told me he’s losing £300 worth of goods every week to brazen thieves, and feels powerless.
Sadly, I hear similar anecdotes from workers in stores across the region. They say nothing seems to happen even when they go to the police. Shoplifting is fast becoming a ‘free’ crime.
But as shopworkers’ union USDAW reminds us, theft from shops isn’t victimless. It’s a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shop staff.
Hard-working retailers’ livelihoods are threatened by shoplifting. That means more local stores going under and closing. And for those that stay open, we all lose out as they’re forced to raise prices to recoup costs.
In short, it’s making the cost of living crisis even worse.
Why have ministers given up on trying to deal with this crisis?
One idea organisations like the British Independent Retailers Association have come up with is grants for shops nationwide to install security measures. In the autumn, they asked the PM to step in. Their pleas were ignored.
As your Metro Mayor, I decided I had to step into the void left by government.
That’s why I launched Safer Shops West, supporting independent stores in the West to install much-needed security. Shops in our patch can now apply for £2,000 towards the costs of things like CCTV, body cams and hand-held radios.
I’m supporting those smaller, indie shops, without the backup of a ‘head office’, because they make our local high streets really special, and they’re on the frontline of this crisis.
I’m pleased to say Safer Shops West has been backed by some big national groups. The British Independent Retailers Association say they want it replicated nationwide, and the Association of Convenience Stores is offering free advice on how best to use the funds.
But while I’m doing what I can at a regional level to fix this crisis, the government also needs to get its act together.
That’s why I’m calling on them to do four things:
First, reverse the 2014 decision to downgrade the offence of shoplifting. Criminals know that nothing happens if they steal less than £200 of goods. It’s made things worse.
Second, put more neighbourhood police on the beat. We’ve lost 10,000 since 2010.
Third, introduce a specific standalone offence for assaulting shop staff.
And fourth, fix the cost of living crisis once and for all.
It really is time to get tough on shoplifting and tough on the causes of shoplifting.
With Safer Shops West, the fightback starts now.