A taskforce on metal theft promised “immediately” by the government in November will not be launched until March - and will not be a taskforce - MRW has learnt.
Osborne said the British Transport Police (BTP) led taskforce would begin an “immediate programme of action” as the government attempts to tackle soaring amounts of metal theft.
But BTP has now confirmed to MRW that the initiative will be launched in March, and will merely be a funding mechanism for other police forces and agencies.
Metal dealers are keen for comprehensive action on criminals and rogue merchants rather than blanket changes to how the industry operates. Home secretary Theresa May has said the government will seek to ban cash transactions for scrap metal.
A BTP spokesperson said: “In terms of this being a taskforce, it’s not as you would expect. What it is essentially is a pot of money for which other forces and other agencies involved in tackling metal theft can put in bids for funding for operations.”
The spokesperson said there would be no details about bid criteria or the remit of any operations funded by the taskforce money until the launch in March.
A Home Office spokesperson confirmed the details of the scheme would be worked out over the “next couple of months”. She said the taskforce could be launched in mid to late March.
Graham Jones MP, co-chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Combating Metal Theft, told MRW this week he was “deeply concerned” that a national taskforce was yet to be launched.
He said if the £5m funding was to be used for forces to bid for it would be “a complete waste”. Such an arrangement, he added, would leave forces operating in isolation, setting up initiatives “disjointed” from national bodies such as the Environment Agency.
Jones said the Government’s approach to metal theft has been “confused” and that it was making a mess of setting up a national taskforce.
Transport secretary Justine Greening assured the committee the taskforce’s work would begin “as quickly as possible”.
In January, the House of Commons Transport Committee criticised the lack of progress on the taskforce.
Its report said: “We note that this immediate programme has yet to begin and few details have as yet been supplied about the taskforce’s remit.”
The committee called on the government to set out the priorities and specific action the taskforce would take to tackle cable theft.
Transport committee chair Louise Ellman MP said the £5m funding was not enough to solve the problem. She said a “package of measures” was urgently needed including reform of the way scrap dealers operate.
Ellman called the scrap trade the “weak link in the system”.