The Local Government Association has added its voice to the growing clamour demanding tighter regulation of the scrap metal trade to deal with the theft epidemic.
There is increasing concern among business, politicians and the public over metal theft, partly caused by high prices, estimated to cost UK business £770m a year. David Cameron recently said he was “determined to put a stop to this really appalling crime”.
The LGA, representing more than 350 local authorities in England and Wales, called for cash payments for scrap to be banned as concern mounts over the desecration of war memorials, the latest target of metal thieves.
Cllr Mehboob Khan, chairman of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “It is utterly shameless and beyond contempt that anyone would desecrate the memory of those who have given their lives for their country in this way.
“A lot of these stolen memorials will end up at scrap metal yards. Because of the out of date regulation of the scrap metal industry, thieves can make a quick buck from unscrupulous dealers and it is difficult to trace it back to them.”
The LGA also called for the introduction of compulsory annual licenses for merchants, the installation of CCTV with number plate recognition at yards, detailed logging of sellers by merchants, and tougher sentences for convicted thieves.
Cllr Khan added: “We have seen the number of metal thefts soar this year. Councils are determined to do something about this but at the moment have very limited power to tackle rogue dealers.
The call by the LGA comes as Graham Jones MP prepares to introduce his scrap metal theft prevention private members’ bill in the Commons on Tuesday. The bill would ban cash trade and tighten regulation of the industry.
The director general of the Metals Recycling Association Ian Hetherington has warned MPs against a “knee-jerk reaction” to the epidemic of metal theft. He told the Transport Select Committee inquiry into railway cable theft the industry was concerned that legislation banning cash would drive legitimate business into the illegal trade.
He said “Our concern here is that it’s tempting for politicians to reach for new law to demonstrate their power. There is a danger that Government under stress will reach for what they think is a silver bullet. The reality is, it is a much more complex issue.”
The BMRA supports the introduction of photo ID requirements for sellers and a crackdown on illegal operators to stem the outlets for stolen metal.