The taskforce responsible for cracking down on metal theft, which is due to run out of funding this March, faces an uncertain future after the Home Office said it would decide on whether to continue financial backing “nearer the time”.
The National Metal Theft Taskforce, part of the British Transport Police (BTP), was set up in 2011 to focus on scrap crime and oversee the implementation of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 (SMDA), which enforced a mandatory licensing regime for all scrap dealers.
Crime prevention minister Norman Baker said: “Metal theft has a huge impact on communities - from disrupted rail services to desecrated war memorials and damaged church roofs.
“Tough enforcement action through the taskforce, combined with changes such as increasing financial penalties and banning cash payments, has led to a fall in metal theft.”
Home Office figures last November showed there was a steady decline in metal theft across England and Wales in each quarter of 2012/13, with a 40% fall during the financial year ending March 2013 (see graph above).
Baker added that the Home Office would take a view nearer the end of taskforce funding “on how best to take forward our efforts to tackle metal theft”.
Richard Ottaway MP (Con), whose parliamentary Bill became the Scrap Metal Dealers Act (SDMA) said: “If the BTP were to make a bid to the Home Office for more money to sustain it over a further six months or so, I am confident that ministers would do everything in their power to help.”
But, he added that the Home Office had already been generous in funding the taskforce past its transition phase while it faces its own financial strains.
He said: “The taskforce was set up as a temporary measure to bridge the gap until such time as the new licensing scheme was in place. It can’t go on indefinitely – the policing of scrap metal thefts has to become ‘business as usual’. And when that happens, the disbanding of the taskforce should have no negative impact on metal thefts and enforcement.”
Alison Evans, national taskforce co-ordinator, told MRW: “The taskforce intends to continue activity in support of the implementation and enforcement of the SMDA.”
In November, Ian Hetherington, director general of the British Metals Recycling Association, said: “The Home Office figures demonstrate that co-ordinated and effective enforcement through initiatives such as the National Metal Theft Taskforce can be effective at reducing metal-related crime.”
He was disappointed that the taskforce funding is due to run out - adding: “Without effective enforcement metal theft will increase and police forces will be unable to cope.”
Taskforce funding timeline
- In November 2011 the Government provided £5m for the National Metal Theft Taskforce until March 2013
- The Home Office was petitioned for further funding in late 2012
- In early 2013 the Home Office announced extra funds of £529,000, on condition that it was match funded by the BTP, to support activity around the implementation of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act in October 2013
- The Scrap Metal Dealers Act came into effect giving authorities and the police the power to revoke licenses where they suspect illegal activity
- Funding due to run out at the end of March 2014
Richard Ottaway MP (Con) on the National Metal Theft Taskforce funding:
“The latest funding pot (worth over £1m) is due to run out at the end of March. However, if the British Transport Police were to make a bid to the Home Office for more money to sustain it over a further six months or so, I am confident that ministers would do everything in their power to help. The Taskforce has been an invaluable tool in the implementation of my Act. In the last year, scrap metal thefts have dropped by 40%, and we all want to make sure that we don’t lose the momentum at this critical time when the Scrap Metal Dealers Act has just become fully implemented.
“The Home Office, which has huge budgetary pressures of its own including an £8.5bn allocation to policing, has been generous in continuing to fund the Taskforce beyond its transition phase. It’s important therefore that the Taskforce also pursues other sources of funding, in particular the scrap metal industry itself that has much to gain from weeding out rogue dealers. However it’s also important to recognise that the Taskforce was set up as a temporary measure to bridge the gap until such time as the new licensing scheme was in place. It can’t go on indefinitely – the policing of scrap metal thefts has to become “business as usual”. And when that happens, the disbanding of the taskforce should have no negative impact on metal thefts and enforcement.”