Metal thefts have decreased by a third in the past year, after the introduction of a new licensing regime for the scrap metal sector.
There were 40,680 metal thefts recorded in England and Wales in 2013-14, down from 59,788 in the previous year, according to ONS statistics.
Metal thefts relating to infrastructure such as railway lines, church roofs and machinery dropped by 41%.
Meanwhile thefts in the south-east region saw the largest decline of 46%, along with reductions of 44% in London and 40% in the north-west.
The declines follow the Scrap Metal Dealers Act which came into force in October 2013 mandating that all scrap metal dealers hold a licence. Anyone operating as a scrap metal dealer without a licence faces a fine of up to £5,000. The Act also bans buying or selling scrap metal with cash.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has estimated that metal theft costs the economy around £770m annually.
It said councils have issued nearly 8,000 licences to scrap metal dealers since the Act came into force, and they have helped police to prosecute unlicensed traders and shut down illegal scrap metal businesses.
The LGA has urged the Government to continue investing in efforts to co-ordinate enforcement action and gather intelligence to target and disrupt criminal networks.
Ann Lucas, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Such a significant drop in metal thefts is excellent news for communities which have suffered from the chaos caused by unscrupulous metal thieves.
“It is great to see [the Act] is having such a positive impact, but the fact there are still around 40,000 metal thefts a year shows there can be no let up.
“Town halls will continue working closely with police to keep driving metal thieves out of communities and out of operation for good.”
Ian Hetherington, director general of the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) said: “There have not been enough prosecutions under the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act and the penalties for successful prosecutions have been ludicrously lenient. In addition, there is an apparent reduction in low level crime matched by an increase in more organised, higher value thefts.”
BMRA: Not enough prosecutions
Ian Hetherington, BMRA director general: “We welcome the news that the number of metal thefts in England and Wales in 2013/4 has fallen by a third but the authorities must not be complacent and rest on their laurels. The police, Environment Agency and local authorities in England and Wales must allocate adequate resources to enforce the Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act robustly and effectively otherwise metal thefts will increase at the expense of the legitimate industry and police forces will be overwhelmed.
“The Scottish government needs to bring more focus to its proposed legislative programme and the current proposed bill – the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill – needs to be radically improved if metal theft is to be equally reduced in Scotland.”
“The failure of local authorities to come to terms with the licensing arrangements of the Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act would have lessened the uncertainties faced by the industry. Although local authorities caught up, the Environment Agency’s national database of scrap metal dealers falls dramatically short of the expectations of all those concerned and is currently unusable for the purpose it was designed.
“There have not been enough prosecutions under the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act and the penalties for successful prosecutions have been ludicrously lenient. In addition, there is an apparent reduction in low level crime matched by an increase in more organised, higher value thefts.”