Councils and the British Metals Recycling Association have come to blows this week over dealing with metal theft.
The BMRA has called for a national licensing scheme to replace the current situation where councils are responsible for local registration – and claimed that council records are up to 80% incorrect.
Labour councillor Clyde Loakes, vice-chair of the Local Government Association’s environment committee, blamed the industry for an increase in theft and said that councils had the experience to tackle the issue if only they had more powers.
The debate highlights many of the key issues and the harsh words should not obscure the solutions. In reality, it is that is it illegal operators – rogue individuals and organisations – that are committing crime. It is essential to be able to effectively and quickly identify whether dealers are licenced –including across council boundaries.
Any new scheme must be underpinned by national co-ordination. However, this is not to say that councils can’t or shouldn’t be involved.
Councils are more closely linked with theft victims than most other agencies, and arguably have greater motivation than most too. They do have experience, yet they are thwarted because they don’t have the powers to act immediately – and speed of action is critical.
New powers would also need to be properly funded – not a forgone conclusion at a time when councils are facing 28% budget cuts and increasing costs in areas such as social and care services.