Councils: Tackling soaring rise in metal thefts

Published on Monday, 18 June 2012 11:56
Written by Scott Buckler

Metal thieves are costing council taxpayers millions of pounds a year, a new survey of local authorities has revealed

 Councils are warning that, with theft of metal continuing to rise, the financial burden is only likely to increase until government passes new legislation to better regulate the scrap metal industry.

A Local Government Association (LGA) survey has revealed the cost to local authorities of metal thefts soared by an estimated 26 per cent in a single year.

One council was left out of pocket by £100,000 in 2010/11.

The LGA's survey of 157 councils found that metal thefts across England and Wales left a £4.6 million hole in town hall budgets in 2010/11. This is equivalent to the amount spent keeping opening 20 libraries or employing 260 care workers to look after the elderly. In 2009/10 the total cost to councils was an estimated £3.6 million.

Local authorities believe that the key to combating the rising tide of metal thefts lies in bringing up to date the 48-year-old legislation which regulates scrap yards and the scrap metal industry.

Cllr Mehboob Khan, Chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

"This mindless crime is spiralling out of control and has cost councils millions of pounds per year replacing memorial plaques, manhole covers, metal gullies, children's playground equipment, street signs and lead from schools, council offices and crematoriums.

"Government missed an opportunity by not including a change in legislation in the recent Queen's Speech. Local authorities are firmly behind Richard Ottaway's decision to take a private member's bill through Parliament to introduce a tougher licensing regime for scrap metal dealers. It is vital that local authorities get stronger powers to make it more difficult for thieves to dispose of stolen metal.

"Councils want to see an annually-renewable licence for scrap metal dealers, which could be reviewed at the instigation of the police or licensing authority and, if necessary, revoked.

"This would make it much less likely that stolen metal will find its ways into scrapyards.

"The LGA's lobbying victory in March will ensure that rogue scrap metal dealers can be fined up to £5,000 from October 2012, and that all transactions in scrapyards from then on will be cashless. The Government took a step in the right direction in doing this but it needs to go much further."

The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is calling for an overhaul of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 which currently requires councils to register dealers without the ability to refuse the application.

Local authorities should be able to impose stricter controls on the way dealers operate, including the installation of CCTV with automatic number plate recognition technology, together with requirements on dealers to keep detailed logs of the identity of people they buy metal from

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