A new lobbying forum has been set up to stem the huge losses to the sector caused by shrinkage, says Paul Winstanley

Those of us in health and beauty retail are well aware that shrinkage - loss caused by theft and fraud, damage and process failure - cost the UK high street £4bn last year [The Global Retail Theft Barometer].

To tackle these issues and to reduce violent attacks on front-line staff, we have formed a new lobbying forum for the sector based upon the model developed by the Retail Loss Prevention Fashion Forum, which now has the ear of the Home Office and eBay.

In conjunction with the Oris Group, a group of heads of loss prevention for the sector from, among others, Boots, Lloyds Phar­macy, The Co-operative Pharmacy, Holland & Barrett, Crabtree & Evelyn and The Body Shop, will share best practice to tackle generic crime and protect vulnerable staff.

More specifically, we will work to reduce the unique losses felt by the high street's cosmetics and medicine-prescribing retailers to offer protection against theft of small, high-value beauty products; the selling on of counterfeit goods; and burglaries.

The health and beauty sector's easy-to-conceal products have a high resale value to organised gangs and fences, and it is common to see these items populating the stalls of certain outdoor markets, car boot sales and, in the virtual world, on eBay.

Those of us working in loss prevention know they are at best suspect and at worst stolen, but proof is hard to come by. As a forum we will gather and share intelligence to target this issue and will work with online organisations to put processes in place to prevent individuals or groups from profiting in this way.

Those of us with pharmacies within their retail portfolios have a delicate balancing act to perform as we have a professional duty of care to meet all our customers' needs.

Therefore, like the Fashion Forum, we will have to evolve to meet our own specific requirements and problems faced by the sector.

On occasion, challenging circumstances arise where pharmacists bear the backlash from customers when dealing with sensitive situations, such as when a customer tries to obtain medication without a prescription. These types of incidents can result in verbal or at worst physical abuse and can cause distress to the pharmacist, staff and customers.

Like the Retail Loss Prevention Fashion Forum, we, too, will take our concerns to the very top, as well as share best practice and data to improve crime prevention across our businesses.

With greater demands on police resources meaning business crime is not always considered a high-profile performance measure, retailers have invested millions in technology trying to combat it. As a forum, we will take this further by working together to put business crime higher on the agenda.

The model works when retailers are collaborating with each other and the police. In our infancy we are in caring hands.

The Oris Group has a good track record of helping to set up ground-breaking meetings with eBay and the Home Office for the Fashion Forum and has worked hard to attract new members, deliver powerful media exposure in national and trade magazines and has attracted TV and radio interest.

Learning from one another, we will develop our own unique solutions to combat shrinkage.

Paul Winstanley chairs the newly formed Retail Loss Prevention Health, Beauty and Pharmacy Forum and is national operations manager for asset and profit protection at The Co-operative Group.