I have previously written of the success achieved in crime fighting in wholesale with our alert and intelligence initiative. The full results of the Commercial Victimisation Survey, showing the retail and wholesale sector experiences more crime than all other sectors, mean I want to return to the subject and its effect on indie retailers - and not just in the sense of the £44m cost to the sector attributed by ACS.
I make no secret of my admiration for independents - they work extremely hard for many hours usually for very modest rewards. In this respect, they are little different from other small businesses, but in the area of crime they have a rough deal.
Every week there are appalling reports of attacks on innocent traders by criminal gangs. They are assaulted, attacked with machetes, knives and guns both real and imitation. They suffer ram raids, hole-in-the-wall thefts and burglaries out of hours, and shoplifting and yobbish behaviour during trading hours. They are subject to con men targeting their businesses to illicitly obtain cash or goods. Gangs target their premises and adjacent living accommodation for money, jewellery and valuables. On occasions even staff steal from them.
“Twenty per cent of retailers have given up even reporting robbery”
These activities would be unacceptable if the amounts of money targeted were lifechanging for the criminals, but at least then they might be taken seriously by the authorities. However, often these terrifying occurrences involve tiny amounts of money. A recent knife raid on a newsagent was for £110 whilst a c-store raider who blinded the store owner with ammonia took £300. My local newsagent permanently lost partial use of his arm after being attacked with a machete by drug users.
A Home Office survey has shown that retailers suffer more from crime than any other business sector, but in almost every case I come across the response from the police to such activity seems slow and inadequate. It has got so bad that the Retail Crime Survey from the BRC shows 20% of retailers have given up on even reporting robbery.
Have I got any answers to all this? The simple answer is no. It may be that Business Crime Reduction Partnerships have a part to play, and police commissioners may prove effective in some areas.
More radically a full review of police priorities and working practices and even consideration of whether local forces are still the answer in an era of mobile gangs operating across boundaries may be necessary.
Meanwhile I suggest we as a sector - suppliers and wholesalers - should consider if there are ways we can provide better moral and actual support to these beleaguered retailers.
Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons