The government moved this week to reassure shopworkers and owners that it takes retail crime seriously, insisting that it is committed to helping crack the problem.

Speaking at the British Retail Consortium's annual crime conference, Vernon Coaker, parliamentary undersecretary of state for policing, security and community safety, pledged that the government would ­continue funding the Association Against Business Crime Group, which sets up crime reduction partnerships.

"We know that retail crime is not a victimless crime to real businesses, real workers and real communities.

"For a variety of reasons, some businesses refuse to report crime to the police. We understand that in some situations even violence and abuse aren't being reported because staff have come to accept it as part of their jobs. This is unacceptable."

The conference came on the day the BRC released figures from its annual crime survey, which indicated that shoplifting had climbed by 70% since 2000. The data also showed that 75% of retailers were dissatisfied with the government's efforts to reduce crime.

Kevin Hawkins, director general of the BRC, criticised a recent proposal by the Sentencing Advisory Panel that shoplifters should not go to jail. "We would aim for any changes to the law to provide a more effective deterrent for shoplifters, not to free up prison space," he said. "It would be helpful if we had zero tolerance from ministers on the issue of crime. It would not be tolerated in any other sector."

Also at the conference, Peter Shuttleworth, business systems manager for the supply chain and RFID at Tesco, revealed the retailer would begin its 'unit of delivery' project at its Antrim depot, Northern Ireland, in February. The move will see permanent tags on returnable cages and dollies delivered to stores from DCs.

Meanwhile, the BRC has welcomed guidelines from the British Security Industry Association on chip and PIN.