Soaring scrap metal thefts which have seen thieves plunder drain covers, road signs, roofs, war memorials and graves have affected almost nine in 10 councils, new research published today reveals.
The findings come amid concerns that plans for a long-overdue overhaul of scrap metal legislation will fail to happen if MPs do not turn out to vote on a new bill this Friday. Councils of all political parties are now urging Parliament not to miss its last opportunity to tackle scrap metal theft when a bill to reform the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 is voted on in the House of Commons later this week.
In a survey of 157 local authorities in England and Wales, carried out by the Local Government Association (LGA), 88 per cent said that metal had been stolen in their area in the past three years.
Stolen gully covers, electric cables and street furniture had led to people falling down holes, power cuts and councils having to spend millions of pounds on repairs and replacements.
Local authorities are concerned that political squabbling among MPs or a low turnout for this week's vote could jeopardise much-needed reforms.
If fewer than 102 MPs attend the vote, the bill will fail and action to tackle metal theft would stall for at least another year.
Councillor Mehboob Khan, Chairman 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 in having to replace memorial plaques, manhole covers, metal gullies, children's playground equipment, street signs and lead from schools, council offices and crematoriums.
"MPs will all be aware of the damage, disruption and heartaches metal thefts have caused in their areas. The legislation for regulating the scrap metal industry has long ceased to be fit for purpose and we can't afford for Parliament to stall any longer on bringing it up to date.
"Whatever their political party, councils from across the country will be looking to MPs this Friday to take forward this bill to help introduce proper regulation of the scrapyards where much of this stolen metal ends up."
The LGA survey of the impact of metal thefts for councils found that:
Almost nine in 10 councils (88 per cent) have been the victim of metal thefts in the past three years.
Gully covers had been stolen in nearly one in three (31.8 per cent) local authority areas. The other items most frequently targeted by metal thieves were: roofing materials (24.2 per cent), road signs (14.6 per cent) and electric cables (14.6 per cent)
Metal thefts had led to ‘major consequences' for residents in nearly one in five local authority areas (18 per cent). These included roads having to close and a resident falling down an exposed drain.
The cost to local authorities of metal thefts soared by an estimated 26 per cent in a single year, up to £4.6 million in 2010/11. One council was left £100,000 out of pocket.
Councillor Khan added:
"Soaring thefts of metal are causing increasing amounts of disruption and distress, whether it's homes left without power because of stolen cabling or bereaved families heartbroken at the theft of a plaque commemorating the heroic efforts of a loved one.
"We simply can't afford to do nothing, but frustratingly, councils are being hindered by out-of-date legislation which hampers their ability to properly regulate the scrap metal industry.
"Councils want to see a 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."
Notes to editors
1) The Local Government Association's Research and Information team conducted an online survey of all 375 local councils in England and Wales. Fieldwork took place between February and June 2012 and yielded a response rate of 42 per cent (157 councils). A full report of findings is attached.
2) The total cost to local authorities of scrap metal thefts in 2010/11 is estimated to be £4.6 million. This is based on a sample of 40 councils who responded with figures, 18 of whom estimated the costs ranged from £0 to £100,000 in 2010/11. The median cost was £14,000, grossed up, allowing for 12 per cent who reported no thefts this equates to £4.62 million. This is an increase of 26 per cent on 2009/10 when the cost was £3.61 million, the median was £11,125 and the range was £0 to £117,500 based on a sample of 34 councils, 20 of which provided estimates.
3) The Second Reading of Richard Ottoway MP's bill is due in Parliament on Friday, 13 July.
17 August 2012