Friday, 9 May 2014

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Combating Metal Theft

Wednesday 7 May 2014

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Combating Metal Theft met yesterday to discuss the progress that has been made since the passage of the Metal Theft Act 2013 and the significant challenges that still remain.

The focus of the Group’s discussion was on addressing the export of stolen metals, which is not covered by the licensing scheme introduced last year.

Simon Davis explained the ongoing problem posed to BT by organised criminal gangs. These are sophisticated operations, possessing the means to process and export stolen copper to locations around the world. Once the stolen cables have been processed and broken down, it becomes very difficult to track what has been taken, which means it is important to address the issue as close as possible to the source of the theft.

Adrian Becks from Keg Watch echoed these concerns from the perspective of the brewing industry. Despite stolen kegs being theoretically easier to track than cables, there are still large quantities of stolen materials making their way overseas. These kegs are being exported, restored or repanelled, and often imported back into the United Kingdom. Mr Becks highlighted the need for a strategic approach to tackle the ease with which illegal exports occur. He agreed that early intervention to tackle incidents at the point of theft is crucial, given the problems of identifying stolen metal further down the line.

Representatives from the UK Border Agency illustrated the scale of the challenges they face in intercepting stolen goods at the border. The port at Felixstowe (where UKBA has a base) handles 80% of UK shipping exports, with around 3,000,000 containers passing through each year. This makes inspection of containers impossible and economically detrimental to the UK in terms of its impact on legitimate trade. The emphasis, therefore, lies in intelligence gathering and profiling in order to investigate suspicious activity.

Alison Evans, National Coordinator for the Metal Theft Task Force, explained how they had been able to maximise the resource from the initial funding to establish a comprehensive approach to intelligence gathering. Although some funding has continued from Department for Transport via Network Rail to British Transport Police, the reduction does limit the Task Force’s activity to focus primarily on preventing attacks to rail infrastructure. They have used funding to acquire an investigator and a researcher who will be looking at ways to improve

record keeping between the three bodies involved in enforcement (Environment Agency, Local Authorities and Police) following the new Scrap Metal Dealers Act.

Mark Norris from the Local Government Association was able to update the group on the licensing scheme. He confirmed that local authorities were being chased to provide latest information on their licensing schemes for a national database, in order to develop an improved picture of the licences that have been issued at a national level. Concerns were raised by some members of the group, that delays in issuing licenses were harming legitimate dealers.

Group Chairman Graham Jones MP raised the issue of vehicle licensing of mobile dealers with the LGA. He felt that the intentions of the 2013 Act were not being respected with regards to vehicle licensing, with many authorities issuing small, sticker licenses to mobile dealers, rather than clear signage on the top of vehicles. This is making enforcement of the Act impossible for members of the public – as was the intention of the legislation. Mr Norris explained that, as many mobile dealers operate across a number of local authorities, it was considered impractical to require a taxi style approach, as a number of different licenses are needed.

Tony Glover from the Energy Networks Association stressed the importance of legislation being introduced in Scotland. Whilst a Bill is expected to be put before the Scottish Parliament after the independence referendum, the delay in bringing Scottish law into line with that of England has resulted in a significant amount of metal trading moving north of the border – presumably of stolen metal.