Small businesses are the beating heart of our local communities yet, as everyone knows, they are having a really tough time right now, not just with concerns about the cost of living and the downturn in consumer footfall but also because of worries over business rates and the possible imposition of a visitor levy. Regrettably, in retail, they are also facing a rising tide of shoplifting.
It is an all too common misconception that shoplifting is a victimless, petty crime. It is not. Goods stolen from stores mean less money available to pay the wages of staff and enhance their wellbeing at work, less money to make refurbishments and possible increases in prices to compensate for the lost revenue – exactly the opposite of what people can afford during a cost of living crisis. Sadly, the current evidence shows that shoplifting cases are generally the work of repeat offenders who make return visits to the shops in question. Naturally, this increases the anxiety and fear of verbal or physical abuse against staff.
The Scottish Retail Consortium tells us this has become a daily concern for many people working in retail. Stolen goods might appear to be a drop in the ocean in the world of retail, but they accumulate to eye-watering levels. Shoplifting cost retailers in Scotland £90m last year, a figure so alarming that Primark revealed they were forced to reduce their adjusted operating profit margin from 8.3% to below 8% when factoring in rising cases of theft.
Evidence put forward by the Scottish Retail Consortium and the Scottish Grocers Federation suggests organised crime is predominately to blame. They are also concerned that the police do not have adequate resources to deal with the offenders. It is unsurprising then that gangs, moving from town to town, are taking advantage of this. Indeed, the British Retail Consortium reported that nearly three-quarters of serious cases of crime in a major retailer were not responded to by the police. The figures of incidents in Scotland – 70-80 per day - is likely much higher than reported as we can only expect that businesses will opt not to report low value crimes to the police because they know it is unlikely anything will come of it.
It is very concerning that businesses including the Co-op are choosing not to open branches in some areas because they have been designated “no-go” areas for their stores. I know from first-hand account through my contact with businesses in Perth and Kinross that anti-social behaviour is a growing nuisance that they should not be expected to deal with on this scale.
We all want to see a flourishing high street in our small rural towns but this significant, and rising, problem is just one more good reason for prospective businesses to decide against opening their doors, just when our communities need it most.