Gone are the days when corporations would write off the costs of crime as an unavoidable loss. In Spain, licensed vigilantes carrying revolvers are employed to guard some retail chains. In the US, stores display signs boasting that prices are low because “we have theft under control”. In the UK, the number of security staff employed in the retail trade alone is around 50,000.
The British Retail Consortium estimates that crime costs UK retailers at least £2 billion a year. On top of the actual losses, there are the escalating costs of security and insurance, the damage to property and equipment, the enormous drain on management time and, above all, the dangers of violence to customers and staff. Theft and fraud may account for the bulk of crime directed at the corporate sector, but kidnapping, extortion, terrorism and ram-raiding are also requiring costly and extensive precautions.
Tackling the Roots
David Sieff, a director of Marks & Spencer and a member of the Government’s National Board for Crime Prevention, sees the security apparatus as only a partial response to the problem of crime.
“Long-term, as a nation, we must tackle the roots of criminality. We have to reduce the number of young people who turn to crime in the first place. Much more needs to be done with Government, the Police, schools, parents, businesses and the many community organisations working together. Only then can we expect the long-term reduction in crime we would all like to see”.
The call for a partnership approach to tackling the roots of crime has been widely supported, and several models have recently come into being.
Crime Concern is a national organisation which specialises in dealing with some of the broader issues through creating local partnerships in which the private sector has a key role to play. According to their director of field operations, Jon Bright “many companies are now keen to become involved in helping reduce crime because it is in their interest to make our communities safer for their customers and employees”.
Creating a Safer Environment
Ian Toombs, Chair of West London CBI, points out why it is also in the community’s interest to minimise the costs of crime to businesses.
“The reputation of a location in respect of crime is a factor in attracting companies and jobs into an area. The criminal not only hurts the immediate victim, but the whole community suffers when small companies cannot afford to stay in business and large companies move elsewhere to minimise the costs of crime prevention as well as actual losses”.
According to a crime audit in Nottingham, conducted by KPMG Peat Marwick, retailers in the city centre are losing £12 million per year in turnover as a result of avoidance behaviour by shoppers, who are taking their custom elsewhere because of their fear of crime. Jon Bright of Crime Concern believes that a wider approach is necessary to restore public confidence in town centre shopping.
“In-house security measures undertaken by individual retailers will not succeed in creating a safer environment for shoppers. What is required is the involvement of different agencies to deal with some of the broader community issues”.
A good example of this is the Safer Town Centre Group which has been set up in Hammersmith. Its programme for creating a more amenable environment ranges from graffiti removal to developing a continental-style piazza.
Successful Local Partnerships
SPLASH! is the name given to a community crime prevention initiative targeted at youth, in which the business sector have a close interest. The long summer school holidays are dreaded by retailers because this is when youths are most likely to drift into crime out of boredom or peer pressure. The TSB Foundation has responded by supporting 16 SPLASH! schemes throughout the country.
SPLASH! aims to provide a range of exciting leisure activities during the Summer holiday period. This helps to divert young people from impulsive crimes such as vandalism, shop-lifting, car crime and assault. Crime Concern has produced guidelines on organising local SPLASH! schemes. They recommend the involvement of businesses in serving on SPLASH! steering committees and in providing resources, such as equipment and sponsorship.
Safer Cities is a major Home Office initiative which tackles crime and the fear of crime in urban areas through local multi-agency projects involving the Police, local authority, probation services, community groups and businesses. Improving security for businesses and industry is part of their remit. For example Business Watch, Shop Watch and Industrial Watch have been promoted by the Wirral, Salford and Sunderland Safer Cities projects.
The success of these schemes requires participation and vigilance on the part of the wider community. By the same token, businesses are expected to take an interest in community safety projects involving youth, ex-offenders, women, ethnic minority groups and other sections of the community vulnerable to crime.
Nick Temple, Chief Executive of IBM UK and Chair of Action: Employees in the Community, identifies employee involvement as the key to developing successful business-community partnerships for the future.
“All parties benefit from this. The employer gains a way of unlocking the latent talents and enthusiasm of their staff, whilst at the same time developing durable links with the community. The employee is offered the opportunity of doing something challenging and fulfilling in a different setting to the work environment. The community gains practical support and essential business skills which might otherwise be unobtainable”.
This kind of partnership is already happening around the issue of crime. In Newcastle, around 60 employees from Parsons Turbine Generators have installed a home security package in 530 homes, helping the elderly, the needy and single parents feel safer in a high crime area.
In the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, the Safer Cities project has asked Action:Employees in the Community to arrange a programme of secondments from the business sector to community groups at the forefront of dealing with the consequences of crime. The purpose of these secondments is to help local voluntary bodies develop key areas of work through the input of business skills.
Marks & Spencer and the Prudential have between them allocated ten of their staff to spend 100 hours each sharing their expertise with local community groups in Hammersmith. The organisations assisted include a women’s refuge, a lock-fitting project for vulnerable people, a women’s self defence association, a counselling service for alcoholics, a domestic violence project, and the local branches of MIND and Victim Support.
The most suitable tasks for secondees to complete in 100 hours are marketing plans, feasibility studies, surveys, business plans, information systems, personnel procedures and fundraising strategies. According to Jill Fowler, Community Affairs Manager of the Prudential “short-term secondments offer our staff the opportunity of working in a different organisational culture on a specific and challenging project. Secondees find the experience instructive and fulfilling. Crime prevention is a key element of our Community Support Programme”.
In view of the escalating costs of crime to business, and of the growing concern about personal safety felt by employees and by the general public alike, the trend towards community safety partnerships is set to continue.
The Business Against Crime Project is jointly promoted by Safer Cities and Action:Employees in the Community. For further information, contact:
Tel: 0793 514596
Action: Employees in the Community
8 Stratton St
London W1X 5FD
Tel: 071 629 2209
Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 16 – June, 1994