Rural crime is plaguing UK businesses, costing taxpayers an estimated £800m a year, with the average cost for countryside firms totalling £4,000.
Huge costs to rural businesses
The National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) released the findings of its largest ever survey into law-breaking in rural areas, in which 17,000 people living and working in the countryside were questioned.
Formed in 2014, the rural network is supported by 30 Police and Crime Commissioners and police forces across England and Wales.
Entitled ‘The true cost of crime in rural areas,’ the report uncovered the harsh financial realities for rural businesses, with crime costing businesses on average between £2,500 and £4,100.
In 2014, insurance group NFU Mutual estimated that the cost of crime in rural areas only amounted to £37.8m.
The NRCN stated that the estimated crime figure of £800m was calculated by multiplying the average cost per crime (taken from the survey), by the total number of rural crimes reported from May 2014 to April 2015.
A review of police allocation is needed
The fear of crime is also increasing in the countryside, with 39 per cent of rural people ‘very or fairly worried’ about becoming a victim of crime, compared to 19 per cent nationwide.
Two of the biggest concerns for rural businesses are road safety (63 per cent) and fly-tipping, which has now become a civil offence in the UK (61 per cent). The theft of farming and livestock is also a huge concern, as the cost of rural crime is now 21 times higher than previous estimates.
In the report the NRCN made a list of seven recommendations to combat rural crime, with much of the spotlight being centred on the police force. The organisation said that there needs to be a ‘‘review of the funding formula to recognise the costs of policing rural area.’’
The recommendations also included improving the safety of rural businesses, with the NCRN calling on the police to develop specific prevention and response systems that could better safeguard small rural businesses.
‘‘Our report comes at a critical time when the structure and funding for policing are being fundamentally reassessed,’’ stated Julia Mulligan, chair of the NRCN and police and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire.
‘‘Some of the findings in this report make uncomfortable reading but it is vitally important for the reality of rural crime to be fully acknowledged and acted upon.’’
‘‘Its actual scale is clearly much greater than we had previously known; £800m is a big number. The low satisfaction rates also need to be a wake-up call for police forces in rural areas and everything should be done to harness the opportunities presented.’’
The Home Office, who previously stated that rural crime had fallen 25 per cent since 2010, has already responded to the report, with a spokesperson stating that:
‘‘This government welcomes the work the National Rural Crime Network is leading to ensure police forces respond to crime in rural areas with the same dedication as crime in urban areas. We trust reports like this will help PCCs (police and crime commissioners) hold their forces to account for the services they offer.’’
In July the Home Office released an open consultation document which looks to reform how the police are allocated within certain areas.
Mike Cherry, policy director at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), also commented on the report’s findings, stating that there needs to be a greater focus on rural crime, for the sake of small businesses.
‘‘Unfortunately, crime affects millions of businesses across the UK every year. It disrupts their businesses and costs them precious time and money. As this report shows, we have still got some way to go to tackle crimes against business, particularly in rural areas.’’
‘‘All crimes against businesses must of course be taken seriously. But rural businesses need particular attention to reflect the challenges they face and to ensure we have a vibrant and robust rural economy. The new definition of ‘business crime’ adopted by the police in April is a real step forward.’’
‘‘We would like future reports to set out the specific concerns of business owners so the issues they face can be seen clearly. If a firm does experience crime, we encourage business owners to report it, and for the police to treat those reports with the same levels of priority as they would with other similar crimes.’’