TER's aim, through our work with clients, insurers and the police, is to:
- Reduce theft
- Reduce the amount of stolen plant getting to market; and,
- Increase the recovery rate of stolen plant.
We aspire to work ever more closely with other agencies with a shared interest, in order to increase our collective impact. This will benefit not only those who use the services of each related company, but also users and buyers of plant and equipment in general. In effect, we want to reach a stage where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
In the meantime, it would be satisfying to report that plant and equipment theft was on the wane, because of our collective efforts. Indeed, on the face of it, the stats do look good and seem to indicate a theft reduction, in terms of the quantity of items stolen. This is at least partly due to a combination of the following:
- Increased awareness of the threat, and of simple actions which can be taken to reduce the threat (in effect, better site and plant security);
- Protective marking of equipment (provided by various suppliers);
- Implanting tracking devices (this is both a deterrent and an aid to recovery);
- Immobilisers and unique keys for plant (a deterrent);
- Successful court cases (these are a deterrent – and they prevent repeat offences for the duration of the prison sentence); and,
- Online checks for theft (making it more difficult for thieves to make a successful sale).
But generalizations give rise to inaccuracies in detail. For example, there has been no decrease in thefts of quad bikes, which remain relatively easy to steal. So the reality is that it is not easy to be confident about a sustained trend in the right direction just yet. Furthermore, a reason for the overall reduction in theft figures is likely to have been the reduction in economic activity since 2008. This led to fewer construction projects and perhaps less expenditure on new equipment, plant in good condition being particularly attractive to thieves. This supposition is reinforced by an upturn in plant theft in recent months, now that the economy is beginning to recover.
At the same time as a reduction in the quantity stolen, the total value of all equipment stolen has not significantly reduced. This may imply that thieves have been targeting the more expensive items, and may also be due to the cost and value of equipment having risen faster than inflation. To illustrate the point, and even as I write this, our team are registering three stolen items with a collective value of £99,000 - and that's just from the last few days!
What does all this mean in practice?
There are some grounds for cautious optimism, but no more than that. In essence, there is still plenty to be done – the war against plant theft is a long way from being won. More can and should be done NOW. For example:
- Auction houses should without exception provide 'advice to buyers' on their websites, recommending that the would-be buyer checks for theft before making the purchase;
- Auction houses should themselves consider checking all items for theft and indicating on its auction catalogue that this has been done;
- All losses should be reported without delay to those agencies who specialize in recoveries (many items are not reported to recovery agencies until well over one month after the theft has occurred);
- All plant and equipment should be registered with companies who retain relevant databases (better chance of making a match that way);
- Insurance companies should consider: showing more interest in the steps their clients take to secure plant and equipment; and, making full payment of claims conditional on certain steps having been taken.
These are TER's views and we'd be interested in your comments on them. We don't pretend that these steps will lead to the removal of the problem, but we do sincerely believe that they would make a real difference.