Tighter licensing and regulations are being considered as part of an effort to crack down on metal theft.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is looking at ways to end “ready cash payments” for metal following an escalation of thefts in cable and metal from the nation’s infrastructure.
The cost to the UK economy of metal theft, which has risen alongside the rise in value of scrap metal, has been estimated as high as £770 million by the Association of Chief Police Officers.
It particularly affects the rail industry and utility companies while the theft of important sculptures and memorials impacts on communities across the country.
Mr MacAskill joined British Transport Police (BTP) during three days of multi-agency activity to target metal thieves.
It follows the conclusion of the Scottish Government’s consultation to improve standards in the industry, which is likely to lead to the expansion of the metal dealers’ licensing scheme.
The results of the consultation will be published shortly.
BTP will establish a dedicated team of officers based in the east of the country to target cable and metal thieves as well as unscrupulous scrap metal dealers.
Mr MacAskill said: “The Scottish Government takes metal theft extremely seriously and we are taking tough action to tackle it.
“This is not a victimless crime, the impact is enormous - businesses face repair bills of tens of thousands of pounds, communities lose essential services and there are huge hidden costs to the economy due to delays to major transport routes and business services.
“Thieves may make only a relatively small amount of money, such as £50, from stolen metal and that’s why removing the attraction of easy ‘ready cash’ payments is one way to help stop this scourge.
“These proposals make sense and we are looking at ways to bring them into force in Scotland.
“Whilst we acknowledge the many respectable and law-abiding metal dealers that exist, there is an overwhelming case for ensuring that the highest standards are adopted throughout the industry through proper regulation and licensing.
“This would reduce the outlets for stolen metal and the incentive to steal. Licensing could also help ensure that better records are kept, CCTV cameras are installed and checks on customer identities are conducted.
“With tough legislation and enforcement we can make a difference, and we will continue to work with police, utility companies and metal dealers to tackle this growing problem.”
Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird, area commander for the Scotland area of BTP and chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland’s metal theft group, said: “The establishment of this team of officers and ensuring organisations training today have the capability to work together across Scotland enables us to better protect our infrastructure and minimise the disruption to our communities.
“What may appear to some as insignificant has the potential to disrupt businesses, delay major transport routes and pose a real risk to the most vulnerable.
“Our presence in the east of the country will help protect the investment in the soon to be built Borders railway and minimise the risk posed by organised crime groups.
“I am convinced that this continued commitment from colleagues from numerous agencies across Scotland will ensure that we are better prepared to protect our assets and disrupt criminals.”