Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill today also signalled an expansion of the licensing system for metal dealers to bring all but the biggest firms within the scope of regulation.
The growing problem of metal theft is estimated to cost the UK economy £770 million a year. Mr MacAskill pledged action by the Scottish Government as he met British Transport Police officers ahead of a national crackdown tomorrow.
A rise in the value of scrap metal has led to an escalation of metal theft in recent years. The railways and utility firms are particular targets, but sculptures and memorials have also been stolen.
The UK Government has already said it plans to outlaw cash payments for scrap metal.
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.”
A consultation is now expected to take place ahead of legislation to bring in the ban on cash payments.
Mr MacAskill also signalled action to tighten up licensing of metal dealers. At the moment, only those with a turnover of less than £100,000 are required to be licensed, but a consultation, which has just concluded, proposed the threshold should be increased to £10m, bringing the majority of dealers into the licensing regime.
Mr MacAskill said: “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.”
His comments came as he visited the premises of Bernard Hunter Limited in Gilmerton to experience the metal recycling process first hand. It coincided with the announcement that British Transport Police 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.
Last June, the Evening News reported how thousands of pounds worth of damage had been caused to buildings across Leith by a series of lead thefts. The Citadel Youth Centre, Leith Theatre, South Leith Parish Church and the former Bonnington Primary School were among those hit.
And in October, thieves stole copper gas pipes from homes in the Capital, leaving dozens of families cut off.
Residents rejoice as stolen gates are recovered at yard
By ADAM MORRIS
STOLEN gates have been returned to dozens of homes after police found them at a Lothians scrapyard.
Residents across Midlothian woke up one morning in early January to find their metal gates missing. But following a police investigation, the gates have now been located and returned to their owners – with some even having been freshly painted by the council and welded on to prevent them being removed again.
Police confirmed one man was arrested over the alleged thefts, which took place in Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Easthouses, Mayfield and Pathhead.
Council tenant Debbie McIntosh, 37, pictured, who lives on Vogrie Road in Gorebridge, said: “The police phoned me to see if I would come and identify my gate, which I found quite amusing.”