Following the news that 100 business chiefs signed a letter to The Telegraph expressing support for the Conservative party, and ahead of tonight’s election debate, hosted by ITV, we invited the three main political parties in the current British General Election to put forward their views on business crime, spelling out the cope of the problem and setting forth their politics.
The Liberal Democrats declined to respond. Here, the Conservative and Labour parties make their case for fighting business crime.
Karen Bradley, Home Office Minister for Organised Crime, for the Conservatives:
We stand on our record on crime
The Conservative Party has always been the party of law and order, and the party that understands how important businesses are to Britain. They are the backbone of the economy – bringing investment to Britain, creating jobs and livelihoods and securing a better future for hardworking taxpayers. So we when people set up or run a business – getting up early, working late, taking a risk – we want to help them.
As part of our long-term economic plan, we have cut the jobs tax so businesses can take on more people, and cut regulations to save time and money. But we are also working to tackle crime, and the crimes that affect business. Because we know that business crime isn’t a victimless crime – we are all the victims. Every fraud, every theft, every security breach that hurts businesses hurts people too. One person stealing some copper cable can knock out phone lines for an entire community; shoplifting drives up prices for hardworking British taxpayers; cybercrime can affect us all.
So when criminals do target businesses, we need to make sure there are real consequences. On shoplifting, we have made good progress. The number of shoplifting offences that were dealt with by a charge or summons rose from 98,804 in 2009/10 to 114,364 offences in 2013/14. Over the same period, the proportion of shoplifting offences dealt with by caution halved – meaning more people having to go to court, rather than escaping with little more than a warning.
But of course tackling business crime cannot be done by the police alone. We need to work together to tackle business crime. Part of this approach is the National Retail Crime Steering Group, which is co-chaired by the Minister of State for Crime Prevention and the Director of Business and Regulation at the British Retail Consortium. It’s an important forum for discussing issues affecting businesses and is providing real leadership to drive down business crime. Something as critical as a standardised definition of business crime that will be used by all police forces this April started here. Or guidance to combat theft through self-service tills in shops, which the Association of Convenience Stores recently published through the Government’s Crime Prevention Panel.
Another example of this joined-up approach is the government-funded National Metal Theft Taskforce, made up of charities, businesses affected by metal theft, design engineers and police, which has overseen huge falls in metal theft in recent years. The combination of tougher laws to make it harder for stolen metal to be sold undetected; tougher penalties for metal thieves; and better protection for targets, have resulted in a resounding success story. Network Rail reported the number of cable thefts had reduced from a peak of 995 in 2010/11 to 179 three years later. The Church of England, another member, reported a reduction in costs as a result of metal thefts from £4.5 million in 2011 to £1.8 million in 2013.
And working together means we can better deal with the way crime is changing. Part of this is cybercrime. Here, as elsewhere, partnership between the public and private sector is crucial to ensuring that the UK is one of the safest places to do business online.
That’s why we launched CERT-UK – the UK’s national Computer Emergency Response Team – last year. It works closely with industry, government and academia to enhance cyber resilience. It complements the work of the Cyber-Security Information Sharing Partnership, established in March 2013, as a joint government and industry project to provide a secure platform to share information about cyber-attacks. We’re currently piloting regional branches to ensure this is as effective and localised possible. We’ve secured investment for projects including the National Cyber Crime Unit and regional dedicated cybercrime teams which provides the focus for our national response to fighting serious cyber criminals. We’re also funding the Cyber Streetwise campaign, which encourages the public companies and SMEs to adopt safer online behaviour. According to GCHQ, 80 per cent or more of currently successful cyber-attacks could be defeated by simple best practice.
We are the first Government to draw up a Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, which has brought a clearer focus to the work we must do. We know, for instance, that we need to share information better between government, law enforcement and the private sector. We are working to do this so businesses can better protect themselves and avoid becoming victims. Last year, the Home Secretary co-hosted a Business Breakfast with the Governor of the Bank of England and Chairman of the Financial Conduct Authority. CEOs from across the financial sector joined representatives from government and law enforcement agencies to share information on serious financial crime. The Serious and Organised Crime Financial Sector Forum, which was set up as a result of this meeting, has met quarterly to identify and develop practical options to tackle financial crime.
Our approach is clear. We know the harm crime causes to businesses, our economy and our country. So we’ll keep on helping the police tackle crime, and work with businesses too. We want businesses to be able to keep on growing, taking on more staff, helping build a strong and healthy economy.
Over the last few years businesses have been faced with the sudden and rapid growth of online and cybercrime.
Last year McAfee released a report putting the annual cost to the global economy each year at $445bn, £266bn at July’s exchange rates.
In the UK, the British Retail Consortium recently released figures showing that while shop theft offences had fallen slightly over the previous year, online retail fraud had risen by 163% in the four years since 2010 to over £600m in 2014. It’s hardly surprising that the BRC reported its members as calling cybercrime a “critical threat” to their businesses.
These alarming figures aren’t in isolation. Between 2013 and 2014 online banking fraud went up by 71% according to Financial Fraud Action, while e-commerce fraud went up by 23%, card fraud up 15% and remote banking fraud up by 59% over the same period.
The rise in cybercrime has been flagged up repeatedly both at Westminster and by business leaders. Last year the Home Affairs Select Committee report on cybercrime said that “there appears to be a black hole where low-level e-crime is committed with impunity”, and rather than responding to the growing threat to the British public “at a time when fraud and e-crime is going up, the capability of the country to address it is going down”.
In looking into the scale of the threat and the rapidity of its growth, the National Audit Office also warned that it could take some twenty years to build the capacity in the economy and in our police to effectively respond to the challenge of cybercrime in this country.
Businesses in the private sector often joke about how sclerotic the public sector can be. Sometimes with some legitimacy. When we look at whether the public sector has responded appropriately to the growth in cybercrime, the answer has to be no.
HMIC carried out an audit of police forces last year and found that just 2% of police officers had been trained in how to respond to cybercrime. Of 43 forces, only three had a strategy in place to tackle cybercrime.
These are the sorts of figures, when taken together, which should sound alarm bells at the Home Office. Yet I do not see any sense of panic, any sense of responsiveness, any sense of purpose in confronting this challenge.
Indeed, when I raised this with Home Office Ministers in January in the House of Commons one minister said that “up to now, cybercrime has been a lesser interest” while another followed up with “cybercrime is a crime that we are getting to grips with”.
Five years into office and with all the resources of the British Government behind them, and ministers seem totally incapable of grappling with a significant and sustained increase in the crime rate.
Twenty years ago, the frontline would have been street robberies, car crime and burglaries. A police force lacking in resources and a government seemingly blithe to the scale and nature of the problem would have prompted the sort of scandal and media storm that could have easily seen a home secretary forced out of office.
Instead, hidden behind closed doors, hidden away on the web, globalised and anonymous, cybercrime is going largely unchecked and our police are being outpaced. The question in the coming election is how will the next government respond and put our police force back on the front foot.
Yvette Cooper has announced that a Labour Government will introduce Police First. Modelled on the highly-successful Teach First programme, we will ensure that highly-sought after top graduates in maths and computer science are brought into the police service at the start of their careers. Across the world the Cybercriminals are using the best and the brightest – our police, the public and the businesses that make this country prosperous deserve nothing less than to have an equal chance in this fight.
We also need to make sure that all police forces are prepared and able to respond. Cybercrime is not limited in geography the way that burglaries are. It is just as easy to defraud a business online in Sheffield as it is in Milton Keynes – and all from a computer elsewhere in the country or in the world.
That’s why Labour pushed for the government to require all police forces to adopt a strategy for tackling cybercrime in a recent vote at Westminster, yet the same ministers who said it had been a lesser concern then went on to whip other Conservative and Liberal MPs to vote against this sensible measure.
Crime has changed radically in the past decade. Our streets are safer than they’ve ever been, but the threat now looms through our phones, tablets and PCs. Businesses run the risk of reputational damage if they are caught up in a cyberattack and a Labour government needs to do all that it can do provide the protection and assurance that our police are well resourced, well focussed and well prepared for the ways in which cybercrime will develop in the coming years.
Over the last five years the coalition has ignored and belittled the problem, a Labour government will tackle it head on.
Tonight’s televised TV election Leader’s Debate, hosted by ITV, will begin at 8pm and end at 10pm. It will be also be broadcast live on Sky News. The debate will be moderated by ITV News anchor Julie Etchingham and will be infront of 200 people, selected by ICM. The polling firm has chosen an audience that is broadly demographically representative of the UK and politically balanced. According to ITV around 80% of the audience will be made up of voters who express a voting intention at the time of recruitment. And around 20% of the audience will be “undecided”.
For a behind the scenes look ahead of the ITV Leader’s Debate take a look Julie Etchingham’s blog here.