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Nisa has appealed for action to protect retail staff in the face of increasing levels of crime.

In an open letter to highlight Respect for Shopworkers Week (13-19 November), Nisa managing director Peter Batt and Nisa head of retail Victoria Lockie have outlined the pressures being faced by store owners when it comes to rising crime.

It warned that if action isn’t taken, independent retailers will no longer be able to be the “beating hearts of high streets across the country”.

The open letter highlighted the extent of the issue for retailers. “The Co-op’s recent report on retail crime highlighted some significant challenges, with the appropriate authorities failing to respond in over 70% of serious retail crimes reported.

“Our teams hear on a weekly basis from retailers dealing with the ongoing challenge of shoplifting, and the impact that is having both financially and on their own wellbeing. Nisa retailer Ben Selvaratnam, owner of Freshfields Market in Croydon, a family run store, told us that shoplifting has become such an issue that they are targeted by three to 10 thefts or attempted thefts a day, costing him hundreds of pounds a week.

“Stories like Ben’s are sadly not isolated; and the impact of retail crime is particularly tough for independent retailers, many of whom are open longer hours and can’t afford to hire professional security. These horrific incidents have a long-lasting impact on businesses and a negative impact for the community overall.”

The letter did praise recent action by the government on the issue.

“It was positive, therefore, to see Policing Minister Chris Philp respond to these challenges by announcing a Retail Crime Action Plan, committing to tackle shoplifting, catch more offenders and keep retail workers safe.

“And while the national action plan is a welcome step - not least the commitments to prioritise urgent attendance at the scene of shoplifting involving violence against a shop worker – we hope the plight of independent retailers is given as much consideration as the larger organisations.”

The plight of retail crime has been rightly pushed to the top of the news agenda in recent months, led brilliantly by the Co-op and Nisa. And as the Government’s Crime and Justice bill is debated, and USDAW’s Respect for Shopworkers Week approaches, the issue of how we help retailers feel safe is once again in the spotlight – especially pertinent to the 33,500 independent retailers up and down the country.”

Batt and Lockie also advised all retailers to report every incident in their stores. “So, as we support USDAW’s efforts this week to continue the conversation around respect for shopworkers, big and small, I’d urge independent retailers to ensure they are reporting crime, to give themselves the best chance of police action – and I’d urge the police to ensure independent retailers are not left behind in the race to tackle retail crime.

“If we are going to tackle this issue seriously, we need to all retailers, including independent retailers running their own stores, can feel safe simply doing their job.”

USDAW has published an advice guide on helping protect store staff

The impact of rising crime

Ben Selvaratnam

Ben Selvaratnam, owner of Freshfields Market in Croydon - a family-run Nisa partnered store, has said the business is targeted by three to 10 thefts or attempted thefts a day, costing Ben and his family hundreds of pounds a week.

Speaking on Respect for Shop Workers Week, Ben said: “It’s like we must accept that this is the price of running a small business. This is an industry we love but that love is being chipped away at every day by criminals who put our safety and livelihoods at risk.

“So many people would just say I don’t need this in my life. Why would I work so hard, take so much risk and try and make a living when someone can just walk in at the end of the day and take all the money I’ve earned and walk out with it and there will be no consequences for them? Until things improve, we just have to stay here and try to deal with this ourselves.”

The issue has become so bad that some staff are doubling up as security guards to deter shoplifters.

“It’s just very tough for us just to survive so this does have a massive impact. We now watch the CCTV at all times. We’re trying to manage a situation where we’re almost getting swamped. [On one occasion] they were challenged by two members of the team. They looked and said: “I’m not giving it back, I’m not going to pay for it. What are you going to do? It can happen anywhere between three to 10 times every day.”