One of the great hopes for life in this country – after such a devastating pandemic – was that we would see the emergence of a generally more caring, honest, and tolerant society. Certainly, the early signs were encouraging, with millions coming out each week on the streets to applaud the unstinting work of the NHS, recognising previously unsung key workers and, of course, all those heart-warming tales of good old fashioned neighbourly love.
“We are all in this together” was the universal mantra during the pandemic and, by and large, despite everything thrown our way, the mood for a time seemed decidedly less confrontational and more compassionate. Unfortunately, as we now see a return to something resembling normality, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we were distinctly naive to think that such a seismic transformation in attitudes could last. The disgraceful scenes as an unruly ticketless mob stormed the Wembley barricades for the Euro final and subsequent racial abuse suffered by the unfortunate penalty takers showed that there are elements within our society that will never change their anti-social habits.
Nothing bought this closer to home for us than a recent – and truly shocking – survey by a Hertfordshire-based tool hire firm that concluded that, during the lockdown, tool theft in London alone cost tradespeople more than £17.5 million, around £57,000 every single day. A mind boggling 32,000+ power tools were taken from the jobsite and vans and, scandalously, only one per cent were ever recovered. The survey also showed that around eight in ten builders have experienced tool theft at some stage before and that over a forty-year working life a builder will typically lose £10,000 and six working days to tool theft. That’s a heavy financial burden, to say nothing of the stress and mental health issues that can arise from loss of livelihood.
We take little satisfaction in being one of the first to highlight this terrible state of affairs more than a decade ago and campaigned strongly for power tool companies and van producers to address the situation at the manufacturing stage. To our enduring shame, one of the things we kept hearing was that the tool theft problem was largely unheard of across most of the developed world, and was seen as a uniquely British disease. Not unsurprisingly many manufacturers were reluctant to invest millions of pounds tackling something which they did not regard as a major problem. One can put forward many arguments for this depressing UK scenario, of course, including an apparent lack of respect for tradespeople, and what the loss of tools means to them, an unregulated second-hand market for cheap tools and a police force already overwhelmed by other anti-social crimes.
Long before Covid we described it as a reaching pandemic proportions as hardly a week went past without hearing from another builder who had been yet again cleaned out. Now, as then, the sneak thieves rely upon the fact that the builder has to restock to earn a living, so they return with clinical precision. The sophistication and organisation of the thieves makes it clear that we aren’t simply looking at people feeding an addiction or opportunists. Many of the gangs are known to police and have previous convictions, so it shouldn’t be difficult to track them down. All that is required is the political will and resource to pursue the criminals.
Apart from the intolerable burden this is putting on self-employed tradespeople, there is a knock-on effect to the consumer. As tradespeople are forced to leave the industry rather than restock for the second or third time in a year, the current skills shortage is further exacerbated, which means consumers pay more and wait longer for a good builder. Meanwhile, the cowboy armed with a boot full of ill-gotten gains goes out to fill the void. Buying stolen power tools on the quiet is far from a victimless crime. It’s high time stiffer sentences were handed down to people who are depriving hardworking tradesmen the means to earn a living. For far too long it’s been treated as some sort of occupational hazard.
They may well have a lot on their plate right now, but we will be once again writing to the Government minsters and police chiefs to highlight the problem and its significant detrimental impact on getting the economy on the move once again. We need your stories to make the campaigning more effective. If you have been a victim of a van or site theft, drop us an email outlining the case. Tell us how you feel your case was dealt with and whether the thieves were caught and what sentence they received. We may have hopefully seen off the worst of one horrible pandemic, but the tool theft variant looks like it will be around for some time to come yet.
To read the full report from the Hertfordshire-based tool hire firm visit https://hertstools.co.uk/tool-theft-hotspots-in-london-revealed/