Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported today that the Home Office, together with other organisations, has instigated a number of programmes which have helped reduce thefts of and from vehicles by 30 per cent since 1999. This is a significant achievement but he added that there is nevertheless scope to reduce such crimes even further. According to the British Crime Survey 2003-04 there were 241,000 thefts of vehicles, 1.3 million thefts from vehicles and 543,000 attempted thefts of or from vehicles. In addition to the distress and inconvenience that vehicle crimes cause, Home Office research estimates that thefts of and from vehicles cost society around £2.1 billion a year.
In assessing the Home Office’s efforts the NAO found that:
- Good progress has been made in working with the motor industry to bring about new improvements in the security of vehicles. These improvements are likely to be the main reason for the reduction in thefts of vehicles.
- Steady progress has been made in improving police enforcement to deter criminals. Detection rates remain low compared to other offences, but the introduction of the Automatic Number Plate Recognition system could lead to further significant improvements.
- Good progress has been made in raising public awareness of vehicle crime.
The NAO report identifies a number of areas where more needs to be done to tackle vehicle crime:
- Progress in making car parks more secure has been slower. Not enough car parks provide a safe and secure environment for motorists, although the introduction of the Safer Parking Scheme has begun to make a difference.
- The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency has provided the Police with vehicle record data sufficient to enable them to trace the registered keeper in 90 per cent of cases. However, its absolute vehicle record accuracy (with 32 per cent of vehicle records with some level of inaccuracy) must be improved to facilitate the more effective use of automated enforcement. It has already taken significant steps to address the underlying causes but should continue to take action to ensure that the measured accuracy of the detailed record does improve.
- The Home Office has sought to make it more difficult for offenders to benefit from vehicle crime, but further progress is required.
- Criminals can still purchase number plates from unregistered suppliers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although this should no longer be possible in England and Wales.
- Tighter regulation of salvage operators should make it more difficult for the identity of written-off vehicles to be used to enable stolen vehicles to be re-sold. But over half of the 200 local authorities with the highest rates of vehicle crime had yet to set up a register of salvage operators or had no operators on their registers.
The report recommends that the Home Office encourages all hospitals and railway companies to make their car parks secure. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency needs to improve the accuracy of its vehicle records to help the Police identify stolen vehicles better. The Home Office needs to remind Local Authorities of their obligations to set up a register of motor salvage operators and the Department should explore further how it could co-ordinate its publicity campaigns more closely with local initiatives to tackle vehicle crime.