TOUGH new measures to crack down on the growing problem of metal theft were today unveiled by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.
Licensing regulations will be extended to cover all metal dealers with an annual turn- over of £1 million or less, bringing hundreds more dealers into the licensing system.
The Scottish Government said in the longer term it would expand the system further to cover all metal dealers.
Mr MacAskill announced the changes as he joined British Transport Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland for the launch of their Cut Out Metal Theft campaign.
It follows the announcement in March of plans to ban cash payments for scrap metal.
Mr MacAskill said: “The Scottish Government is taking tough steps to scrap metal theft. With the cost to the UK economy being put as high as £770m, the status quo is untenable.”
At the moment, only firms with a turnover of less than £100,000 are required to be licensed – a threshold unchanged since 1982.
The government originally proposed the level should be increased to £10m, saying such a move would “bring the majority of metal dealers into the licensing regime, whilst allowing the few largest, well-run businesses to continue to be able to apply for an exemption”.
However, firms protested the new limit was “arbitrary and ill-considered” and such a dramatic increase was out of proportion to inflation.
In a statement, Edinburgh-based metal recyclers William Waugh said: “We believe that the £10m figure bears no relation to whether a business is well-run or not. Indeed, we believe that our business is possibly better run than many larger ones.
“We also believe that the £10m figure will potentially give a commercial advantage to those companies still with exemptions.”
Several local authorities argued during the consultation that exemptions should be removed altogether so all metal dealers had to be licensed.
The £1m threshold announced by Mr MacAskill could be introduced within a year, but the move to bring all dealers into the scheme will take longer.
Mr MacAskill said: “The consultation responses confirm there is an overwhelming case to ensure proper regulation, licensing and the highest possible standards of practice in the industry. A tenfold rise in the exemption threshold will regulate hundreds of additional dealers.
“And we will ensure that all dealers are licensed, working with the industry to create a robust, workable scheme.”
He said licensing would reduce the outlets for stolen metal and the incentive to steal, as well as ensuring better records were kept, CCTV cameras were installed and customer identity checks were conducted.
Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird, Scottish area commander for the British Transport Police, welcomed today’s measures, saying: “These will go a long way towards helping police clamp down on metal theft.
“The police and our partner agencies are working closely to clamp down on these thieves and the unscrupulous metal dealers who continue to trade in stolen metal.”