Shopworkers under attack in Edinburgh: The figures are truly shocking and I am working to reduce the violence – Angus Robertson MSP

The new statistics are shocking: 39 per day, 3,500 per year. That’s how many reported incidents of shoplifting, staff abuse, and other crimes are estimated to happen in Co-op stores around the country.

Angus Robertson meets staff and police at a Co-op in Dalry
Angus Robertson meets staff and police at a Co-op in Dalry

Taking into account the total number of incidents, both reported and unreported, the figure is estimated to be nearly triple. That’s 10,500 incidents per year. It’s utterly appalling and hugely worrying.

In one central Edinburgh store, there are three recorded incidents per day. They tell me more will happen without gathering the attention of staff.

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Having met with senior Co-op and Scotmid representatives, shop managers, members of the police community and security managers, I was shocked to hear about their experiences, and the frequency, of criminal behaviour.

Just weeks ago, a Co-op security guard in Edinburgh was attacked with a knife. The attacker was attempting to shoplift items with a value of about £7. In another incident, a group of teenagers broke windows and threw shards of glass at store colleagues during an attempt to steal alcohol. A security manager told me he struggles to find anyone to take security jobs.

The issue is not confined to individuals, one-off incidents or group attacks. Organised crime gangs are stealing high-value items such as ink cartridges, alcohol and razors to sell on the streets.

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These thefts have sometimes taken the form of ‘trolley dashes’, where an individual packs a trolley with goods and runs for the exit, often causing much physical damage to the store.

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The impact is not only costly to the store but impacts the mental health of employees. In a report commissioned by the Co-op, store colleagues were found to be suffering from PTSD as a result of the incidents they have experienced and witnessed.

To tackle this issue, the Co-op and Scotmid have created the Safer Colleagues Safer Communities campaign. This involves taking operational actions, running campaigns and working with communities.

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Operationally, over the last three years, the Co-op has invested £70m in security, crime prevention and colleague safety measures. They have adopted new communications devices allowing quick contact with other store colleagues and central security teams, as well as improved forms of CCTV that can identify frequent shoplifters. They continue to trial and introduce new technology and systems to secure their stores and protect their staff.

Through the Co-op’s local community fund, they have given £5.5m to over 1,600 causes across the UK who are tackling the causes of crime. They have also joined with the Damilola Taylor Trust to sponsor a programme that helps young people acquire skills to help them find employment.

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The pandemic has hit many people financially and, due to this, more shoplifting and criminal incidents have occurred. What’s more, with the UK Government’s failure to cap rising energy bills, inflation and food price increases caused by Brexit, staff members anticipate an increase in shoplifting incidents in their stores.

In spite of such difficult working environments, the Co-op and other local stores have shown great loyalty and commitment to their communities. In partnership with residents, community organisations, police and other organisations, the Safer Colleagues Safer Communities campaign is sure to make a difference.

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Over the coming parliamentary term, I will be working with all to help bring down incidents of violence, abuse, shoplifting and other crimes in shops in Edinburgh.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary