It has been 12 months since Daniel Hardy became managing director of the National Business Crime Solution. Here, for the benefit of Risk Xtra’s readers and the sector at large, Hardy reflects on this period and explains why crime prevention through intelligence sharing will only happen if business leaders buy into the strategy and there’s greater collaboration between all crime management stakeholders.
The American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, science ‘populariser’, science communicator and author Dr Carl Sagan once famously said: “You have to know the past to understand the present”. Having just completed my inaugural 12 months as head of the National Business Crime Solution (NBCS), this quote becomes particularly apt and relevant as we look back over the organisation’s achievements to date and plan for the future.
Having secured significant Government funding as part of the Police Transformation Fund, a Home Office programme that offers an opportunity for police leaders and Police and Crime Commissioners to respond to the changing nature of crime, the task in front of me on appointment was to take the NBCS to the next stage of its development and fulfil its role in supporting businesses and the police service in the fight against offenders.
The NBCS is working hard to become the UK’s authority on public-to-private data sharing, as well as being a critical friend of business, the police service and, indeed, all business crime reduction partnerships. This involves helping our members to see the bigger picture and the full extent of the potential threat created by prolific or persistent offenders and also issuing alerts on trends and patterns to assist those businesses in better understanding any potential risks and how they might best use their resources to reduce them.
If you think this seems like a lot to achieve, then you would be correct. However, solid progress has already been made. The NBCS has created a new legal entity with supporting articles. The latter represent a true business membership organisation, with governance and implementation Boards that include members and key stakeholders.
We’ve also implemented a new business structure, supporting policies and protections, and seen significant growth via new memberships. In addition, our associate membership scheme has been carefully designed to afford vendors unfettered access to senior decision-makers at some of the nation’s most prestigious organisations. Furthermore, our new civil injunction service for retailers has been well received, our Members’ Days are proving popular and the Business Impact Reduction Days equally so.
Degree of frustration
With so much to be positive about, it might seem strange that I also complete my first year at the NBCS with a certain degree of frustration, disappointment and confusion. This originates from both within the crime management spectrum and from those working in the retail sector whom we are trying to help. It has led me to conclude that, unless there’s a step change in attitude from all relevant stakeholders, we will not move forward in any meaningful way and the issues that affect us now will continue to impact us in the future.
Ultimately, it would appear that powerful individuals from across the sector prefer to pay lip service to certain issues rather than drive change through positive collaboration.
We fully accept that we’re not the only organisation out there that aims to help retailers reduce the impact of crime and help turn around the fortunes of the High Street. However, most crime management organisations work on a local basis, while the NBCS works nationally. This means that we all have slightly different agendas, but are all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Common sense would suggest that there’s strength in numbers and that pooling knowledge, ideas and expertise could help further everyone’s objectives, yet the reality is completely the opposite. Instead of welcoming the opportunity to collaborate, crime management organisations have been distrustful and fairly negative. The reasons for this stance can only be put down to a reluctance to be challenged and a desire to maintain the status quo – a status quo that’s directly contributing to the problems currently faced by High Street retailers.
It’s no exaggeration to state that the UK’s High Streets are facing a long-term and continuing decline as more people shop online in search of better deals, firms go bust and mergers and acquisitions continue apace. The Guardian recently reported that at least 20% of retail space will need to close over coming years as costs, including business rates and wages, rise while sales made inside physical stores continue to fall. The situation is undoubtedly forcing a rethink about how our High Streets will look in years to come, and it would appear to be the case that many retailers are ‘fiddling while Rome burns’.
This apathy is reflected in the way that many retailers address the tackling of crime. There are certainly some that take the issue far more seriously than others. There are those who think the answer to preventing theft and fighting the rise of violence within is simply to hire a security officer to stand by an entrance or exit. Others, however, like current NBCS members, are more forward thinking in their approach and can absolutely see the value in using technology and intelligence sharing to create a wealth of information that allows companies to take preventative action, tackle the full nature and extent of the threats they face and engage with the police service.
Share and share alike
There’s a good Return on Investment argument to be made for more widespread collaboration between retailers to pool knowledge, share information and resources, build a safer working community and set up crime prevention initiatives.
However, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is making companies wary about sharing data, as it requires any organisation that handles the personal data of people resident in the EU to implement a strong data protection policy encompassing access, secure storage and destruction.
GDPR stories in the media have tended to focus on the potential for non-compliant firms to be fined up to 4% of global annual turnover or €20 million, whichever is the larger. However, the GDPR should not be considered a barrier to legitimately preventing crime, lowering risks and protecting employees. Retailers must not use it as an excuse to do nothing.
As the NBCS is a not-for-profit public-private partnership, one of my other key priorities is to make the organisation sustainable and allow it to operate as an entirely self-sufficient, self-governing entity which is totally funded and controlled by members, while also being open to all businesses and Government enterprises. Raising funds and increasing income is certainly one of our biggest challenges. We have had to evolve in the face of social change – a not-for-profit organisation is still a business that has to have a positive bottom line or, at the very least, break even.
Creating a steady income is paramount and, if that isn’t possible, it can make budgeting a real challenge.
Furthermore, income can be unsteady throughout the year, so we have to secure enough to cover overheads before seeing what’s left for projects. This means that those members who don’t pay their fees in a timely manner can end up placing the entire operation in jeopardy. Put simply, 60-day terms should not be seen as an opportunity to extend payment to 95 days.
Members are the lifeblood
Active members are the lifeblood of any organisation. Without them, an organisation will die a natural death. However, there has been a drop in the number of companies becoming members of organisations such as our own in recent years due to financial constraints and the fact that, particularly in retail, companies often have to pay for business rates, a levy to a Business Improvement District, a retail radio scheme or a Business Crime Reduction Partnership as well as membership of the NBCS.
Retailers need to begin questioning their Return on Investment in these schemes and be more selective about the ones in which they invest.
We have reached a fork in the road in terms of how we reduce retail crime and help reclaim the High Street. On the one hand we could do nothing, be complicit in a steady decline in all our fortunes, watch violence, fraud and theft increase and oversee the closure of more High Street stores. Alternatively, we could engage in transparent collaboration, eliminate personal agendas, focus on the greater good, support communities, embrace change, lower costs, rise to the challenges posed by online retailers and share our resources.
Obviously, I hope the latter path is the one that’s chosen.
Daniel Hardy is Managing Director at the National Business Crime Solution (NBCS)
*Mind Your Own Business is the space where the NBCS examines current and often key-critical business crime issues directly affecting today’s companies. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are intended to generate debate and discussion among practitioners within the professional security and risk management sectors. If you would like to make comment on the views outlined, please send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
**The NBCS is a ‘Not-for-Profit’ initiative that enables the effective sharing of appropriate data between the police service, crime reduction agencies and the business community to reduce crime and risks posed to all. By providing a central repository where business crime data is submitted, shared and analysed, the NBCS is able to gather the necessary intelligence and support to more effectively detect, prevent and, subsequently, respond to crimes affecting the UK’s business community. For further information access the website at: www.nationalbusinesscrime solution.com