Crime is costing West Midlands businesses a fortune – more than £1.5 billion in the last seven years – a new report has revealed.

Now efforts to combat the problem are to be stepped up with the issue of a blueprint for future action.

The Action Plan has been prepared by Business Voice WM’s Regional Business Crime Forum at the instigation of Minister for the West Midlands, Ian Austin MP.

The document follows a report drawn up by experts Forensic Pathways, with the co-operation of West Midlands, West Mercia, Warwickshire and Staffordshire police forces, and covering all crimes recorded on business premises between January 2002 and September 2009.

Of the 995,112 crimes identified, the West Midlands police force area accounted for 48.2 per cent followed by Staffordshire at 27.83 per cent, West Mercia, 16.43, and Warwickshire, 7.55 per cent.

The cost works out at £887 million. However, when the consequential impact of the crimes was considered, the total amounted to at least £1.55 billion, or £26,330 per hour – up from £14,000 per hour in 2005.

And, notes the report, the position is probably significantly worse as it is estimated that half of all crimes are not reported.

The research work was undertaken thanks to the support of Advantage West Midlands and the West Midlands Police Authority.

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Crime Forum and Federation of Small Businesses National Policy Vice Chairman said: “Crime blights business. Whether it is shoplifting, white collar fraud or violence against staff, crimes against business causes pain and hurt to customers and employees – and impacts on our communities at large.

“But the impact of crime against business also hits jobs. Businesses, large and small, have to factor in the cost of crime from their bottom line. And, given the increase in costs to business – almost doubling in under five years and equating to over £230 million per annum – then the impact is significant, not only to businesses and the communities they are in, but to our regional economy as a whole.

“Anything that hits the bottom line – such as crime – will inevitably hit jobs as well.

“But we are making progress. In every police force area significant strides have, and continue to be taken to combat crime against business.

“Neighbourhood policing is, more and more, engaging with local businesses and in virtually every town and city centre in the region there are good links between shop owners and the police to combat thieves.

“But the problem is not one that will go away. Immediate action must be taken now to face down the criminals. Genuine co-operative working practices can effectively tackle crime against our businesses.”

The action plan highlights how, with the West Midlands being at the heart of the UK’s transport network, it is easy for criminals to move in and out of the region. And this can be a factor in the likes of truck crime and Post Office robberies.

Six main crimes have been identified – commercial burglaries, shoplifting, theft, criminal damage to buildings, making off without payment, credit card and cheque card fraud. These accounted for 78.05 per cent of all crimes affecting business.

Other issues are robbery, fly-tipping, anti-social behaviour, vandalism and e-crime.

The action plan is looking to ensure more businesses work with neighbourhood police officers to combat crime; calls for increased numbers of special constables in town centres to fight shop crime; greater business engagement with Crimestoppers; greater efforts to alert business to e-mail scams and virus problems; warning businesses about scams and fraudsters operating in the area; building intelligence in relation to commercial robberies;  widening business engagement in Operation Fly-catcher to apprehend fly-tipping offenders; a push to increase numbers of businesses and hauliers registered with Midlands Truck Watch; and the development of business-friendly reporting mechanisms.

The action plan continues: “This is a first step but more must be done. What more can we do about metal thefts? How do we break the link between drugs, alcohol and crime against business? What do we do to address repeat offenders? How can businesses be encouraged to report all crimes and anti-social incidents?”

And it calls for shoplifting to be reclassified as pure theft.