It is widely recognised that the extent and impact of crime on small businesses, across all four nations of the UK, is vast and its repercussions significant. Similarly, that the factors influencing this are extremely complex. Consequently, during Skills for Justice’s sixteen years as the Sector Skills Council for the UK justice sector, they have led a number of funded research projects which have sought to gain a clearer understanding of these intricacies, in order to both inform future action on the prevention of crime and ensure the safety of our communities.
Northern Ireland has a long history of recognising the magnitude of business crime, as well as acknowledging the complexity of issues which surround tackling it. As a result, various government documents have outlined that do this successfully, the police cannot act alone, and the responsibility lies jointly with law enforcement, local authorities, and the community to take a holistic approach. Equally, Northern Ireland policing wholly recognises that working with the community is the key to helping prevent crime, anti-social behaviour and reduce the fear of crime for all members of the community, including businesses.
In 2012, Jon Parry, Head of Research and Evaluation and Senior Researcher Sabina Enback, Skills for Justice, together with Dr Adegbola Ojo, now Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Lincoln, conducted extensive research alongside the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN), into crimes against small business in Northern Ireland. This work investigated crime experiences and security measures taken across the country, on behalf of the Department of Justice, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the local District Policing Partnerships and Community Safety Partnerships.
Dr Adegbola said: “The 2012 study was developed to get a more realistic picture of crime from business representatives located within Northern Ireland than police figures would suggest and sought to provide data on crime experienced by business. The report which linked the risk of specific crime types for businesses to neighbourhoods was described as something the PSNI had never seen before, and the results were designed to inform the work of the co-funding organisations, and those working with businesses in Northern Ireland to combat crime.”
At the time, the trio concluded that as the study did not explore issues such as anti-social behaviour, or the fear of crime, further qualitative research would be beneficial, in order to provide a more comprehensive set of recommendations, based upon a clearer understanding of these complexities. So, in 2020, Jon, Sabina and Dr Adegbola reunited to further this work with a study that accounts for these very factors. Their paper "Neighbourhood-level analysis of the socio-spatial context of business crime in Northern Ireland" was recently published in the academic journal Crime Prevention & Community Safety.
Dr Adegbola said: “Business crime continues to be an important topic for community safety stakeholders in Northern Ireland. As all crimes against businesses are not reported to the police and crimes against business are not recorded as a separate category, it is often difficult to distinguish which recorded crimes are crimes against business. Furthermore, business owners generally deploy crime prevention measures without taking into cognizance what-works. The intention for refreshing this research in 2020 was therefore underpinned by the need to contribute to a critical evidence base of what works in business crime prevention.”
The new research models the neighbourhood patterns of crimes perpetrated against small business in Northern Ireland, accounting for both the levels of non-reporting of crime victimisation among business owners, together with the factors influencing the non-reporting of crime. The findings show that indeed businesses within certain neighbourhood types are disproportionately exposed to crime. It also evidences that multiple business owners have adopted crime prevention measures without first considering what works in preventing business crime in the specific types of neighbourhoods where their enterprises are located.
Sabina said: “We know that crimes against businesses have a detrimental impact, not just on individual businesses and their earnings, but on the surrounding areas and the people that live and work there. It can lead to job losses, attract increased levels of crime and vandalism, higher prices for consumers and increase fear of crime amongst residents. Our paper shows that crimes against businesses often go unreported which means that public resources are not put in place to combat this. In addition, we flag up that business owners have themselves put in place crime prevention measures which might not be adequate.”
Whilst this study is of particular relevance to the allocation of resources for community intervention initiatives aimed at tackling crime in Northern Ireland, additional analysis is needed to positively influence change in reducing inequalities in the perpetration of business crime. Yet the broader significance of the report’s findings contribute considerably to the field of evidence-based policing, an approach that has fundamentally redefined the policing landscape, and can be applied across all four nations of the UK.
Sabina adds: “It is vitally important that the reporting of crimes against businesses is encouraged to support police and local authorities better implement the right measures. By profiling business crime with a spatial segmentation framework, which looks at key crime characteristics relative to neighbourhood types, effective evidence-based interventions can then be put in place.”
Skills for Justice work in partnership with policing organisations across the UK, to deliver research and evaluation resulting in the development of innovative, evidence-based approaches to policing and crime reduction, embedding a better understanding of the complex issues involved.
Jon concludes: “It is our ambition that our research informs policy, and that policy draws on our research. Identifying and tracking policy priorities through direct engagement with policy makers, employers and stakeholders helps us to understand ‘drivers of change’; develop future skills scenarios and support the development of an effective workforce. In this way, we ensure that our evidence-based research is successful as a key pillar in the foundation of policy development and consequently exerts maximum impact on the UK workforce and on skills and standards development.”
 ‘Crime Against Small Businesses in Northern Ireland’ - the survey underpinning this research was conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Skills for Justice. Analysis, spatial configuration, and report writing were conducted by the Crime Reduction Unit at UCLAN and Skills for Justice.