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Starmer pledges crackdown on shoplifting in speech to retail workers

Sir Keir Starmer has promised retail workers he will crack down on crime and reverse what he called a Tory “Shoplifter’s Charter” in a speech.

The Labour leader spoke at retail union Usdaw’s conference in Blackpool, where voters are due to go to the polls in a by-election later this week.

In the speech on Tuesday afternoon, he pledged to reverse a policy that means shoplifting of goods under £200 is not investigated.

Sir Keir said: “Today I am putting shoplifters on notice. You might get away with it under this weak Tory Government.

“But if Labour takes power, we won’t stand by while crime takes over our streets.

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“We’ll put 13,000 extra neighbourhood police on the beat, tackling crime on your streets.

“We’ll scrap the Shoplifter’s Charter – the £200 rule that stops the police investigating theft in your workplace.

“And we will legislate to make sure assaulting and abusing shopworkers is a standalone criminal offence because you deserve to feel safe at work.”

Members of the audience stood and applauded following his comments.

Figures released last week showed the number of shoplifting offences recorded by police in England and Wales had risen to the highest level in 20 years.

Of the 408,690 police-recorded shoplifting offences in England and Wales in 2023 that were assigned an outcome, 16% (65,521) were charged or summonsed while 58% (238,794) of the investigations were closed with no suspect identified, according to PA news agency analysis of Home Office data. This compares with 15% and 55% respectively in 2022.

Sir Keir said: “Nobody in Britain should be in any doubt about the scale of the crimewave on our high streets at the moment – the epidemic levels of shoplifting and the persistent plague of antisocial behaviour.”

He said some people describe those types of crimes as “petty” and “low-level”.

Sir Keir Starmer
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer addressed Usdaw union members in Blackpool (Owen Humphreys/PA)

He added: “Perhaps it is for them. But they don’t work in your shop. They don’t walk in your shoes. They don’t see the damage this does to your community.”

The former director of public prosecutions praised the union’s Freedom From Fear campaign, which aims to prevent violence and abuse towards shopworkers.

In the speech at the seaside resort’s Winter Gardens, he promised the “biggest levelling up” of workers’ rights for “a generation”, and committed to rejuvenating high streets.

He told the conference: “I’m not here to tell you everything will be easy if Labour is elected. It won’t be.

“There’s no easy path out of the hole the Tories have dug for our country. And don’t make the mistake of thinking they’ve given up either, or that they can’t win.

Keir Starmer at USDAW conference
A by-election is due to take place in Blackpool South this week, as well as local authority polls (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“That’s not how this works – politics in our times is volatile. And when it comes to saving their own skin, that is a cause, perhaps the only cause, they will never stop fighting for.

“So we need to be disciplined, focused, meet their attacks with the credible hope of a long-term plan.”

Labour is hoping for victory in the Blackpool South by-election on Thursday, which was called after Conservative MP Scott Benton resigned in the wake of a lobbying scandal.

Forecasts for local elections taking place across the country on the same day suggest the Conservatives could lose up to half of the council seats they are defending.

In questions from delegates following his speech, Sir Keir was asked whether he would prefer a Labour general election victory or for Arsenal to win the Premier League.

He joked that he would “like to go for the double, obviously”, before saying: “It’s got to be a Labour victory.”

Home Office minister Chris Philp described the announcement as a “tired and toothless tweak around the edges”.

He added: “This month, Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives announced that serial or abusive shoplifters will face tougher punishments and we are making assault of a retail worker a standalone criminal offence.

“We have asked the police to take a zero tolerance approach to shoplifting, and theft under the value of £200 is a criminal offence which can result in a custodial sentence of up to six months.”