Coronavirus has hit public-facing service industries the hardest: tourism, travel, retail and leisure sectors are facing the biggest challenges of all.

Government is doing what it can to keep these industries – and many of the business-to-business companies that support them – on life-support. But smaller – and some larger – Business Crime Reduction Partnerships are facing an existential crisis.

Where they can, BCRP Managers have put themselves on furlough, but government furlough support is set to be reduced.  In addition, with modest financial turnovers, few can borrow sufficient funds through ‘Bounce Back’ loans to keep operational.

Business Crime Reduction Partnerships deliver a crucial role in ‘filling the policing gap’ in communities across the country.  But, when the retail and the hospitality industries return to normal – whatever that turns out to be – many BCRPs will simply have disappeared for good.

The problem, says Andy Sharman (left) of South West Business Crime Centre (SWBCC), is the business model that too many BCRPs rely on.  “Even before Coronavirus, the model was flawed” he says. “These are relatively small organisations entirely dependent on subscriptions from local retailers and licensees, plus whatever they might get from hiring radios.  This modest revenue stream has been threatened by long-term decline in High Street retailing plus cost-cutting by some of the largest retailers. Now Coronavirus means they’re facing a perfect storm.”

According to SWBCC research conducted in the early stages of the Coronavirus shut-down, independent BCRPs are facing a fight for survival. Yet right around the country, high streets and the wider communities around them will continue to need active, and sustainable BCRPs.

The benefits BCRPs can generate are well-known –  and proven –  and Police & Crime Commissioners countrywide have signalled their support for exactly this kind of community-based partnership-working outside the public criminal justice system, recognising their key role in addressing and reducing the kind of low-level crime and ASB that police cannot economically address themselves.

Now, more than ever, is the time for PCCs to step up and provide the modest financial support for struggling BCRPs that can make the difference between their survival and their untimely demise.

“But not just to do more of the same” says Andy Sharman.  “PCCs must demand that recipients of funding demonstrate how they can return to full self-sustainability when the lock-down is finally ended – and that means BCRPs must generate more, and new, organic growth after lock-down. They need to look beyond dwindling subscriptions and radio rentals, to new financial opportunities.

“They need to sell their services more effectively, demonstrating the effectiveness of local exclusion schemes to new potential subscribers.  They need to make sure that message is heard more widely, right across a town, for example, not just in a central shopping area.  They need to recruit new members from new sectors such as public transport, industrial estates, hotels and so on.

“There are opportunities to widen their range of services too. Some have taken over troubled and under-resourced public CCTV systems, for example. My experience is that BCRPs are better at providing such services because they answer direct to local businesses, who obviously stand to benefit most.

“Warden and Ranger services are widely deployed by Business Improvement Districts; again, a BCRP is well-positioned to provide these kinds of services for the benefit of its members.  They provide a high-vis presence to deter low level crime, and they can really help to re-build relationships with police, and work out a way of working more closely together for their mutual benefit. Why not provide a key-holder service too?”

Sharman believes it’s ideas like these that a PCC will look for before providing financial assistance to BCRPs through the next few months or, who knows? even longer. Simply hoping to return to the ‘new normal’ with an old, and flawed, business model is unlikely to be good enough.