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LGA - Retailers need to stop selling knives, councils urge

Retailers, including online businesses, need to stop selling knives by default to help tackle the knife crime epidemic, the Local Government Association has urged.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, is urging retailers to become “no knife shops” by pledging not to sell knives unless it is a core part of their business, such as hardware and DIY shops and suppliers of kitchenware.

It says this would help reduce the availability of knives in local communities and the risk of them being used in violent crime. Latest official figures show recorded knife crime in England and Wales is at a record high, while hospital admissions due to knife-related injuries have risen by 41 per cent since 2014/15.

In some areas of the country, six out of 10 retailers selling knives have been found to be breaking the law on underage knife sales with shop staff caught selling knives to children as young as 14. Islington Council, in London, has recently launched the UK’s first “No Knife Shop” scheme. The initiative aims to encourage businesses to consider whether there is a real need for them to sell knives, and pledge to stop selling them if not.

It comes as councils warn that a lack of funding for enforcement activity is making tackling illegal knife sales an even tougher challenge, particularly since the Offensive Weapons Act came into force, which has put new responsibilities on councils to carry out under-age test purchase operations at the point of delivery for online knife sales.

The LGA is urging government to extend the Home Office Prosecutions Fund - set up as part of the Serious Violence Strategy but due to expire this year - which has helped some councils prosecute retailers for blatant breaches of knife sale laws.

It also wants to work with government on taking a public health approach to tackling knife crime by investing more in early intervention and prevention initiatives, including targeted youth services, which councils have been forced to cut back on in recent years due to funding pressures.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

“Rising knife crime is extremely worrying, causing horrendous destruction and grief in our communities and councils are uncovering some shocking cases of illegal knife sales which risk fuelling this tragic epidemic.

“There are many legitimate reasons for buying and selling knives, and most businesses sell knives responsibly. But for many retailers, particularly smaller shops such as convenience stores and corner shops, knife sales typically generate a tiny fraction of overall business income. We urge retailers, including online businesses, to be part of collective efforts to reduce the availability of knives and seriously consider why they need to sell them, and if they do, to ensure that they are complying with their responsibilities to prevent under-age sales.

“By becoming a ‘No Knife Shop’, businesses can make a bold statement of commitment to community safety and help stop kitchen and DIY knives falling into the wrong hands and being used as deadly weapons.

“The Prosecutions Fund has helped some councils prosecute retailers for blatant breaches of knife sale laws. However, given the knife crime epidemic, the significant cuts to trading standards budgets in recent years and the extra enforcement activity needed in light of the Offensive Weapons Act, this Fund needs urgent further investment and extending.

“Ahead of the forthcoming Budget we want to work with government to ensure councils have enough funding to tackle illegal knife sales and help protect people from harm, and revitalise youth services as part of a public health approach to tackling serious violence, including knife crime.”

Cllr Andy Hull, Islington Council’s Executive Member for Community Safety, said:

“While machetes and hunting knives make the news, much of the knife crime on our streets involves smaller craft or kitchen knives, sometimes bought from nearby shops. Most of these retailers would still thrive without selling such blades. In Islington, we’re urging responsible retailers to think twice before they stock knives in their stores. It’s another way we can try as a community to reduce the likelihood of people getting hurt.”

Case studies

  • ‘No Knife Shop’ scheme
    The ‘No Knife Shop’ scheme is run by Islington Council and endorsed by the Metropolitan Police Service and the Ben Kinsella Trust. The initiative aims to build on the council’s other work to reduce knife crime. This includes securing funding for 60 places for training on trauma-informed practice for schools, funding local knife-surrender bins for the discreet, safe disposal of knives, and new guidance for parents and carers on knife harm.
  • LGA publication Breaking the Cycle of Youth Violence report includes examples of work by several councils to tackle knife crime and protect children from harm.

Notes to editors

  1. The Prosecutions Fund – part of the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy – was made available to 11 councils (including five London Boroughs) for extra in-store test purchases and for a national online test purchase operation. Of 100 online test purchases from UK knife sellers, 41 per cent were sold illegally to under-18s.
  2. The LGA has found that as many as six in 10 retailers have sold knives to under-18s in some council areas in test purchase operations.
  3. It is illegal to sell a knife to anyone under the age of 18. Retailers must ask for proof of age if they suspect the buyer is aged under 25.
  4. Under the Offensive Weapons Act, it is a criminal offence for knives and dangerous corrosives sold online to be delivered to anyone aged under 18 at a residential address, and for dangerous corrosive products, such as acids, to be sold to anyone under the age of 18. Councils have new responsibilities for undertaking underage test purchase operations at the point of delivery for online knife sales and for enforcing restrictions on sales of acids and other corrosives. Councils also face the cost of providing advice and training for businesses about the new legal requirements.
  5. Latest Office for National Statistic figures show there were 44,771 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in England and Wales for the year ending September 2019. This is a record high since 2011 - the earliest point for which comparable data is available - and up 7 per cent on 2018.
  6. NHS Digital figures show there were 5,069 hospital admissions in England due to assault by a sharp object in 2018/19 – up 2 per cent on 2017/18 and a 41 per cent rise on the 3,590 recorded in 2014/15.
  7. More than 600 youth centres have closed, and nearly 139,000 youth services places were lost in the UK between 2012 and 2016. 
  8. The LGA hosted a “Tacking knife crime conference” on Thursday 6 February 2020.
Original article link: https://www.local.gov.uk/retailers-need-stop-selling-knives-councils-urge

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