This is a significant achievement said National Audit Office head John Bourn but there is nevertheless scope to reduce such crimes even further.
In assessing the Home Office's efforts the NAO found that:
* Tighter regulation of salvage operators should make it more difficult for the identity of written-off vehicles to be used to enable stolen vehicles to be re-sold. But over half of the 200 local authorities with the highest rates of vehicle crime had yet to set up a register of salvage operators or had no operators on their registers.
* Good progress has been made in working with the motor industry to bring about new improvements in the security of vehicles. These improvements are likely to be the main reason for the reduction in thefts of vehicles.
* Steady progress has been made in improving police enforcement to deter criminals. Detection rates remain low compared to other offences, but the introduction of the automatic number plate recognition system could lead to further significant improvements.
* Good progress has been made in raising public awareness of vehicle crime.
The NAO report identifies a number of areas where more needs to be done to tackle vehicle crime:
* Progress in making car parks more secure has been slower. Not enough car parks provide a safe and secure environment for motorists, although the introduction of the safer parking scheme has begun to make a difference.
* The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency has provided the police with vehicle record data sufficient to enable them to trace the registered keeper in 90 per cent of cases. However, its absolute vehicle record accuracy (with 32 per cent of vehicle records with some level of inaccuracy) must be improved to facilitate the more effective use of automated enforcement. It has already taken significant steps to address the underlying causes but should continue to take action to ensure that the measured accuracy of the detailed record does improve.
* The Home Office has sought to make it more difficult for offenders to benefit from vehicle crime, but further progress is required.
* Criminals can still purchase number plates from unregistered suppliers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although this should no longer be possible in England and Wales.
The report recommends that the Home Office encourages all hospitals and railway companies to make their car parks secure. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency needs to improve the accuracy of its vehicle records to help the police identify stolen vehicles better. The Home Office needs to remind local authorities of their obligations to set up a register of motor salvage operators and the department should explore further how it could co-ordinate its publicity campaigns more closely with local initiatives to tackle vehicle crime.
Sir John said today:
'The Home Office is on track to meet its target of a 30 per cent reduction in vehicle crime between 1999 and 2004 which is a significant achievement. However, the continuing number and impact of these crimes means that momentum needs to be maintained once the deadline for this target has expired.
'Many of the initiatives to tackle vehicle crime that are in place have yet to be fully implemented. Local authorities, car park operators, the police and crime and disorder reduction partnerships can all do more to tackle the problem, and progress will be helped by the Home Office and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency improving the information and advice it provides these organisations.'
Public accounts committee chairman Edward Leigh said:
'The Home Office has done well in its efforts to reduce vehicle crime, and a 30 per cent reduction in five years should be welcomed by motorists and the public as a whole. The Home Office's work with manufacturers to improve the security of new vehicles has been particularly useful. Public awareness campaigns have had a positive impact. New police detection methods, such as automatic number plate recognition systems, have the potential to make a real difference as well. But even though targets have been met, motorists still have about a one-in-12 chance of having their vehicle stolen or broken into every year.
'Things have got better and the Home Office's primary target has been met, but there is more that can and should be done. I find it astonishing that a loophole still allows car thieves to buy license plates from unregistered dealers in Northern Ireland and Scotland and this must be tightened up. Police clear-up rates are significantly lower for vehicle crime than for other types of crime. And it is simply not acceptable that so few public agencies have set a good example by providing secure car parks and the Home Office needs to do more to promote this. The Home Office also needs to broaden its horizons and include measures to tackle vehicle vandalism - now the most prevalent form of vehicle crime.'
The Home Office surveys up to 40,000 people a year to determine whether they have been a victim of crime in the last twelve months. Whilst only an estimate, this measure of crime is more comprehensive as not all crimes are reported to the police.
The earlier National Audit Office report 'Reducing Crime: the Home Office working with Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships' examined the Home Office grants of£926.8m since 1999 to partnerships.
Reducing Vehicle Crime