Retailers in Belfast city centre have saved millions of pounds thanks to an initiative aimed at tackling shoplifting and other crimes in the city, it can be revealed today.
Average stock loss in the heart of Belfast has dropped 47.2% this year, saving retail outlets an estimated £8.2m.
The figures were revealed by Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce and Belfast City Centre Management who said the Citysafe Crimewatch initiative had helped to save millions of pounds.
The initiative, which has 300 members in Belfast, was launched in December 2004.
Participating members collect and share data on persistent retail offenders in the city centre.
And this data is also shared within the National Business Information System, which enables retailers from across the UK to identify repeat offenders.
"Our various initiatives have seen the retail environment of Belfast transformed; illegal street trading has disappeared and theft and stock loss have fallen, resulting in a safer, more pleasant place in which to shop and do business," said Billy McGivern, chairman of Belfast City Centre Management.
"By working closely with all stakeholders in the public and private sector, as well as the PSNI, these initiatives have ensured that Belfast continues to be number one choice for shoppers and for businesses in Northern Ireland."
Mr McGivern also pointed out that BCCM and the Chamber, which organise the initiative, will be meeting representatives from other towns and cities to share and discuss Belfast's anti-crime strategy in the months ahead.
Dave Pennick, president of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said: " As a retailer it is encouraging to see a reduction in stock loss in Belfast following the success of these schemes.
"It is important, however, that we do not rest on our laurels and that we work with the PSNI to widen the scope of these projects across Belfast.
"Other towns and cities can also learn from our experiences. Our work in Belfast does not aim to simply move the problem elsewhere. By working with other retail centres across Northern Ireland, we can ensure that all shoppers and businesses can enjoy a safe and secure shopping environment."
BCCM's co-ordinated strategy to develop a safer city centre includes Radiolink/Publink, a network of radios across city shops and licensed premises which are linked to the PSNI, and enable outlets to be on the alert for persistent offenders.
It also runs the Belfast City Centre Beat Initiative, which is funded by the Belfast Chamber. It provides two PSNI officers who patrol the city centre daily, responding to business concerns relating to anti-social behaviour and traffic violations.