British businesses are facing a huge increase in crime, as the value of insurance claims for theft, arson and malicious damage increased by a "staggering" 19 per cent in the three months to June.
Insurance giant AXA says that some one in five of all the business claims settled in the last quarter was as a result of crime, an increase on the 15 per cent for October to December 2003.
The average insurance settlement has almost doubled in the last two years, reaching £4,200 compared with £2,100 in 2002.
Theft from businesses made up two-thirds of the claims, but AXA said that there had also been a "dramatic" increase in malicious damage such as vandalism, which now made up a quarter of claims.
And although violent crime against business is still rare, accounting for less than one per cent of all crime related claims settled, AXA noted that there had been "a worrying rise in incidences".
Arson made up only three per cent of claims, but these were by far the most costly. Indeed for eight out of ten firms, a serious incident such as arson led directly to them going out of business, the insurer said.
Most at risk from burglary are firms located in out-of-town business parks or industrial units, where says weekend and late-night break-ins have become rife.
Bradford takes the ignominious honour of being the business crime of the UK with 30 per cent of all insurance claims settled between April and June resulting from criminal activity. It is followed by Birmingham (27 per cent), Nottingham (25 per cent) and Bath (24 per cent).
Liverpool had the lowest proportion of offences against businesses with 14.4 per cent, closely followed by Glasgow, something that AXA's Neil Mercier suggested could be because businesses there have already put in place more advanced measures to protect their premises.
London placed in the bottom half of the table, with some 20 per cent of all offences being business-related.
“The threat of crime facing the business community is real and growing, but by taking a few simple steps businesses can dramatically reduce the chances of suffering from a criminal act,” Neil Mercier said.
"Business owners need to be vigilant and thorough in their security precautions. There are many simple, cost effective measures which can be taken to make businesses more secure against criminals and these can also help reduce insurance premiums."
David Frost, director general of the The British Chambers of Commerce, said he agreed with AXA’s findings.
"These findings are consistent with our own, in that crime imposes real and significant costs on British businesses,” he said.
"This cost is not merely financial; it is human as well. Employers and employees are often left seriously demoralised by crime and incidents can cause serious disruption to the operation of affected companies as a consequence.”