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Our taxes going down the drain...

High steel prices have led to an increase in manhole and drain cover theft across the UK. In fact, metals in general are high on the priority list for thieves with white vans and scrap metal establishments of ill repute. It is not unknown for large blue motorway signs to mysteriously vanish overnight.

Large sewer grate covers and heavy drain covers are lucrative money spinners for those prepared to take the risk. Sold for a fraction of their replacement cost there is still a tidy profit to be made in this trade. A quick check on google reveals that the problem is not exclusive to the West Midlands. Similar experience in Aberdeenshire, Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk have been widely publicised.

Councils are being urged to consider upgrading their security measures and to investigate the possible replacement of some high risk covers with more secure and harder to remove products. More modern covers offer recessed locks which are almost impossible to remove.

Councils are united in their condemnation of this new trend of mindless and irresponsible theft. Their concerns, apart from the inconvenience and cost of replacement, are the fact that these drains are left exposed and likely to be a serious safety hazard to pedestrians and motorists. Imagine a motorcycle travelling at speed and hitting a hole in the road or a small child or elderly person falling into a hole in the ground.

Before we condemn the UK criminal for this thoughtless and inconsiderate act of selfish profiteering at the expense of safety and waste of tax payers contributions, we should take a look at this problem on a global scale. We are not alone. This is common practice in some countries. Surprisingly it is very common and a big problem in China.

In Beijing, China's capital city, they are testing a new kind of manhole cover to try and stop the prolific theft of manhole covers on pavements and roads around the city. Inventors in Beijing are currently trying to make manhole covers of non-metal materials so that they are no longer a temptation for theives. This is a huge problem in China where the covers are sold as scrap for a few dollars but replacements cost over a hundred dollars each. Incredibly Beijing has more than 600,000 manhole covers and during 2004 the city lost around 240,000 manhole and drain covers to thieves.

On a smaller scale but equally lucrative are British Road Signs. Go to Ebay and type in 'road sign' in the search facility. Hundreds of road signs are on offer, many of them are copies but look closely and you could pick up a genuine and original bargain such as the Trafford Road sign with current bidding at 30 and the reserve not yet met. A closer look reveals traffic cones, village signs and other icons of Britain that can be found up and down the country and which are often ignored by all but the dedicated ebay entrepreneur who wanders around at night with his screwdriver and crowbar finding items of worth to advertise on ebay.

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