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Councils 'slash spending on CCTV'

Published 23/02/2016

Last year there were warnings police could find it more difficult to detect crime if councils switch off cameras to cut costs
Last year there were warnings police could find it more difficult to detect crime if councils switch off cameras to cut costs

Councils have slashed spending on CCTV and are operating fewer cameras, according to a new report.

Local authorities in the UK committed at least £277 million to the installation, maintenance and monitoring of the systems between 2012 and 2015, research by campaign group Big Brother Watch found.

A previous study found that between 2007 and 2011, town halls spent £515 million - equivalent to £128 million a year - and controlled at least 51,600 CCTV cameras.

The latest findings point to annual spending of £92 million from 2012 to 2015 and indicate local authorities oversaw 45,284 cameras as of March last year.

Last year there were warnings that police could find it more difficult to detect crime if councils switch off cameras in order to cut costs amid budget squeezes.

Big Brother Watch welcomed the reduction in spending - but claimed the rationale behind it is "not ideological".

Chief executive Renate Samson said: "Whilst the findings of this report appear encouraging, the reduction in spending may be nothing more than a lull before the storm of more intrusive, biometric or 3D cameras appearing on our streets.

"A measured approach should be taken with any surveillance system. Privacy should always be given as much weight as security."

The report was based on freedom of information requests sent to authorities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There was a 96% response rate.

It found that between 2012 and 2015, local authorities spent:

:: At least £38.2 million on installing fixed and mobile CCTV cameras.

:: Just under £140 million on maintaining cameras.

:: £99 million on related wage and salary costs.

The totals were down by 57%, 42% and 47% respectively compared with the previous report, although it covered a period of four years compared with three in the latest study.

Big Brother Watch said London councils recorded a 72% rise in the number of cameras they operate, up from 8,105 to 13,924.

However, CCTV schemes appear to have been scrapped altogether in some parts of the country.

Surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter, writing in the Big Brother Watch report, said: "Despite the reduction in spending highlighted in this report, I am certain that new and advancing technologies will see further investment by local authorities to deliver new and exciting capabilities.

"The sums of money involved are massive and it's important that those charged with delivering this service get it right."

Simon Blackburn, of the Local Government Association, said: " C ouncils are under increasing budgetary pressures and are having to prioritise the services that are important to local people.

"Councils recognise the assurance that CCTV provides and where it is cost effective and has an impact, councils continue to invest in and review their public space CCTV operations."

He said that councils are aware there is "a balance to be struck between safeguarding the public and respecting their privacy", adding: " Although councils usually pay for and operate CCTV services, the main users of the footage are the police and Crown Prosecution Service during criminal investigations."

Britain is seen as having one of the most extensive CCTV networks in the world. A report published in 2013 by the British Security Industry Association estimated that there were around 4.9 million cameras in total, with most privately operated.

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