UK

Councils Scale Back Use Of CCTV To Cut Costs, Amidst Warnings That Crimes Will Go Undetected

23/05/2015 16:39 BST | Updated 23/05/2015 16:59 BST

Councils are scaling back their use of CCTV in an attempt to cut costs, a surveillance watchdog has warned.

Tony Porter, the surveillance camera commissioner, said he was concerned about local authorities cutting back on monitoring cameras because it could make it more difficult for police to detect and investigate crime.

He added town halls could face greater scrutiny of their use of CCTV, including potential inspections and enforcement.

He told the Independent: "There are an increasing number of examples where councils and employees are citing a lack of money as being the rationale to reduce the service or completely change its composition - and that does concern me. Because CCTV isn't a statutory function, it is something a lot of councils are looking at.

tony porter

Tony Porter, the surveillance camera commissioner, has warned local councils against scaling back their use of CCTV

"Most people recognise the utility of CCTV for supporting law enforcement. To degrade the capacity may have an impact on police. It may well be that they will find it increasingly difficult to acquire the images that will help them investigate crimes.

"I do think public authorities should be held to greater account. If that is some form of inspection and enforcement notice. I think that can be achieved with a fairly light touch."

Mr Porter, who is due to give the findings of a review into standards to the Home Secretary this autumn, has written to council chief executives to remind them of the law and code of practice.

In a speech to the CCTV User Group conference this week, he warned of misuse of CCTV in some authority areas.

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CCTV security cameras

He told the conference: "I've seen councils in large towns like Blackpool and Derby stop monitoring their systems 24-7. My understanding is that this is not as the result of a review or public consultation but simply to save money.

"And as austerity measures continue to bite on public space CCTV will we see a deterioration of standards and training? One CCTV manager has told me financial constraints are leading local authorities to take measures that are threatening the levels of CCTV expertise within them."

He said CCTV manager's roles were being cut and staff with little experience were being left in charge. Mr Porter said he was also "concerned" about councils knowledge of what cameras they were in control of, and whether they meeting compliance standards.

Among breaches Mr Porter was aware of were cameras being used by other departments, including traffic, waste management and housing services, and privacy assessments not being routinely carried out.

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The British Security Industry Authority has estimated there are up to six million CCTV cameras, with around one in 70 publicly owned.

A Government spokesman said: "Public safety is paramount and the majority of local authorities have continued to balance their budgets and increased or maintained public satisfaction with services."

The spokesman said according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales, crime has fallen by more than a quarter since 2010, meaning "citizens and communities are safer than at any point since the survey began in 1981".

The spokesman added that decisions around CCTV were "local" decisions made by elected local councillors.

Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, said: "Britain's crime rate is not significantly lower than comparable countries that do not have such vast surveillance. Councils should therefore be regularly reviewing whether their CCTV systems, which are often outdated and ineffective, are necessary."