Canterbury City Council has criticised as “shallow” the report which reveals it has spent more on CCTV in the past three years than any other Kent council. Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show it has forked out £1,445,345 in buying, maintaining and staffing surveillance technology.
Civil rights campaigner Big Brother Watch has branded the expenditure as shocking, after uncovering the findings in its The Price is Wrong report. Of the 332 councils across the country included in the survey, Canterbury ranked 72nd, compared to Gravesham Borough Council (193rd) which spent £577,940, -the least of all Kent councils. The biggest spender in the UK was Birmingham, which paid out £10.4m.
According to Big Brother Watch’s calculations the average British person is captured on CCTV 300 times a day. Big Brother Watch director Alex Deane said:
Public money is being wasted on snooping surveillance that does next to nothing to prevent or solve crime. We are being watched more than ever before, and we’re being ripped off into the bargain. British taxpayers will be scandalised to see their money being thrown away like this in the current economic climate.
The city council has been swift to defend its CCTV spending. Community safety manager Doug Rattray said:
The council strives to make residents feel safe and we work closely with the police to achieve this. When asking people what makes them feel safe, we find they have high confidence in CCTV and often ask for its use in tackling problems. By far and away, its biggest benefit is to provide reassurance while they live, work, shop and socialise in our district.
The Big Brother Watch report is a very shallow comparator that simply ranks councils on costs. There is no effort to add in qualitative data or analyse cost against value of money.
It also does not reflect the fact that old equipment has been renewed, the number and nature of the towns covered, population size, visitor numbers, crime levels or the number of cameras being viewed.
These factors alone negate any contention that the Canterbury district is not providing residents with value for money with its CCTV service.
Police chief warns over budget cuts
Kent police chiefs are urging the government to rethink planned budget cuts amid fears they could compromise public safety. Ann Barnes, the chairman of Kent Police Authority, is among signatories to a letter that been sent by police leaders to minister Nick Herbert urging a change to the phasing of the cuts over the next four years.
Kent Police estimates that it will have to save £53m over the next four years and expects to lose 1,500 jobs -about a fifth of its workforce – over that period. In the letter, police leaders say that while they are committed to protecting the public, the ability of police forces to do so “is seriously impacted by the phasing of the proposed cuts.”
Ms Barnes said Kent Police faced a difficult time but insisted it was well placed to weather the storm. However, the challenge of making cuts would be easier if the government shifted the burden of the cuts to the latter two years rather than the first. She said:
The difficulty is the effect on personnel. You can squeeze efficiency savings out until you are blue in the face but there is nowhere else to go if you are cutting by 20 per cent. To take 1,500 people out will be difficult but the longer you have to do it, the more achievable it is.
An effective tool in fighting crime
Chief lnspector Steve Barlow said:
From a police perspective CCTV has proved to be a very effective crime-fighting tool as well as a valuable deterrent. There are numerous examples of when CCTV operators are able to guide officers to potential outbreaks of disorder and enable them to intervene prior to a situation escalating and resulting in crime being committed.
CCTV enables offenders to be traced following reports of crime and it also provides us with valuable evidence to put before the courts. Earlier this year a Canterbury man assaulted his partner in a city centre car park. The 22-year-old pushed his girlfriend into a wall and grabbed her ears as she was holding their baby.
He was unaware that the violent outburst was captured on CCTV after operators spotted the incident unfolding in Northgate and the police were called. Officers arrived on the scene but the first version of events was that it was a verbal altercation only.
A review of CCTV, however, proved otherwise and the man was charged and put before the courts where the magistrates watched the CCTV footage for themselves and he was given a suspended prison sentence.