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Councils facing criticism over £315m CCTV surveillance bill

Councils have been criticised for spending hundreds of millions of pounds on CCTV at the same time as implementing drastic budget cuts.

Edinburgh has been named as one of the highest spenders on CCTV in the country, forking out almost twice as much as similar-sized cities.

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The city spent more than £3.6 million on CCTV over the last three years, coming fourth in the UK-wide list compiled by Big Brother Watch, the civil liberties group.

Overall, councils across Britain spent more than £315m, including more than £20m in Scotland -- almost four times the annual running costs of the Scottish Parliament, or the equivalent of employing 15,000 nurses, according to the new data.

Local authorities insist that CCTV helps to solve and deter crime. But civil liberties campaigners claim the cameras are intrusive and do little to reduce offending rates.

Politicians called last night for councils to prove the money they were spending was worth it.

The figures are released as councils across the UK face having to cut millions from their budgets under the Tory-LibDem Coalition’s austerity drive.

Edinburgh heads the list of Scottish councils, spending £3.6m on CCTV over the last three years. Sheffield, which has a similar population, spent about half that over the same period, £1.98m, coming 35th on the national list.

Other Scottish high spenders include East Ayrshire, which spent more than £2m and was ranked 32nd out of 336 local authorities, and South Ayrshire, which spent £1.76m and was ranked 49th.

Seven Scottish local authorities, including Aberdeen, South Lanarkshire, East Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire, spent more than £1m between 2007 and 2010 on CCTV.

Many councils operate CCTV systems with local police forces, but the technology has faced criticism in recent years.

In Edinburgh there was outrage when it was revealed a CCTV camera that could have captured the last known movements of missing woman Suzanne Pilley was not working properly. A separate Freedom of Information request showed there were 100 faulty cameras across the city.

Alex Deane, the director of Big Brother Watch, which estimates there are at least 59,753 CCTV cameras controlled by 418 local authorities, said Britain was spending a “shocking” amount on CCTV.

“We are being watched more than ever before, and we’re being ripped off into the bargain,” he added.

But councils insisted they were getting value for money from the cameras.

A spokesman for Edinburgh City Council said: “Our CCTV network provides high-quality images, which deters crime and helps the police bring criminals to justice with 761 people arrested in the past year through our operators’ help.

“It forms part of our highly successful anti-social behaviour strategy, which has also seen such complaints drop by 27% in the past four years.”

Glasgow, which spent £2.6m, was not included in the study although it complied with a request for information from Big Brother Watch, having directed the group to an arm’s-length body that holds the data.


They are a massive waste of money

Big Brother Watch’s latest report confirms CCTV cameras are a massive waste of money.

Local authorities in the UK spent nearly £315 million of taxpayers money on CCTV in just the last three years. Edinburgh alone spent £3.6m.

This means the yearly cost of CCTV has more than doubled to £105m since the Surveillance Studies Network revealed that £500m of public money was spent on cameras in the decade from 1996 to 2006.

The group, in a recent report for the Information Commissioner, referred to the support for CCTV despite its ineffectiveness as “a remarkable anomaly”. The scale of this remarkable anomaly is illustrated by the comprehensive review of the effects of CCTV on crime, published by the Campbell Collaboration in 2008.

The report found CCTV schemes in city and town centres, public housing and on public transport “did not have a significant effect on crime”.

The review was commissioned by the Westminster Government, yet policy-makers still seem to have an insatiable desire to introduce surveillance and curtail our freedoms.

Things will get worse unless something is done to halt this expansion -- technologies such as behaviour and face recognition will be added to the already appalling number plate recognition cameras that act as automated checkpoints nationwide.

All of this will be a massive pay day for the surveillance industry, and a further assault on the freedoms of honest people.

Charles Farrier is a spokesman for No CCTV.


Cameras help keep our streets safe

Investment in CCTV is money well spent, and the system continues to prove a cost effective and valuable weapon in the fight against crime and terrorism.

When looking at its costs it is important to remember that you cannot put a price on life, and that quoted statistics can be misleading and do not represent the true value of employing CCTV systems.

The police continuously rely on CCTV images to reconstruct criminal events, help identify offenders and make high-profile calls for public assistance in their inquiries.

These images are also frequently called upon in the criminal justice system to help secure prosecutions. The Metropolitan Police say more than 70% of murder investigations have been solved with the help of CCTV retrievals and most serious crime investigations have a CCTV investigation strategy.

CCTV systems have proven invaluable at a local level as well as tackling problems relating to anti-social behaviour. An operation by Safer Swansea, which saw a mobile CCTV vehicle rotated around five different parts of one village over one weekend, witnessed a 75% fall in calls from residents regarding anti-social behaviour.

Therefore, it is clear that CCTV systems play a vital role in protecting local communities and assisting the police, acting as a deterrent before as well as providing evidence after crimes are committed.

Pauline Norstrom is chairman of the CCTV section of the British Security Industry Association.

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