Far be it from me to give advice to criminals – it isn’t ordinarily what this column is about – but anyone who’s planning to be up to no good in Glasgow in the next few months and doesn’t want to get caught should do whatever it is they’re going to do between 3am and 3pm because a bit of a black hole is about to open up between those hours. One person who knows about these things told me the whole thing is an “invitation to criminals”. It’s hard to disagree.

I first heard about the problem from a couple of ordinary rank-and-file police officers I was talking to. They asked me if I knew what was happening at Glasgow City Council’s operations centre in London Road because they were pretty worried about it. The centre is basically the place where the CCTV monitoring service is based; there are hundreds of cameras right across the city and operators at the centre keep an eye on the output 24 hours a day.

The problem for the police is they can currently use the centre round-the-clock to track criminals or suspects across the city; it’s a vital tool for preventing and detecting crime but the other great thing about the centre is that when the operators spot something going on – an accident, someone in trouble, whatever – they can alert the authorities quickly and get something done. I know lots of people don’t like cameras and there was controversy about CCTV when it began to proliferate, but it really does work.

However, the whole system obviously relies on operators being at the monitoring centre to react quickly to what they see on screen and to help the police when they need it and from the end of this month all of that will change. The operators will only be working from 3pm to 3am, meaning that for the other 12 hours of the day, the system will no longer be working as it has been. The cameras will still be switched on and recording during the day between 3am and 3pm but there’ll be no actual person behind the camera.

I imagine you’ve probably guessed by now who made this decision – Glasgow City Council – and why they made it – budget cuts – but it’s worth telling you what some of the people I’ve spoken to think of the decision. People such as Graeme Pearson, a former shadow justice secretary but more importantly a former police officer who was involved in establishing one of the first CCTV systems in the UK, in Airdrie. He knows how these things work.

Mr Pearson’s take on the situation is pretty clear. CCTV, he says, dissuades criminals from committing crime because they’re never sure if the cameras are watching them or not. But if the cameras are not being manned during the day in Glasgow, between 3am and 3pm, it’s an invitation to criminals to carry on regardless. Mr Pearson also pointed out that police officers on the street take comfort from the fact they know the camera operators can get help to them quickly without having to wait for a phone call.

I did put the council’s side of the story to Mr Pearson, but he was pretty sceptical about it I must say. The council’s defence is that the cameras will continue to record 24 hours a day after the budget cuts come into force on September 28th but that misses the whole point surely. As Mr Pearson says, members of the public will no doubt be delighted to know that when they’re assaulted, the assault will be duly recorded. The point is that CCTV isn’t just there to detect crime, it’s principally there to prevent it.

So who’s to blame for all of this? The council told me they effectively had no choice but to cut back on the CCTV operating centre because they have a £50million funding black hole and that’s true: there’s a black hole and it’s 50-million-pounds big.

But the truth is the council could have made other choices about what to cut and what to prioritise; Mr Pearson’s suggestion was that they should have looked at the costs at their own HQ for example rather than cut frontline services such as crime prevention.

Another thing Glasgow City Council could have done a long time ago is talk honestly about why they’re in this funding hole in the first place: the Scottish Government has been passing on a disproportionate level of cuts to Scotland’s councils at the same time as they’ve been ring-fencing the money it does hand out. With around 80 per cent of council income coming from the central grant, it means Glasgow City Council has less to spend on the priorities which it thinks are important. Who knows, perhaps they did feel forced into cutting the operation of the CCTV monitoring centre.

There have been a few signs of hope of late but only a few – the president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Shona Morrison (SNP) has found her voice a little bit and has said the Scottish Government is failing to prioritise the services councils provide.

But on the whole Glasgow City Council (SNP-controlled) has been distinctly reluctant to criticise the Scottish Government (SNP-controlled) and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change on the issue of crime prevention and CCTV.

Which leaves us with the reality of the situation those worried police officers first told me about. We know CCTV isn’t a panacea – we could have a thousand cameras in Glasgow, a hundred thousand, a million, and crime would still happen. The concerns that some people have about an increasingly monitored society are also perfectly fair.

However, if you’re going to put up hundreds of cameras and develop a monitoring system and employ people to operate it then you should at least use the system to its full potential and run it as efficiently and effectively as possible. I feel a great deal of sympathy for the operators who’ll have their shifts cut, but I’m concerned too that a system that’s been working 24/7 will soon only be operating 12/7.

The council tell us not to worry of course; it’ll all be fine, we’ll be recording round the clock. But in the end I wonder who we should really be listening to here. The council, who are out to save money? Or the police officers, who are out there on the street every single day?