Case Studies

Councils face CCTV, CSAS cuts

by Mark Rowe

It’s the time of year that councils set their budgets; it appears that many may have to cut some services such as CCTV or sell assets to make ends meet, Mark Rowe writes.

Birmingham City Council, one of the largest in the country, in September in effect declared itself bankrupt and the relevant departmental minister Michael Gove sent in civil servants to help the council ‘re-set’ and balance the books: including by selling assets.

It’s not only Labour-run or urban, big councils that are proposing cuts. The Taunton-based unitary authority in Somerset has warned that it might have to make savings on CCTV, as part of a budget to avoid a ‘section 114 notice’ and going down the route of Birmingham. It means that parts of ‘community services’ are in some sort of beauty contest, according to an enormous online pack of reports to councillors ahead of the full meeting of Somerset Council on February 20.

As part of a public consultation ahead of the setting of a budget, services were ranked, and CCTV came in the middle in terms of how important the public rated it – public toilets were rated as most important, and ‘parks and beaches’ and ‘leisure services and pools’ also came ahead of CCTV, which came ahead of libraries, museums and services for tourists.

The report also noted that Somerset Council ‘has been offered contributions from various town councils to ensure the continuation of the CCTV service’. This method of the county or district council doing the monitoring of public realm cameras, and parish or town councils paying something towards their installation and then upkeep is not new; Professional Security Magazine featured in 2021 such work by North Somerset Council, based in Weston super Mare, which itself has spoken of ‘another incredibly tough year to achieve a balanced budget’.

Among the comments from the public quoted by Somerset from its consultation was that ‘CCTV should be managed by the police’ not the council; as some police forces do, or are edging towards, such as Thames Valley and Cumbria. The document to Somerset councillors picks that idea up, dressing it up as ‘a greater level of partnership working’.

As many councils discussed over the austerity decade of the 2010s, to quote from the Somerset document, at issue is the ‘cessation or devolution of the CCTV systems’, which in practice might well mean public space monitoring withers if left to smaller, town or parish councils that have little technical or other experience of CCTV. The alternative is to get councils within the county, or the police, to stump up more money; or ‘income generation’, a CCTV control room earning money from businesses or other council departments for monitoring alarms or answering phones out of hours.

Further west, Cornwall Council last year gave up its monitoring of about a dozen towns’ CCTV via the fire service headquarters. Last month the Conservative deputy leader of Cornwall in an open letter to Michael Gove complained of ‘years of chronic underfunding’ and warned of a ‘financial abyss’, due to rising costs in such fields as children’s social care. He warned ‘that the growing list of section 114 notices being issued’ (as to Birmingham) will start to include councils judged as efficient and well-run.

To give another coastal council example, Bournemouth also in a report to councillors last week gave a ‘beauty contest;’ of services as according to a survey of residents. Community safety, CCTV, and ASB (anti-social behaviour) came ninth, behind collecting rubbish in first, but ahead of car parking, helping the homeless, and providing sports and leisure facilities. When residents were asked in more detail about savings of £524,000 proposed to the public protection budget, first was rated ‘Anti-social behaviour investigation and enforcement’ and second, live monitoring of CCTV in public places.

Proposed for cuts is the council’s uniformed CSAS (community safety accreditation scheme) officers, as featured in Professional Security Magazine in 2021: CSAS officers would be ended in Poole and Christchurch town centres and Boscombe, and only retained in Bournemouth town centre. As for CCTV, the council would still have 24-7 monitoring of its 650 cameras covering public spaces and 300 covering council customer service buildings, wider premises and libraries; but the council ‘looks to reduce live monitoring of the cameras by 15 to 30 per cent and to seek support from partner agencies to fund the service’. The monitoring cut would mean ‘less staff observing them [cameras] outside of peak times’. The council is proposing a similar trimming to its libraries’ opening hours.

If any money is around for capital spending, it appears to be from central Government departments; such as Bournemouth Council getting funding from the Department for Transport (DfT) to deliver its ‘Bus Service Improvement Plan’, including ‘CCTV at Poole Bus station and the busiest bus shelters’.

Photo by Mark Rowe; CCTV camera beside Taunton Castle.

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