Despite the proven success of CCTV in detecting crime, many systems are being curtailed due to local authority budget cuts. This crisis in funding is not surprising really given that it is not a statutory service and is almost entirely dependent on discretionary funding by local authorities, even as the benefits largely accrue to other parties such as the police.
We can point to the success of CCTV in providing crucial evidence related to major crimes ranging from the tragic case of Jamie Bulger in 1993 to the more recent disappearance and death of Sarah Everard, yet financial support from the police is patchy at best.
Councils continue to support CCTV largely because surveys consistently show that public support for the technology is in excess of 80%. The public can see, through regular media reports, how CCTV has helped to identify suspects and establish the facts in high-profile cases. Even where the images themselves don’t make it to court, the public is well aware of how important CCTV is to the police based on frequent public appeals for footage.
CCTV monitoring centres are staffed by dedicated public safety officers who provide a focal point for many local schemes such as Pub Watch and Shop Watch. Through radio communications, they can quickly share information with local businesses and police about everything from shoplifting gangs to missing persons.
By pledging to increase the Safer Streets fund following the death of Sarah Everard, the prime minister acknowledged the importance of CCTV in creating safer communities, but the amount of money pledged is a fraction of what would be required to reverse the cuts to CCTV systems, let alone fund further expansion. And by limiting the Safer Streets fund to capital spending, it doesn’t even begin to address the operational revenue costs of running a 24/7 control room.
Many CCTV schemes are putting in bids for Safer Streets funding, keen to replace ageing CCTV cameras. A quick calculation reveals that most of them will be disappointed. Despite the increase in this year’s fund from £23m to £45m, with more than 300 local authorities in England putting in bids for multiple town centres and city neighbourhoods, the fund will cover only a fraction of the need.
With the advent of police and crime commissioners nine years ago, there was some hope that they would share some of their discretionary budgets to help fund CCTV systems, but examples of this have been few and far between.
As a consequence, the burden of funding CCTV continues to fall mainly on local authorities which provide this essential public service despite having no statutory obligation to do so. However, as the government has cut the local government settlement, councils have been forced to scale back systems by decommissioning cameras, reducing operator numbers, abandoning the commitment to 24/7 operation and even devolving operational responsibilities to third parties which often have little or no local knowledge and divide their attention across many systems.
There are a number of solutions to the CCTV funding crisis including:
- Increasing central government funding that is ring fenced for CCTV
- Mandating that PCCs provide more funding for CCTV through their discretionary funds
However, we believe there is a third option which would be more responsive to local residents’ wishes – a council tax precept for CCTV. The Government has this year given police and crime commissioners in England the option to use a precept to raise up to £15 a year – based on an average band D property – from each household to fund the police, which could mean up to an additional £288 million across England.
PCCs across the country are consulting on the use of this precept to raise money to recruit extra police officers and civilian staff. But similar sums of money would make an enormous difference in upgrading CCTV to help make the police that we already have more effective in their jobs.
Of the options available, we believe that a council tax precept would be the most direct and fair way to solve the CCTV funding crisis as it would ensure that budgets are increased in the areas where it enjoys the highest demand and support from residents and, by ring fencing this funding, would ensure that money raised was spent for its intended purpose.
Tom Reeve is chief communications officer at the CCTV User Group, a membership organisation representing the managers of public space surveillance systems across the UK