In a highly controversial move, Westminster Council has taken the decision to axe its entire CCTV network in a cost-cutting measure. By the beginning of September, 75 cameras in total will be switched off when the current deal with security firm provider G4S runs out.
In their cabinet report released on 6 June, they expect £1.7 million to be saved from the capital budget whilst also avoiding £1 million in operational costs per annum. Despite their reluctance to the move, they believe it’s the best way to manage resources after further austerity cuts by the Government.
The cabinet member for public protection, Nickie Aiken, has had this to say on the decision:
“Like many other local authorities around the country, our current view is that we are not able to continue to subsidise this non-statutory service when there are many other pressures on our budgets and where other partners are the main beneficiaries.”
The Council has defended the decision, stating that the CCTV currently in use doesn’t necessarily act as a deterrent but only to support police prosecutions. The report states that ‘the evidence that CCTV alone plays a significant role in preventing general crime and improving the safety of the city is limited.’
As expected, there are plenty of objections to the move as local police and the opposition have criticised Westminster Council’s decision. Terror and policing expert David Videcette notes that:
“All council CCTV networks are a massive resource to police, have a massive impact on bringing down anti-social behaviour, crime, drug dealing, they are very, very valuable to police…
It’s crazy – the money the council will spend on putting things right, vandalism, theft from local authority premises, it will pay for itself twice over. And there’s a risk if there was a terrorist attack and we had to track a terrorist’s movements.”
Westminster encompasses a number of prominent districts such as Soho, Mayfair and Paddington. Critics believe these areas won’t benefit from the same level of protection they currently possess, encouraging robberies, break-ins, vandalism and assaults. Hundreds of these crimes may now go unprosecuted.
Statistics provided by Westminster Council themselves show that its network of CCTV cameras contribute to around 1,300 arrests per year, recording roughly 600 criminal incidents a month.
Inhabitants of the borough shouldn’t be too disheartened, however. Cameras run by Transport for London and those privately owned will continue to operate as normal. A Metropolitan Police spokesman has eased fears by stating:
“Outside of the local authority CCTV network there is a vast and sophisticated private network that will still be accessible to the police, and other resources that can be used to monitor events where necessary, including TfL cameras and the Met’s own mobile camera technology… We are confident these arrangements adequately provide tools to prevent and detect crime.”
The new mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has promised to look into the situation but until then, the proposal to remove the 75 Westminster council-run cameras will go ahead on 1 September 2016.
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