Millions of pounds are being squandered on ineffective CCTV cameras by UK local authorities, claims a report released by transparency lobbyists last week.
Big Brother Watch presented 428 separate Freedom of Information requests revealing how councils spent £515 million between 2007 and 2011 on surveillance equipment that neither reduced crime nor made the public feel safer.
Wandsworth Council ranked eighth highest spender nationally, operating 1,158 cameras at a cost of £4,771,080.14 over the last four years; more cameras than Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds combined.
The ranking of other South West London borough councils named in the report vary widely with Hammersmith & Fulham ranking 22nd, Merton 24th, Kensington & Chelsea 129th, Richmond 227th and Kingston 314th.
Big Brother Watch estimate the total national expenditure could have recruited 4,121 Police Constables, the equivalent of Northumbria’s entire police force, and stated that CCTV does not have a significant deterrent effect on crime, and is not a substitute for police.
The report claims that in the current financial climate, sustaining the level of investment in CCTV is impossible to justify.
Responding to the report’s findings a Wandsworth Council spokesman said: “Our cameras play a crucial role in tackling crime in the borough and have been instrumental in helping to keep Wandsworth the safest borough in inner-London.
“They are constantly used by the Met to help secure convictions and also to gain intelligence about criminal activity. The most up to date figures show that in 2010 the police used evidence from our cameras in 841 prosecutions.
“Their use is also very strictly governed by our detailed code of conduct.”
Nick Pickles, a Big Brother Watch spokesman, said: “We’re long due a debate on why CCTV levels have rocketed but we’re no safer than other cities around the world who do not have the same level of surveillance.
“When did we stop trying to prevent crime and say it was a council’s job to run a huge surveillance system in the hope of catching criminals afterwards?”
Wandsworth Council highlighted the effectiveness of the technology in the aftermath of the summer riots, particularly in the Clapham area.
Their spokesman said: “So far more than 200 people have been arrested as a result evidence gleaned from council-owned CCTV and also those operated by local businesses.”
Mr Pickles, who disputes the council’s conclusions, said: “The London riots did not happen because there were too few cameras. Indeed, they highlighted how criminals are largely undeterred by CCTV and how millions of pounds of equipment can be defeated with a balaclava or well-placed scarf.”
Rejecting criticism of excessive spending, the council spokesman said: “Our cameras also represent good value for money for local taxpayers. According to Big Brother Watch our cameras cost just £4,700 each.
“This compares to more than £22,000 in Birmingham, £77,000 in Westminster, £63,000 in Croydon and £34,000 in Leeds.”
In reply, Mr Pickles argued: “The cost per camera comparison is one we have deliberately avoided making because it is frankly misleading.
“Some authorities contribute to other bodies to run their cameras, while others act as a controller for smaller councils.
“The issue highlights just how badly managed the deployment of CCTV has been over the past decade when there are so many different and incompatible ways of running cameras in operation.”