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After years of public sector austerity, when local government on-street CCTV was squeezed of budget and had to cut control room operator hours and camera numbers, and some systems were switched off altogether, there are promising signs for the public space CCTV sector, writes Mark Rowe.
Partly that is due to central government money – the Home Office Safer Streets Fund – being available, as it was during the heyday of public space CCTV spending, under the last years of the Conservative government to 1997, and the first years of Labour government, into the mid-2000s. Then the kit installed was the most up to date – black and white cameras, recorded onto analogue tape. Even without 2010s austerity, local government faced a choice – stay with now ageing equipment that was breaking down and costly or even impossible to repair; or go digital, and by ‘spending to save’ give a better and more varied service.
In the July to October print editions of Professional Security we aim to feature various local government CCTV case studies, going beyond the largest, big city systems. In July, we’ve featured Tonbridge in Kent, that decided against a control room hours cut after high-profile crimes. In August we are featuring the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, that has brought out a CCTV strategy; and North Somerset District Council, whose CCTV control room manager Chris Harrison we last featured in 2015.
North Somerset, based at Weston super Mare town hall (pictured), is not only busy pedestrianising the town centre to make it more attractive to visitors, but like other councils is spending a six-figure sum on a digital upgrade. It’s also providing a service to the smaller towns of the district, notably Clevedon, Nailsea and Portishead, on behalf of the town councils, monitored at the district council control room, with links to Avon and Somerset Police and the Weston BID street wardens.
A handful of cameras in a small town or large village are an often overlooked aspect of public space CCTV in Britain, as public sector austerity – and not only in CCTV – has meant that outlying services are often the first to get cut or done away with altogether. Yet those cameras are prized by communities and are altogether possible to provide, and indeed are more feasible technically than ever, as the Cumbria and Dyfed-Powys CCTV systems have shown, funded by police and crime commissioners.
North Somerset told Professional Security that Mike Solomon, Executive for Neighbourhoods and Community Services who has responsibility for the CCTV systems and public safety, is fully supportive of the expenditure and expansion of the new cameras and control room and can see how the ideas Chris has put forward can help enormously with public safety and control of abuse in public places helping to make our street safer for women and vulnerable people.
More on those ideas – that Chris is due to speak about at the Global MSC conference in Bristol on Tuesday, October 19 – in the August print edition of Professional Security magazine.