Freelance journalist

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Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
August 10, 2021

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Managers required to find new income streams as local authority CCTV faces funding squeeze

The unprecedented level of public expenditure to support people and businesses through the pandemic is inevitably going to lead to some sort of reckoning when it comes to the autumn budget and future government expenditure. Whether it will result in the drastic cuts to local government budgets seen in the years after the 2008 financial crash – where cameras were being switched off and reductions made in 24/7 live monitoring – remains to be seen.

Applications for the 2021/22 round of the Safer Streets Fund – the main central government funding in England and Wales for public space safety including CCTV – closed in July. Some £25 million is up for grabs, with the priority being to secure bids to help make women and girls feel safer on the streets.

So what is the state of CCTV funding at present? Some key points to emerge from a recent survey of local authority CCTV managers by the CCTV User Group on funding and income generating opportunities were:

  • Almost all respondents were delivering services in addition to core CCTV monitoring, such as fire and intruder alarms monitoring and car park management
  • The average operating budget for local authority schemes is £404,000 a year, ranging from £8,000 to £1.3 million
  • 31% of respondents were experiencing budget cuts, with 75% of these saying they are permanent
  • Only 13% used CCTV to issue Penalty Charge Notices
  • 83% think that there should be a council tax precept to fund CCTV

Additional services included car park and street warden management and the monitoring of out-of-hours intruder alarms (both local authority and third party), fire alarms, panic alarms, lone workers, local authority and third-party alarm-activated CCTV, and lifts.

Addressing funding cuts, 38% of respondents said that announced cuts would have a ‘substantial’ or ‘considerable’ impact on services, including staff cuts, reduced monitoring hours and system closures. Although the Safer Streets Fund is being channelled through police and crime commissioners, just 20% of respondents receive funding from them.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 87% of respondents believe that CCTV should be designated a ‘statutory service’ for local authorities, meaning a service they are legally obliged to provide and which would have a higher priority for funding – as is the case with services such as child and adult social care, education and waste collection. Their reasons for wanting to make the provision of CCTV a statutory service include increasing reliance on it by police, public expectations, councils’ duty of care, protecting council housing and property and that CCTV is key to community safety partnerships.

Linked to the issue of making CCTV a statutory service, 83% of respondents were in favour of a council tax precept (a dedicated percentage of council tax receipts) to fund CCTV, as is the case for the costs of local policing.

Other findings of the survey are:

  • Only 20% of respondents have outsourced their monitoring to a third party
  • 60% of respondents’ schemes were monitored live 24/7, with 23% monitored live for selected periods
  • 74% employed mostly in-house staff, while 23% employed mostly contract staff
  • Average full time equivalent staff is 8.1
  • Police downloads of video averaged 397 per scheme, with the median cost per download being £1,144

Finding new sources of revenue is a key consideration for CCTV managers facing funding cuts. At a recent CCTV User Group meeting, Director Peter Webster set out his idea for widening the scope of control rooms into security operations centres (SOC). This recognises and puts onto a more formal footing the work that some control rooms are doing to offer a wider range of services.

“CCTV systems are facing the budget axe in many local government areas, a consequence of years of cuts in central government grants for local authorities,” Webster told IFSEC Global. “Meanwhile, the funding stream for crime prevention is being channelled through police and crime commissioners, which means that the money is being divided between many more competing schemes, leaving even less money for CCTV.

“Some of our members have responded by reorganising their CCTV control centres as security operations centres, enabling them to generate income by offering third-party services on commercial terms and repositioning themselves internally as an indispensable service to other departments. We have identified this as a viable way forward and are working with them to share these ideas and disseminate best practice which, we hope, will help preserve CCTV as a public benefit in as many local authorities as possible.”

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