Privatisation option for Hunts CCTV if police won’t pay

HUNTINGDONSHIRE may yet keep its crime-busting closed circuit television coverage, which had been set to be mothballed in April next year to save �300,000.

HUNTINGDONSHIRE may yet keep its crime-busting closed circuit television coverage, which had been set to be mothballed in April next year to save �300,000.

A variety of options is being investigated to save money on the �500,000-a-year system of 93 cameras covering the district’s market towns.

Last year, CCTV monitored almost 2,300 offences, and was used by the police 800 times in investigating offences.

The police force has consistently refused to contribute towards the cost in spite of getting free access, free copies of footage, almost exclusive use of four automatic number-plate recognition cameras, frequent presence in the control room and use of footage for release to third parties, including the BBC’s Crimewatch programme and The Hunts Post.

“Although it would not be in the spirit of partnership working, the council could invoice the police for every evidence review, copying of evidence onto DVD and any special operations where they require targeted surveillance,” says Huntingdonshire District Council’s head of operations Eric Kendall.

“However, the council does have a duty under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to work in partnership with the police and other agencies to reduce crime and to consider the implications on crime and disorder in any decision making.”

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Although mothballing from next April is still a possibility, it is not a cost-free option, and HDC’s new executive leader, Councillor Jason Ablewhite, has said he would prefer to find a way to keep it open.

“The CCTV service cannot be temporarily closed or ‘mothballed’ at nil cost and then re-opened at a later date,” said Mr Kendall.

“The system would still have to be maintained, which would cost around �40,000 a year, line rental charges are �95,000 and there would be redundancy costs if the staff team were to be deleted.

“There would be significant set up costs if the council then later decided it wanted to reinstate the service, for example, if crime and antisocial behaviour suddenly increased once the cameras were removed.”

Converting the system to wireless operation, which could cost up to �500,000 as an ‘invest-to-save’ initiative, would save the council the almost �100,000 it now pays each year to lease fibre-optic lines to the cameras. Wireless operation would have the advantage that additional cameras could be added in future at lower marginal cost.

But privatisation is also an option. If HDC were to outsource the activity under a contract that would have to last a minimum of five years to be attractive to bidders, the investment in a wireless network could be made by the contractor and could be set off against tax liability.

However, part of the �129,000 HDC has already saved in 2011/12 compared with last year is to lose its CCTV team leader – the very person who would be expected to be closely involved in designing a private-sector contract.

Other options being considered include asking parish and town councils to contribute – a process that has already started informally – providing a monitoring service to private companies, merging with other councils’ CCTV systems, or using volunteers in the control room. But all these options either have serious drawbacks or would impose extra costs, or both.

HDC will have to make a decision in the autumn for inclusion in its medium-term financial plan.