Council CCTV coverage a ‘disgraceful waste of money’

THE cost of a network of surveillance cameras protecting a west Suffolk council’s headquarters has been slammed as a “disgraceful’’ waste of taxpayers’ money.

A total of 28 cameras are monitored 24 hours a day to protect St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s headquarters at West Suffolk House.

The building has 64% more cameras than the whole of Sudbury, where there are just 17, and the council spends �250,000 annually on surveillance.

The information, obtained by the EADT under the Freedom of Information Act, has been heavily criticised by a civic leader and a residents’ group fighting to retain their community centre under council cutbacks.

Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of Big Brother Watch, which is affiliated to the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “To spend �250,000 on an intrusive CCTV network when councils are trying to trim their spending and essential services are feeling the pinch is a disgraceful waste of money.

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“When the Metropolitan Police have admitted that only one crime is solved for every 1,000 cameras, it is clear that this is money being wasted on CCTV which could have gone towards improving front-line policing.

“Questions need to be answered as to why St Edmundsbury has spent so much and placed so much faith in surveillance in comparison to the surrounding areas.”

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Of the 28 cameras at the Bury St Edmunds council building, which is shared with Suffolk County Council, 12 are outside and 16 are inside. Across the town as a whole there are 77 cameras.

David Nettleton, the chairman of Bury St Edmunds Town Council and a member of the borough council, said: “Why would they want CCTV in a closed area? Are they monitoring councillors?

“I am greatly surprised there are that many. I am also greatly surprised about the cost – I would have thought they would have had just a few cameras, why there is more than four outside (the building) I do not know.”

Ernie Broom, who is spearheading the Howard Estate Over 60s’ fight to stop the council forcing the financial burden of their community centre on them, said: “Those across the town are probably needed but 28 in one building, and the majority of those keeping an eye on the staff inside the building, that itself is very wrong. It is so over the top when they are talking about cutbacks – this is where they should be doing it!”

But a borough council spokeswoman insisted the cameras were needed for “security, rather than prevention” to keep visitors and staff safe.

She said: “Outside they keep a check on the car parks and bike sheds and on what is happening when the building is not in use. The cameras inside are in public areas and stairwells, for example in the rooms we use for carrying out interviews under caution and where volatile situations are handled. Staff are monitored only as part of the coverage mentioned.

“The police have access to all our cameras and have used West Suffolk House footage to follow up inquiries on a serious incident elsewhere in the town.”

The council claims CCTV operated by paid staff - two at any one time - rather than public volunteers who man Sudbury and Hadliegh’s system - has contributed to 52 arrests and 11 cautions in February alone. It also operates 24 cameras across Haverhill.

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