FEARS were today raised that cutting back on CCTV could leave Blackpool at the mercy of criminals.
Under the latest cost cutting measures by Blackpool Council, its CCTV service – based out of Bonny Street Police Station – is under threat.
The news comes after it was revealed the unit will be unmanned at certain times this weekend due to staff sickness, although the cameras will still be running.
Coun Fred Jackson, cabinet for streets and transport at Blackpool Council, said: “This is an unfortunate and unforeseeable situation which has left the CCTV monitoring staff unable to run a full service on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“The CCTV cameras will still be recording over the weekend.
“We have liaised with the police about this issue and they will be on hand, as always, to deal with any crimes which occur.”
After the loss of service, residents, businesses and unions voiced concerns over the impact of cutting staffing.
While no definite decision has been made, the five members of staff who currently man the control room have been notified their jobs are “at risk”.
The service has also been earmarked as “lowest priority” in the latest council report ahead of its 2013/2014 budget.
A total of £187,600 has to be slashed from the CCTV section of the Leisure and Operational Services department in the next financial year.
Peter Marsden, assistant branch secretary for Unison in Blackpool, told The Gazette: “It’s a valuable service which can deter crime. It needs preserving and protecting.”
But Coun Jackson added: “At this stage a decision hasn’t been made on the future of the CCTV service. As a council we’re faced with having to make £14m of savings. The staff in the CCTV team, along with hundreds of others at the council, have been issued with at risk notices and they have my full sympathy, it’s a terrible situation to be in.”
In 2011 town hall cuts led to the control rooms being manned less through the week, from Thursday to Sunday between the hours of 11pm and 4am.
The cameras continue to film during unmanned hours.
The 104 cameras in Blackpool cover the town centre, two housing estates at Grange Park and the council’s multi-storey and open-air car parks. A further nine cameras cover St Annes and Kirkham.
A meeting of Talbot ward PACT on this week found the majority of members would like to see CCTV maintained.
Chairman Dave Blacker said: “We held a debate and found more than 40 of 50 members said they considered CCTV to be very important and should be maintained for public safety.”
Business owner Hazel Kay called for more CCTV in the Devonshire Road area after she twice fell victim to vandals and said cutting the service would affect both businesses and residents.
Mrs Kay, whose salon Sun4U was targeted in October last year, said: “It’s diabolical they might take that away. People have fought hard to get these systems in place, it would make the situation worse for people who rely on CCTV.”
And Cath Hurley, treasurer of the Layton traders’s association, added: “We need more investment in CCTV, not less. The last 12 to 18 months there have been some quite serious crimes in this area and I was hoping there would be more funding for new cameras down Westcliffe Drive. People feel more safe if there is CCTV and it could put the offenders off.”
Bruce Allen, chairman of Mereside Tenants and Residents Association, said further cuts to CCTV would be “devastating”.
He added: “Cameras are absolutely essential and a worthwhile expenditure by the council. It would be devastating if they go. They help people feel safe.”
Unison said if the service is cut it hopes another public authority, such as the police, would take over running of the control rooms.
Blackpool Police said it would not want to comment on the future of CCTV until a council decision has been made on the service.
But a spokesman added: “We’ve been made aware town centre CCTV cameras will temporarily be unmanned during the evenings this weekend but would reassure people police officers on patrol will be in regular radio contact with door staff and will be in a position to respond to any incidents which may arise.”
A final decision will be made on the service when the 2013/14 budget goes before the full council on February 26.
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the opposition Conservative Party on Blackpool Council, said: “If we don’t have cover for sickness because of funding issues then this is seriously and dangerously wrong. We do appear to be cutting some very important services while supporting some that don’t have that same urgency, it is a very big worry.”