CCTV cuts a ‘safety risk’

A CCTV operative scans images of landmarks in Blackpool. Below: CCTV outside the Belle Vue in Whitegate Drive, Blackpool.
A CCTV operative scans images of landmarks in Blackpool. Below: CCTV outside the Belle Vue in Whitegate Drive, Blackpool.
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CUTS to Blackpool’s CCTV service will put public safety at risk, dismayed campaigners warned today.

Town hall chiefs voted through a package of savings this week which will see £187,600 slashed from the CCTV budget.

CCTV outside the Belle Vue in Whitegate Drive, Blackpool.

CCTV outside the Belle Vue in Whitegate Drive, Blackpool.

The measures mean from April 1, the cameras will still be filming but will not be monitored – although the council says it is now looking at options which could enable some level of much reduced monitoring to take place.

But one CCTV operative, who has worked in the control unit at Bonny Street police station, warned the decision to reduce the service would compromise public safety.

The operator, who did not wish to be named, said: “This decision is wrong for the public, for tourism and for the town itself.

“CCTV is not just used in crime-fighting, but in finding missing children and dealing with public disorder.

“The one town that needs it the most is Blackpool because it is the biggest holiday resort in the country.

“In a typical day, we could deal with up to four missing people, from children to elderly folk with memory problems who have got lost.

“We could cover the entire town centre in 10 minutes to search for them.

“If fights break out, we could call police to the scene and prevent them escalating, and there have been times when we have directed the lifeboat to people in trouble in the sea.

“I have also monitored lone females walking home in the early hours of the morning to ensure their safety.

“What will be most frustrating from now on, is knowing the equipment is there to protect people, but nothing can be done to intervene when necessary.”

Chairman of Blackpool Pubwatch Craig Southall said town centre licensees would be considering if they could put money into some kind of CCTV service, although individual premises already run their own systems.

He said: “It may be our members consider putting some funding in.

“The police rely on CCTV quite heavily. It is an invaluable tool in protecting and promoting the licensing objectives.”

Dave Daley, North West chairman of Licensees for the Unite union, said the move would put pub workers at risk. He said: “We have thousands of staff working in the night time economy in Blackpool and then walking through the town centre to get home, so we need CCTV protection for them.

“We feel we have been badly let down by the council on this.”

Bruce Allen, of the Mereside Residents Association, said he was disappointed with the decision.

He added: “I think the decision had already been made. It is unbelievable, it is the loss of another important service.”

Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative group of Blackpool Council, said: “CCTV acts as an early warning system, helps find missing people and can help stop trouble before it starts.

“I don’t think it works everywhere in Blackpool, but I think it is important we have some sort of surveillance in the town centre.”

But Coun Fred Jackson, cabinet member with responsibility for CCTV, said the council had been forced to review the service because it had to make budget cuts of £14.1m.

He added: “Due to the Government’s budget cuts we are now forced to review how we run our CCTV service.

“The cameras will continue to film with the recordings still being accessible by the police and we are now looking at a way where the cameras are able to be monitored in some form, but it is expected to be on a smaller scale than previously.”

Blackpool’s CCTV camera system, launched in 2001, has cost in the region of £1.5m to set up, and in 2009 it was costing £600,000 a year to operate.

Cameras were monitored round-the-clock seven days a week until the first cuts were made in 2011, and the number of CCTV operators was reduced from 11 to three as part of a £908,000 package of cuts covering parking and CCTV.

Monitoring was reduced to Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

A town hall scrutiny of the CCTV system found between April and September 2008, CCTV operators responded to 1,931 incidents.

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