Cash-strapped UK local authorities spent £0.5B on CCTV in 4 years

"The Price of Privacy: How local authorities spent £515m on CCTV in four years" is a new report from Britain's Big Brother Watch, and it documents how the skyrocketing expansion of Britain's police and local government surveillance has resulted in over 4,000 fewer patrolling police officers, less privacy, and no appreciable reduction in crime.

CCTV has been viewed by those controlling expenditure as a cheap alternative to conventional policing, with no demonstrable equivalent success in reducing crime.

The efficiency of CCTV varies hugely across the country, with cameras regularly not working or turned off, footage being deleted before it can be used and pictures of insufficient quality for court purposes.

Local authorities have spent an unprecedented amount of money to make the United Kingdom the most watched nation of people anywhere in the world. That amount of spending on CCTV is steadily increasing, with funds being diverted from conventional policing budgets to pay for the new technology.

CCTV serves as a costly placebo for many local authorities designed to appease neighbourhoods suffering from anti-social behaviour problems.

As the number of CCTV cameras increases, so does the potential number of people being watched and the number of council officers watching – with worrying implications for personal privacy and data security.

The lack of enforceable regulation means that more intrusive use of CCTV – for example, in public toilets, schools or with audio recording capability – can only be challenged in the courts by way of judicial review.

The Price of Privacy: How local authorities spent £515m on CCTV in four years


  1. There are not “4,000 fewer patrolling officers”. The article says £515m ” would put an extra 4,121 police constables on the streets” which is not the same thing at all.

    I can think of plenty of things to do with £515m that would be better than CCTV but recruiting 4,121 PCs would not be one.

    Fixing some potholes in the roads near me would be a good start.

    1. Technically you’re right, in that the quote was a little misleading, but lets put it another way:

      1) The Police in the UK are facing ever increasing funding cuts.

      2) We’re spending lots of money on CCTV.

      It’s not a lot of work to draw a financial link there.

        1. Security funding, like charter school funding, serves to solve only one problem: getting public funds into private hands.

  2. I’m surprised its so little.  £125m pa, across the whole UK, is something like £4 pa on each of the 22m tax paying houses in England 

    Given that the average Band D council tax is £1439 that would make the cost of CCTV something like 0.2% of most people’s council tax bill (I’m sure someone will shout if my sums are wrong!)

    Not saying that’s couldn’t be spent on other things, but it doesn’t seem a lot in the overall context of council budgets.

    1.  Any national scale cost when boiled down in that way will sound insignificant, it doesn’t mean they are.

      Look at it another way, that money could improve the NHS, or our schools, or many of the other things we pay for that are shit because all their funding has gone to oil wars.

  3. I do believe part of the problem is they were sold the idea that CCTV would solve all the problems.  Rather than stop and look at the results vs the costs (monetary and societal) , they think if they just spend a little bit more, push into another corner of peoples lives it will magically solve all of the problems.

    This is sort of like the situation in the US.  They were sold the idea that TSA would be the perfect solution.  They gave them all kinds of money for unproven tech, alot of it now sits in warehouses because it doesn’t work at all and more units show up because of the contract, and a mandate to make us safe.  No politician dares touch the issue of the TSA, small exceptions when they go way to far and the media gets involved, for fear of being branded as “soft” on terrorism.  So they keep throwing money into the pit, hoping this time they will give enough money that it will suddenly get better and work as it was promised to do.

    The public keep clamoring to fix the problems, so they keep spending money so they can show they are doing “something”.  It does nothing to fix the problem, and creates more problems.  The new problems are covered with such helpful comments as
    “If you don’t have anything to hide, why complain.” 
    “Your a good person, they would never do that to you.”
    “Your not patriotic if you don’t submit to these invasions of your liberties!”
    etc. etc…

    We are all partially at fault for expecting a quick simple fix, and when the wheels started to come off we declined to speak up.  Hoping the next level of rectal exams would be the last piece we need to be safe.  We made our bed, its time to stop laying in it bitching about the wet spot… we need to get up and make the bed again, learning from our past mistakes.

    1. Err – no its not – its Big Brother Watch.  Certainly right-libertarian think tank, but not the same as the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

    2. You know what? Who cares. Stuff like the UK Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of Rights of Men or the US constitution, they were all written by and for rich “nutjobs” who wanted to be free from some silly rule or another. Sometimes (*sometimes*) even a rich right-wing nutjob can actually represent the general interest better than some democratically elected bureaucrat.

  4. Humans seem to have a propensity to use resources in the wrong way.  They can not mend a hole in the road but they can make sure to turn that same road into radioactive glass in an instant!  More money for nonsense (take your pick) but little for curing diseases, really preventing crime and ending all wars.  Too much hate and not enough love.  End of rant…

      1.  What more can I say?  Humans are capable of great good but they are also capable of tremendous evil.  Good is much harder than evil.  It may take years to construct a building but only seconds to blow it up.  Evil is easy.  Evil is a lazy way out.  People hardly understand the world around them.  I suggest reading some the writings of Mark Twain on the subject of humans.  “Man is the only animal that blushes.  Or needs to.”

      1. Western scientific method cannot distinguish information from knowledge – God is everywhere! But this inability to distinguish is absolutely responsible for the fundamental shift in our relationship with money behind capitalism and the development of the separation of logarithmic from linear thinking and the development of calculus. Tricky fucker, God.

        1. IOW, we are the crap between God’s hand and God’s forehead.  We are what is squished during His Almighty Facepalm.


      We’ve got CCTV in our downtown, in BC.

      Population, 7,700.

      Crime must be rampant here.

      We just got CCTV is our downtown (US town). Population: 800.

      Sometimes I just hate living in this world. It’s just too fucking depressing and stupid.

  5. Aww c’mon. It’s not fair to say that crime hasn’t come down. It might be true that it hasn’t, but at least it’s moved out of sight of the cameras.

    Where it can’t be measured any more. So .. it …… might actually …. oh hang on.

  6. I know I’ve seen a quote about the implausibility of 1984 is thinking that the surveillance would work. Probably a libertarian source, probably at least 20 years ago. Anyone remember it?

      1.  I find it upsetting that you’re correct and that modern Britain has managed to out-surveil arguably the most famous dystopian novel.

          1. Yeah, but that was for minor party officials. The party didn’t really care that much when the proles cussed and beat themselves up. 

          2.  ’twas more a reference to the fact that, in the book, it’s a small portion of the population, whereas in the UK it’s a much larger one.

    1. 1984 has interior home surveillance and torture to back it up. I think it would work just fine. If by ‘work’ we mean replacing the metaphorical ‘cop in your head’ with a ‘police state in your head.’ It all flows easily into stories of people with paranoid schizophrenia convinced there are transmitters implanted in their teeth. It’s understandable. Mental patients in Montreal reduced to infantilised blank slates by CIA-funded experiments in sensory deprivation drifting with the tide to Guantanamo Bay. 

      Surveillance ultimately works by teaching people to watch themselves. Thankfully, judging by the UK experience, it doesn’t seem to have much effect. People blank it. They are like contestants on Big Brother who, after a while, forget all about the cameras. 

  7. I don’t think it’s just CCTV cameras.  The waste is on a scale of other “private finance initiatives,” whereby tax money is funnelled to private companies to in theory provide government services  better and more cheaply. This is assuming that the service adds value to the lives of citizens, which can’t be said of, say, mandatory biometric ID cards or CCTV cameras, which are of mostly forensic value.

    What happens instead is that much of the savings, if any, from outsourcing to low-wage, minimal-benefits labor are recaptured by executive salaries. And, businesses, unlike governments, don’t normally provide service to unprofitable customers in unprofitable areas, the government usually throws in a profit guarantee which almost always seems to be collected.

    Throw in extra tax money needed to clean up the resulting mess, because it’s too late to go back–the government agency that provided the service has been dismantled.
    It’s obvious this is where the money goes, but it can’t be proven because private companies aren’t required to open their books, even though they are fulfilling government functions. After 20+ years of PFI contracts, you’d think this would be a sticking point for the government, but, funnily enough, it’s not.

    I’ve been reading Private Eye way too much.

  8. ’tis yet another case of putting a nice shiny patch over massive failings simply so that you can be seen to be doing something. “lessons learned” etc.*

    The fact that it doesn’t work doesn’t matter because approved vox pops and official lines will repeat ad nauseam that “as part of our community safety initiative we’ve installed a thousand blah-de-blah to make everything super. A report that we’ve commissioned by a friend of our boss says it’s ace” and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

    You see, in modern Britain it isn’t so much about having stuff that works, but the appearance of stuff that works that matters. Provided someone gets a backhander for the contracts and someone takes a cut  as thanks for “lobying” then all is well.

    The fact that the country is fast becoming an armpit because we can no longer make anything ourselves, repair our roads, operate our rail networks, police our streets properly or even count on the courts to do their job, is neither here nor there because there are lots of graphs and statistics that say everything’s just fine. And don’t you dare argue, you unpatriotic brute.

    In light of that, half a billion on CCTV cameras that, in many cases, provide evidence that is inadmissible due to them being improperly installed, seems like a damp squib.
    I mean, hey, as long as the NHS is “opened up to competition” we’re golden. Right guys?

    * lessons learnt, surely?

    1. Every time I see a smiley face on a government or council hoarding I want to get a can of paint and spray over it. It feels so good, but I am way too old now. They are not listening. Their cameras go hand in hand with the privatization of public space, perhaps that will be the ultimate justification. It can’t be the reduction of crime, can it?
      Alternatively, in a post industrial Britain the university system has an important job creation function in teaching people to write meaningless drivel (who cares about content, the significance of writing itself is all that matters). They then start thinking that what they write is all that matters that it is actually meaningful and start to try and make it all come true. The ignorant masses would not understand. When I try to read their reports my eyes glaze over and all I see is ‘fuck you’. There is no need to invent conspiracy theories. They exist.

  9. “Pip Pip! What have we hear, Johnston? ‘1984’? Is this the new manual for policing.”


    “CCTV everywhere – brilliant! Make it so! Cherri-O, let’s have some tea.”

  10. The thing that annoys me more than anything about CCTV is the poor quality images they create/capture. These look to be big expensive cameras that seem to be deliberately specified to render any images they capture so  low in quality as to be virtually useless. What is going on with that? When the cheapest phone now takes a MUCH better picture than these “professional” purpose-built cameras, I get all confused. Somebody point me to just ONE high-quality CCTV image and I’ll relax a little.

    OK, that isn’t the thing that annoys me most. It is their existence and uselessness all in one.

    I was at a small tube station in London a few years back. The station entrance that measured about 5m x 8m had about 12 cameras pointing at it. They couldn’t really have crammed any more in. I was going to take a photo of it, but then I remembered I was in the UK, and there was somewhere I needed to be rather than arguing with police (or security guards) about photographers’ rights.

  11. The best way to reduce crime is to legalize victimless crimes and non-violent offenses with the exception of theft of any kind and a very few other offenses such as drunk driving.

    Then take the money saved from the reduction in police and prisons to improve education and fund job-training.

    Crime is the result of illogical laws and ignorance. Without an education and skillz choices become limited, meaning crime becomes an option. When people are desperate and hopeless, and non-violent and victimless pursuits are illegal, we have the perfect excuse for a police state.

    1. Logical laws sounds oxymoronic to me. Ethics and morality (although the word seems to have been hijacked by nutters) is what matters. The law is a one size fits all solution imposed from outside or above. Ethics/morality come from within, but are at present trapped within the fascism of the law. I blame God.

      1. I’m sorry, but your comment makes no sense at all.

        Laws are our attempt to bridge the gaps between our disparate understandings and beliefs of what constitutes ethical and moral behavior.

        If the laws have been hijacked it was by our archaic beliefs in what constitutes ethical or moral behavior.

        The law is only a reflection of our own ignorance and beliefs.

        Please feel free to blame any thing other than yourself.

  12. I’ve got a Monorail that will solve all their transportation problems too! Shelbyville already has one!

  13. Those Right-Wing-Authoritarians are everywhere!
    (I had hoped Bob Altemeyer was wrong, and NO, that’s not what he means by Right-Wing!)
    P.T. Barnum said, “there’s a sucker born every minute”!
    Is the terror threat REALLY increasing EXPONENTIALLY, or are only government contracts increasing EXPONENTIALLY?/
    (More importantly, is our safety increasing exponentially??)

Comments are closed.