Decision to let Borders CCTV network go to rack and ruin splits opinion of councillors

Councillor Harry Scott in Galashiels.
Councillor Harry Scott in Galashiels.
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Councillors who voted to let the region’s dilapidated surveillance camera network fall out of service are being accused of letting their communities down.

Scottish Borders Council is to turn its back on the crumbling security network rather than spending the hundreds of thousands of pounds it would cost to bring it up to date.

Councillors voted 15-14 in favour of continuing to spend £44,000 a year on minimal maintenance of the region’s 70 cameras until they are broken beyond repair and finally removed.

Council leader Shona Haslam told the committee she believed its maintenance or replacement was not the job of the council.

“This would be money that is not going to be spent on our roads, social care and education, and on the most vulnerable in our community,” she said. “Due to the budget restraint we have, I cannot see a way forward.

“We can’t do it on our own, Police Scotland needs to talk to us.

“Our police are unable to commit any funding to the project, not are they able to provide any information on the effect CCTV has on them detecting crime.

“It’s police that use and access the footage, the council should have no role in this whatsoever.

“The prevention and the detection of crime is not the job of the council, it is the role of the police.”

But that’s a view which caused outcry from councillors who believe the public consultation, in which more than 90% of respondents said they agreed the network should be maintained, is proof enough that the public wants the council to foot the bill.

“The health, safety and wellbeing of the population it serves are the prime responsibilities of any local authority, and that includes the prevention and detection of crime,” Galashiels councillor Harry Scott said. “The installation and maintenance of CCTV systems is part of that in today’s modern world, and it is only right that Scottish Borders Council leads by example. What value can be placed on the health, safety and wellbeing of our constituents? Our public need the assurance that those prime responsibilities are not being neglected.”

He called for further discussions with Police Scotland to see whether an agreement can be reached on a jointly-funded project going forward.

“Claiming that crime prevention is not our job is absolute nonsense,” he added. “Why do we pay for a police community action team and why do we have a safer communities board if it’s not our concern?”

The authority currently pays for the upkeep of 70 public-space CCTV cameras in Hawick, Galashiels, Kelso, Peebles, Eyemouth, Selkirk, Melrose and Duns monitored by the police, though 22 of them are out of order.

Former police chief and Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer said the proposals set before the committee were “quite honestly insulting” to the people and police officers of the Borders.

He said: “We have heard from council officers that the police don’t use CCTV very often, but is it little wonder? This council produced a report last year that indicated almost 70% of systems were not operating correctly with nearly 50% hardly working at all. Is it little wonder the police are less than enthusiastic? “That position would change overnight if we were capable of providing evidincial-quality recordings.

“This council believes that CCTV is of limited value. Let me assure you that in a professional capacity I know that CCTV is essential. There is hardly a serious crime committed today that does not rely on CCTV evidence yet we are to ignore that to satisfy a speculative argument, or is this purely a question of cost and once again denying the Borders people a service they demand?

“It is spurious to suggest that Police Scotland should fund every public CCTV system. The fact we are paying for a community action team at over £500k annually discredits that assertion. Forget that red herring.”

He added Police Scotland’s decision not to help fund the network was a “difficult choice” for the county’s only force which was “fighting hard to survive”.

He added: “This chamber has an opportunity to listen to the overwhelming voice of our constituents. To do anything else is to increase the fear of crime and to deny Police Scotland with the best possible opportunity to prevent crime and bring offenders to justice.”

With almost one in three of the cameras around Borders town centres currently not working and many more expected to go offline in the next couple of years, Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell suggested an alternative to the officers’ recommendations yesterday.

“We are spending about £40,000 per annum on maintaining the current dilapidated system.

“This report says we have to spend about the same again to maintain a decent system. The other option is costs of up to £150,000 just to dismantle what we’ve got.

“The net capital cost of what I am proposing in this amendment would be £600,000 to £650,000 to get eight decent systems.

“That could and should be phased over a number of years. It is not practical to replace them all in one year.”

Were the phasing to be done over four years, that would be £150,000 cost per annum, and that is not significant.

“CCTV as a community safety tools over more than protection and prevention of crime by providing public reassurance it protect the most vulnerable in society and keeps people safe.

“I know there are concerns whether the entire costs here are justifiable, but I am asking us to take a decision in principle in terms of the prevention and detection of crime,”

Mr Bell’s alternative amendment won backing of 13 other councillors, but fell short of defeating the 15-strong side in favour of the original plan.

Selkirkshire councillor Caroline Penman, who earlier spoke in favour of maintaining the system, told the committee how important CCTV was to businesses, her own shop having been raided by thieves last year.

She told us the Borders had been let down by the council’s decision.

“I am absolutely gutted,” she said. “We have let down the communities within the Borders.

“The majority of them said that they wanted the CCTV maintained, and I feel we have not listened.

“In Selkirk, we are one step ahead and have had a study done on behalf of the Selkirk business improvement districts to install our own network, but I just feel disappointed for the rest of the Borders that the council has not seen this was a priority.”

Mr Scott, vice-chairman of the council’s police, fire and rescue and safer communities board, added afterwards: This decision amounts to a major abrogation of the council’s responsibility to look after the welfare of the people it was voted in to serve.

“Public space CCTV has played a major part in the reduction and prevention of crime and anti-social behaviour as evidenced by the Scottish Government’s national strategy for CCTV.

“Public space CCTV has also been used extensively in the search for vulnerable missing persons, and the detection of serious and organised crime. A survey carried out by Scottish Borders Council showed that an overwhelming majority, over 90% in some responses, of the Borders public believe that public space CCTV is a useful tool in the prevention and detection of crime, and keeping our streets safe, yet these figures were ignored.

“This shocking decision by the ruling administration will leave our communities more vulnerable to instances of crime and anti-social behaviour, the perpetrators safe in the knowledge that their nefarious activities are no longer being captured, and lessening the chances of detection.

“It’s a sad day indeed for the people of the Borders, let down by some councillors who voted to look after their interests.”