Wigan Council spent more than £1m on CCTV cameras to watch its residents last year, official figures show.
That put it among the highest-spending local authorities in England as far as camera coverage is concerned – but it has been drastically cut to £140,000 during the current financial year.
The AA has accused councils of making “shedloads of money” from drivers caught by cameras, and warned they have become dependent on the cash that fines bring in.
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government figures show that in the financial year 2017-18, Wigan Council spent £1.29m.
Spending has fallen since 2010, when it was £1.35m.
When street CCTV was first widely introduced in the 1990s, Wigan famously had more cameras than anywhere in the country bar London, although opinion was split as to whether this offered extra security or was an intrusion of privacy which just pushed some problems beyond the lenses’ range.
Across England, councils spent £78m on cameras in 2017-18. Government figures show it is one area of spending that has gone up nationally since 2010. Councils use cameras to keep watch on roads and public spaces.
The AA says councils are using cameras to issue penalty charge notices (PCNs) and are dependent on the cash.
Luke Bosdet, of the AA’s motoring policy unit, said: “Councils are making shedloads of money out of cameras and they are not re-investing it to make roads safer. There are certain yellow box junctions that catch people by the thousand. If so many people are being caught it shows that the road layout needs to be improved. Normally law-abiding drivers are being caught but councils won’t do anything as they are pulling in the cash to prop up their other spending.”
Civil liberties campaigners say councils are spending millions of pounds spying on residents despite cutting services in many other areas.
Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo said: “Research consistently shows that public cameras are ineffective at deterring, preventing or even solving crime, but that too much CCTV does curb citizens’ freedom. Surveillance is no substitute for policing, and this will prove to be a terrible waste of money.”
The Local Government Association had defended council spending on cameras. Spokesman Simon Blackburn said: “CCTV plays a vital role in protecting the public by dissuading crime and antisocial behaviour, assisting police officers on the ground and supporting prosecutions for offences ranging from fly-tipping and traffic violations to acts of theft, robbery and serious violence.
“CCTV also reduces costs to the public purse as anyone caught committing an offence on camera is likely to plead guilty, saving time on trials.”