They are the third eye for police in the city centre and have helped catch hundreds breaking the law.
But from midnight tomorrow the 25 CCTV cameras which watch over Preston’s worst crimespots will no longer be monitored, prompting businesses to fear an upturn in crime.
The city council, faced with making cuts of £50,000 a year on the surveillance system budget, has failed to agree a new contract with the company which provides the staff to operate it.
So when the current £100,000 deal runs out tomorrow night the cameras will still be running, but no-one will be watching.
“We have a categoric assurance from the council that no one will be monitoring those screens after Thursday night,” said Martin McGowan-Scanlon, managing director of Profile Security Services who have been doing the job for the past three years. “And if they try and bring in another company to do it we will sue them faster than you can say Jack Flash. Our lawyers have already told their lawyers that.”
Preston has been watched over by CCTV’s all-seeing eye for the past 18 years and the cameras have become an essential tool in tackling crime in the city centre.
We have a categoric assurance from the council that no one will be monitoring those screens after Thursday night,Martin McGowan-Scanlon, managing director of Profile Security Services
Trained civilian operators in the control room at Preston Police Station, some of them former Remploy workers, initially monitored pictures around-the-clock for 365 days a year. But in 2012 that was trimmed back to 18 hours a day Monday to Thursday and 24 hours a day at weekends.
Operators – usually one, but sometimes two – scan pictures from all 25 cameras and alert police controllers in the same operations room to anything suspicious, allowing officers to be deployed quickly to the scene. They also track suspects trying to evade capture.
But without monitoring staff it could now be left to police controllers to keep an eye on the screens, in addition to their already heavy workload.
The failure to sign a new deal with Profile Security Systems of Warrington has frustrated council chiefs who had hoped to halve the cost to meet the drastic budget cutbacks they are facing.
The Evening Post was told the council and the contractor ended up “poles apart” after lengthy discussions aimed at agreeing a new deal.
But, while the council says it had sought a cut-price deal to achieve its £50,000 savings target, Mr McGowan-Scanlon claimed: “At no time was there any request by them to look at reducing the cost. If there had been then we would have looked at that. But there wasn’t.
“As far as we are aware they are looking to go into a central hub with various other councils in September. We have reached agreement with the other councils to extend our service until then, it is only Preston who have been intransigent.”
Adrian Phillips, Preston’s director of environment, explained: “The current CCTV monitoring contract ends on March 31 and we’ve simply been unable to reach agreement with the current contractor to keep the CCTV monitoring contract in place.
“Everyone knows that council funding is under severe pressure and it’s disappointing that the contractor was not able to reach reasonable terms with the council, based on sustainable costs that could be contained within budgets.
“However, the CCTV system remains fully operational within the police control room and will continue to be used by the police for community safety purposes. Indeed we are looking at ways of extending and enhancing the current city centre CCTV system.”
The news comes as Preston has been working to upgrade its CCTV system using £57,000 seized from the proceeds of crime and also £81,000 from Preston BID, the group of city centre businesses trying to revitalise the main shopping and entertainment areas.
Spokesmen for Lancashire Police and Preston BID were unavailable for comment.