Opinion: Slaying Big Brother and Big Government in one go

We know the facts by now. We are borrowing north of £100 billion every year, with our national debt having now topped £1 trillion. To finance all that we are paying £120 million every day just to pay the interest on that debt – enough to build a new school every day or a new hospital every week. Only the most shameless of deficit deniers would argue that we do not need to find cuts.

So, let me offer up one idea for a cut that has lots of potential across the country: council-run CCTV camera cars. These mobile CCTV units would surely be more at home on the streets of the old East Germany than in Britain today, or something one would expect to see in a report from Belarus or Zimbabwe. Sadly, these spy cars are a growing presence on our own streets.
It would be worth ridding ourselves of them even if it cost money, but thankfully this decision would have the added benefit of helping us find the cuts we need to find.

Smart car with CCTV logoThanks to the Freedom of Information Act I have been able to dig out the details of the one operated by Plymouth City Council. I stood for the Plymouth Moor View seat at the election and this spy car has been bugging me since I first spotted it, recording my movements whilst I and those I was with were all doing nothing wrong.

The FOI answer I have just received tells me that the Vauxhall Corsa that Plymouth uses (with its sinister camera poking out the top) will cost local taxpayers £32,578 in the next financial year. Not only will driving it around for nine hours a day cost an expected £3,398 in petrol, there will no doubt be a fair few tonnes of carbon pumped into the atmosphere too.

This alone won’t balance the books, certainly, but it is a painless cut that has the added bonus of being the right thing to do. These spy cars are an affront to our traditional freedoms and liberties, which the Coalition Government are starting to restore. Let us do away with them and use the money saved either to pay for police officers or to put towards getting that deficit down to zero.

I urge you to pressure your local council into scrapping them; lodge FOI requests about how much they cost and publicise the answers in your local press. If you have a council that is cutting, say, libraries, but keeping its spy cars then shout about that from the rooftops. If you are a Lib Dem running a council that uses them then may I politely ask you to be a good liberal and get rid of the horrid things.

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Poppie's mum 12th Feb '11 - 1:10pm

    “with its sinister camera poking out the top”

    How is the camera sinister ?
    Have you actually checked what the definition of sinister actually is rather than project a nappy training problem neurosis onto an inaminate object ?

    Sinister means – bad, evil, base, wicked, threatening or portending evil harm or trouble.

  • Paul McKeown 12th Feb '11 - 1:45pm

    Sinister means – bad, evil, base, wicked, threatening or portending evil harm or trouble.

    I think you’ve hit it the nail on the head – that is what he means!

  • Malcolm Todd 12th Feb '11 - 2:28pm

    So if poppie’s mum is right that that’s what the author means, perhaps someone could answer her actual question: how is the camera — that inanimate object, whose soul-stealing abilities can be protected against by a simple spell, available from any street-corner witch — sinister? Is it more sinister than my camera? Would it be less sinister if it were not mounted on a car? How does the Council’s camera compare, for sinisterness, with Google Streetview’s camera?

    What the question amounts to is, What is Plymouth’s so-called “spy car” being used for? To be against it just because it’s a camera and belongs to the City Council is rather ludicrous.

  • Poppie's mum 12th Feb '11 - 2:33pm

    Paul Mckeown@

    Do you really, really think a camera is base, evil, wicked etc. ?

    Even a camera set up by Stalin’s, Pinochet’s or Pol Pot’s regime would not inherently possess those characteristics.
    Any baseness, evil or wickedness involved would be in if or how the images recorded were used, or would be a psychological projection by the person describing them thus.

  • Poppie's mum 12th Feb '11 - 2:35pm

    Malcolm – thank you, so much better expressed than my paltry effort.

  • We don’t need cuts, we need economic growth and wealth redistribution ( shamless defecit denier – btw why should it be a source of shame to propose an alternative economic strategy )

    The deficit is the WMD of the class war the Tories are fighting, you are the Italy of the class war. You really don’t want to fight but youv’e been lead into it by a vain, hubristic leader.

  • Poppie's mum 12th Feb '11 - 3:08pm

    sorry Paul McKeown.

    I realise from your other posts that I probably misinterpreted your comment as support for the odd libertarian
    ‘cctv cameras know what colour underpants I’m wearing and are an apparatus of the socialist police state’ brigade.

  • MacK (Labour) 12th Feb '11 - 3:49pm

    Liberal Democrats hate any restrictions on their personal behaviour which might be for the greater public good. In this respect they are like sulky teenagers who hate it when their rampant id is challenged by the demands of the superego. This childish, juvenile thread demonstrates this perfectly . No mention of course of the reasons why these ccctv camera cars are employed. Lets get rid of them because they bug our freedom man!

    Under the Traffic Management Act 2004 councils have a duty to prevent dangerous parking. The Act allows councils to enforce parking contraventions by cctv camera. The purpose of the camera car enforcement system is to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the road network by deterring motorists from breaking road traffic restrictions and detecting those who do. The benefits are that it reduces traffic congestion, penalises inconsiderate motoristsand improves road safety. It is particularly useful in tackling disruptive or dangerous parking outside schools, hospitals etc. where inforcement by other means is difficult or impractical. It acts as a strong visual deterrent to motorists who may park dangerously and illegally and put the lives of others, particularly children at risk. It reduces all types of road traffic violations. Camera cars can also help improve people’s view that parking enforcement is fair. They also stop parking attendants from being abused because illegal drivers know that their abuse will be captured on camera.

    So, these camera cars make people feel more secure and prevent serious accidents. What’s not to like? Unless you’re a pathologically juvenile anarchist who has never understood the paradox of freedom which is that under perfect freedom the biggest and strongest prevail over the weak. That’s why we have socialism, to stop all that from happening.

  • Leviticus18_23 12th Feb '11 - 3:58pm


  • I wonder how much of the £32k the car costs the council is recouped by the public purse, either in terms of fines in court for parking/driving offences it detects, or in terms of prevention of delays or road closures due to accidents or illegal parking?

  • Malcolm Todd 12th Feb '11 - 5:29pm

    Paul McK,

    Well, thank you for including me in your club of people who are worth arguing with (I think). No, I have no problem with the ‘ontological metaphor’ (never heard the phrase before, but then I run screaming from anything redolent of what I seem to recall being touted as ‘Critical Theory’ when I was at university, and this sounds like one of theirs 😉 ); but my point was precisely to ask what the use of the cameras was that was being objected to, since the original post seems to assume that just because it’s a camera and is being used by the Council it is incumbent on anyone worthy of the ‘Liberal’ tag to oppose it.

    I think your comparison of guns and cameras is rather wide of the mark, however. Yes, guns can be used with good intent and for relatively harmless purposes, but their basic function is to damage and destroy things, especially living tissue – so ‘guns are evil’ is a more reasonable proposition than ‘cameras are evil’.

  • This is an eminently sensible article. And it’s got some pretty daft responses. Councils which say they’re too strapped to provide services like bins and streetlights should not, in a million years, have cars with cameras in them. And thankyou MacK (Labour) for reminding us why we’re so glad you’re out of government. Your petty micromanaging vision of local councils is a nightmare and a stupid waste of money.

  • Paul McKeown 12th Feb '11 - 5:55pm

    @Malcolm T

    What is the balance between fixed and running costs -v- community benefits?

    What are the risks that the camera cars might be abused, either for personal reasons by their operators, or officially by councils for reasons that the public would find unacceptable?

    Is the generally increased level of intrusion justified by the level of benefit the camera cars provide to the community?

    Perhaps you may have heard of various controversies regarding Google Street View? It has not yet been allowed in Germany because of privacy concerns. It was banned from operating in the Czech Republic last year. Closer to home, in Guernsey, the vehicles were vandalised by scandalised citizens.

    I wonder why you would so easily accept a lower standard of privacy in this country?

    To what extent has there been any meaningful public consultation by councils operating them to obtain the consent of their public?

  • Malcolm Todd 12th Feb '11 - 6:24pm

    PM – why are you asking me? I have no idea of the answers to the factual questions you pose – but then, I’m not defending the use of the cameras, just asking on what basis they’re being objected to. Some of your questions are perfectly valid and should be the basis for deciding whether to oppose or not.

    I don’t accept a simplistic equation of cameras on cars = loss of privacy, however. I don’t see how somebody having a picture of my car in a public place — or even of me in a public place — does me any harm.

  • @Chris

    “Your petty micromanaging vision of local councils is a nightmare and a stupid waste of money.”

    Saving children’s lives and preventing serious accidents is a stupid waste of money! Well, we can all see what your values are. No wonder the Liberal Democrats are at single figures in the polls.

  • @ Chris

    One further thought: would you have described the establishment of sewers in the nineteenth century to combat cholera and typhoid as “petty micromanagement?” and “a stupid waste of money”?

  • Steve Wilson 12th Feb '11 - 8:19pm

    Thanks MacK for explaining what the camera is for.

    Pity the OP didn’t bother to find out. Pretty amazing that he didn’t know given he stood there for election.

  • Ed The Snapper 12th Feb '11 - 10:17pm

    I must walk or drive past dozens of CCTV cameras every day. I get filmed at the cash-point. I have CCTV at home. I am constantly on camera at work. It does not bother me. In fact, it makes me feel safer. The presence of a CCTV camera helped me when there was an incident at work. The CCTV car does not bother me from a privacy angle. Whether the CCTV-car is cost-effective is a different subject and requires production of some reliable figures.

  • As Cameron said:
    “And if someone wants to help out with children, we will sweep away the criminal record checks and health and safety laws that stop them.”

    Well mothers will really sleep easier at night for knowing that!

  • Oh no £120m of debt interest per day.

    Would you feel better if I explained that the debt on government bonds goes to pension holders who then spend the money back into the british economy when they receive it?

    Or is it easier to force through cuts on public services if we are lead to believe that explanation is denial?

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Feb '11 - 11:48am

    “Would you feel better if I explained that the debt on government bonds goes to pension holders who then spend the money back into the british economy when they receive it?”

    Yes, I’m sure none of it ever goes to those nasty, nasty bankers…

  • Stuart Mitchell 13th Feb '11 - 5:43pm

    I occasionally see the camera-cars catching morons who drive in bus lanes in rush hour. I laugh when I do so and regard it as one of the better uses of my council tax.

  • Stuart Bonar 13th Feb '11 - 8:03pm

    Hi everyone; thanks for taking the time to comment at least for some of the time on the piece I wrote.

    Before I kick off I would say unless you are someone who is opposed to all CCTV (not me) or someone who would never draw the line (i.e. the State would be allowed cameras in your bedroom) then you believe that the line should be drawn somewhere. It is childish in the extreme to throw around petty insults just because you disagree with someone.

    Okay, I’ll do my best to respond to you all:

    @Poppie’s Mum: no, you’ve got me. I didn’t take my dictionary down from the bookcase before choosing to deploy the word, sinister, in my piece. That said, as @Paul McKeown suggests (thank you, Paul) I am perfectly happy that I used it now that you have clarifed its meaning. I do think they are sinister.

    @Chris: Couldn’t agree more with you.

    @Malcolm Todd: I hate those Street View things too and once was very pleased to block one in a narrow mews for a few minutes whilst I took several photographs of it… you understand that writing an article for LDV isn’t an invitation to list every last gripe one has with the world. Thanks too for outlining the questions that an objective person looking at this issue would need to consider… I am honest with myself and accept that I am not objective on this issue, I hate these cars. I think they are sinister.

    @Ste Thomas and @Timak: Well, I guess we’ll just have to disagree. Personally I think that when the Government is spending £4 for every £3 it is generating in income then it is in serious trouble. Like the trade unionists in Greece however I suspect some still wouldn’t be convinced of that even if our economy had actually crashed.

    @PaulB: As I said in my piece I’d be happy if it cost us money to get rid of them, so that’s my response to the point you raise. Plus, aren’t we always told that these things are never about raising money – so if that’s true then that should not be a consideration for councils.

    @MacK (Labour) & Steve Wilson:I know exactly what the cameras are supposed to be for, but this is where the Left always falls down on pretty much every issue; they fail to take account of human nature. I am sure MacK (Labour) would make the case for councils to retain their RIPA powers – even when this has meant that parents trying to get their child into a good school in Dorset were actually followed for weeks to check up on them.

    @Ed the Snapper & @Stuart Mitchell: Thanks for the contributions; at least you didn’t call me names 🙂

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Nonconformistradical
    I second expats. This is a case where exercising personal freedom clashes directly with other peoples’ right to breathe air free from tobacco smoke...
  • expats
    I might agree with you if smoking only affected the smoker, but it doesn't..Smoking is estimated to cost the NHS £2.5 billion every year, equivalent to 2% of t...
  • Roger Lake
    @ Peter Davies above Well said, Peter! Indeed, not either/or, but both....
  • Martin Gray
    @Martin Bennett... Adults are aware of the addictive nature of nicotine & are quite capable of managing their own risks in a free liberal society. What w...
  • john hall
    You could stop suppressing comments that support the rights of Palestinian people not to be ethnically-cleansed from "Palestinian Zion" nor to be subjected to s...