Surveillance Camera Commissioner's speech to the CCTV User Group

Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter's speech at the 2016 CCTV User Group conference on raising CCTV standards.

Surveillance Camera Commissioner logo

Good morning and thank you to the user group for inviting me to give the keynote speech today.

Some of you may have heard me speak at this conference last year and the year before, so I must be doing something right to be asked back a third time – or is it 3 strikes and you’re out?

Of course I’m delighted to be asked to speak again to an expert group who can help shape the future regulatory landscape of CCTV. But before I look at what might be happening down the track I just want to briefly reflect on what’s gone on since the conference last year:

  1. I’ve written to all local authority chief executives 3 times encouraging them to complete our self-assessment tool
  2. I’ve launched a third party certification scheme – more of this later and, looking at the agenda, it’s somewhat dominated by this
  3. I’ve carried out a review into the impact and operation of the code – you may have seen the government response
  4. I’ve embarked on developing a National Surveillance Camera Strategy – bringing all aspects of surveillance cameras together, providing an overarching framework for surveillance camera systems, users, manufacturers, installers and designers in England and Wales

There are obviously more than these highlights, but what they all link in to and what has been a constant theme since I took up this role just over 2 years ago is a determination to raise standards across the board.

You may be thinking ‘he spoke about raising standards when he was here last year’ and you’re right, I did. But it’s important and is at the heart of my role to help organisations comply with the surveillance camera code of practice which, as you know, contains 12 guiding principles, which if followed, will ensure that your surveillance camera systems are used proportionately, effectively and transparently. Raising the bar, lifting standards and improving how surveillance cameras are used are inherent in all aspects of the code.


I know in the current climate that it’s not easy to raise the bar – I’m still acutely aware that austerity measures are hitting local government and many other parts of the public sector hard. Many councils have had to make very difficult choices about which services to prioritise. Some services have already been reduced and some have been cut all together.

We have seen that the provision of town centre CCTV schemes – and other schemes in fact – have been an area that cash-strapped councils have looked at to make savings. As you will all know CCTV is not a statutory requirement for councils – it’s not a service that they must legally offer.

In Havant, in Hampshire, the council scrapped their scheme. It was partially due to the fact the system was ageing, no longer fit for purpose and not offering value for money. This was despite calls from the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for the council to keep the system. But Havant have to fill a £1.5 million funding deficit by 2020 and getting rid of the CCTV scheme will save £150,000.

As recently as last month the CCTV in Newbury was switched off as part of a wider plan for the council to save £17.5 million – worryingly from the press I saw that they didn’t tell people it had been switched off. The Business Improvement District and local police force are working with the council to see if there is a potential joint funding solution.

Local authority funding of CCTV has been in decline for some time since the heady days of central government funding. A recent report by Big Brother Watch has shown a 46.6% decrease on funding spent on the installation, maintaining and monitoring of CCTV by local authorities since 2012 – from around £515 million to approximately £277 million. This reduction in funding has also seen many CCTV managers roles removed or merged with other roles meaning that we’ve also seen a dilution of the knowledge base out there – a brain drain if you will.

Whilst austerity measures have been tough for many – including those here today – managing reducing budgets does mean organisations have to look at things through a different lens and presents opportunities that have not been thought of before.

I just mentioned the Business Improvement District in Newbury stepping in to help fund the CCTV in the town. Over the past year I’ve seen some great examples of partnership working to ensure that the CCTV that protects our citizens remains effective, remains proportionate, and remains switched on. I visited Cumbria last November where the PCC, local councils and police forces have worked together to brigade 5 towns’ systems into one scheme with control room at the police headquarters. I see they’re here to tell you what they did and how they did it, so I’ll pause on that so as not to steal their thunder!

It’s not an isolated incident - there is partnership working starting all over the country. From the Dorset PCC and police force looking if they can establish a pan Dorset CCTV scheme to the PCC in South Wales looking at exactly the same model.

Despite the reduction in spending highlighted in the Big Brother Watch report I am certain we will see new, innovative ways to maintain CCTV provision in our towns and cities. New and advancing technologies will see probably see further investment by local authorities, police forces, police and crime commissioners, business and so on to deliver new and exciting capabilities. From smart cities to smarter surveillance, the use of video analytics and algorithms to help protect citizens from crime, support the night-time economy and ensure free passage of traffic in our cities and towns.

If there is new partnership working that leads to the maintenance and upgrade of surveillance camera systems then this must be done in line with the surveillance camera code of practice. I know you will be well versed in the code and the 12 guiding principles – at least I hope you are! So I’m not going go into detail on that.

Self assessment

Although it’s now about 18 months since I launched the self-assessment tool. An easy to use tool that can be downloaded from my website and completed for free to help organisations see how well they are complying with the code. Where they are falling short it helps them develop an action plan to raise standards. I wasn’t sure what the completion rates were amongst relevant authorities so over the past 12 months I wrote to all local authority chief executives 3 times. Some of you may have been on the receiving end of that letter!

Since the last letter I sent at the end of March, nearly 200 have completed that tool, which is almost 50% of the 433 local authorities. Now I don’t think that’s a bad return and I will be compiling a list of everyone who has written back to me for publication in my 2015 to16 annual report to Parliament later in the year. My aim is that all relevant authorities have completed the tool by March next year.


Following on from the self-assessment tool, I launched a third-party certification scheme in November – it’s a scheme that will enable organisations to achieve certification against the code and use my certification mark. This mark will enable organisations to clearly show the communities they are monitoring that they comply with the relevant regulations. It’s a badge of honour that should be displayed proudly – an outward sign of inward excellence.

You may be thinking – why now? Well, I’ve spoken to and listened to a large range of the industry, particularly (but not exclusively) the local authorities and police who are relevant authorities as stated in the code, and they have always asked the question – how can I show compliance with the code?

Third-party certification provides the answer as it enables anyone that operates public space surveillance cameras to show they comply. This scheme supports my vision to uplift standards in the industry and improve public support for surveillance. It supports surveillance by consent – yes, people are monitored but it’s done transparently, effectively and proportionately. My certification mark demonstrates this.

I don’t want to go into too much detail here as we are running a workshop with the 3 certification bodies (National Security Inspectorate (NSI), SSAIB and IQ Verify) later this morning. Other than that there are 2 steps to achieving certification. The first is a desktop approach that is aimed at organisations that are working hard to comply with the code but are not quite there yet. The second step is for those that are close to or are fully complying with the 12 guiding principles of the code.

So far, 13 organisations have achieved the first step of certification and 22 have full certification against the code. I don’t think that’s too bad in 6 months – just under 6 a month. I’m keen that all relevant authorities have their main scheme certified against the code. If you are operating well run schemes within the limits of the 12 guiding principles, then achieving certification against the code should not be that difficult. As I just said, being able to use the mark is an outward sign of inward excellence.

I know that there are some people in this room for whatever reason are not wholly supportive of the certification scheme. I’ve heard a few reasons why some may not want to have their scheme certified. There are blockers preventing organisations from applying – it’s too costly, people running the schemes don’t have the seniority to sign of this spend and so on. I’m really interested to hear what these are and that’s one of the main reasons we are running the workshop later. Also, please complete our survey which is open throughout the course of the conference.

Just to play devil’s advocate for a moment on the cost issues. How much is it costing your organisation for you to attend this conference for the next couple of days, how much does it cost for your annual membership of the user group? Is it more than certification? Is it less? In all honesty, I’m not sure. I’m not for one moment saying that money spent being a member of the user group isn’t money well spent – I think it is otherwise I wouldn’t be here today standing in front of you.

It is interesting that in these austere times that decisions about showing you meet a certain standard, a certain quality comes down to hard cash – but these are the times we now live in.


How many of you are meeting current British standards or international standards for that matter? There is a list on my website. When I was working with the NSI and SSAIB to develop the certification scheme I was shocked to discover that only 2% of local authorities achieve the rigours inherent within the most relevant British standard, namely BS7958, the management and operation of CCTV. Other highly relevant British standards such as the 62676 series are equally underutilised.

More worryingly it is clear that where standards are being met it’s generally within the main local authority CCTV control room. What about all the schemes operating independently of the CCTV manager – one council I spoke to had about 50 such schemes including automatic number plate recognition and body-worn video. This is why I have been advocating a single point of contact in local authorities and it was a recommendation (the first one) I made to ministers in my recent review of the code. I’m suggesting that person would be responsible for every scheme but someone with the knowledge and skill set to advise others on legal requirements and so on. Is this an issue when thinking about the brain drain I mentioned a few moments ago?

Returning to British standards – they are not mandatory, no one seems to know which ones to meet, they are expensive and no one complies – 2% as I’ve just said. So, based on that, are they worth it? Yes, I think they are, but they need to be made more accessible and this is something I’m working closely with BSI on. It’s about continuing to make the standards framework simple so people know which ones are relevant, which they can ignore, and what’s right for their organisation. I’d suggest if you’re a very small district council with a few cameras then BS7958 might not be right for you but completing the self-assessment tool and keeping it under review probably is.

And returning to the brain drain again – if experienced CCTV managers are being and will be replaced with new people who lack the detailed knowledge of their predecessors, where do they start? As I have said, millions is being spent on surveillance camera schemes and when that’s by a public authority, that is taxpayers’ money. How can someone new to an area make sure that money us being spent wisely? Quite simply by following an operational requirement.

My standards group have been working hard to rework the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) operational requirement. A ‘passport to compliance’ that puts the ownership of systems in the hands of those that own them rather than installers and designers. That reduces technical jargon to enable procurement within organisations the ability to properly hold suppliers to account. A step-by-step guide that takes someone through the thought of perhaps needing a system to actually switching it on and maintaining it.

We are nearly there with a new operational requirement and we hope to be launching it in the next few months. It will be a key plank of my strategy to raise standards.

National Surveillance Camera Strategy

Whilst we are on strategies you will know doubt be aware – if you read my blog – that I’ve started work on a National Surveillance Camera Strategy. A strategy bringing all aspects of surveillance cameras together, providing an overarching framework for surveillance camera systems, users, manufacturers, installers and designers in England and Wales.

This is not a new idea – this is what the 2007 National CCTV Strategy attempted (albeit only for CCTV). It was a thorough and innovative approach but for a number of reasons, much of it didn’t move from recommendations into delivery. Many of you here were no doubt involved in the formulation of that strategy and hopefully will be involved in shaping this one too.

One of the key reasons for me starting this work on the strategy is to make sure the public are reassured that surveillance cameras in public places are there to protect and look after them – rather than look at them – and are operated in a way which is proportionate, effective in meeting a stated purpose as well as being operated in a transparent way.

So, I’ve set up a small working group, made up of industry representatives and experts reporting to my advisory council to develop a new strategy for surveillance cameras. There are 8 strands looking at training, standards and so on. Some of you may have already fed ideas into the mix on where we need to focus and a huge part of this work will be consultation with the people in the industry, police forces, members of the public and so on. I really want to get a broad range of opinions fed into this strategy.

I’ve set the group a challenging task of presenting this to me in 6 months – by autumn 2016. Formal consultation on this work should start in September so please keep on the look out for how you can get involved and have your say.

So, a lot has happened in the past 12 months and there is lot more on the horizon, too. I am as determined as ever to raise standards across the board and do that in a way that is simple, accessible and affordable.

Thank you.

Published 3 June 2016