Agenda item

CCTV at West Suffolk Council

A presentation will be given by the Cabinet Member for Operations, which will provide an overview of the council’s CCTV service, including the services provided, staffing, costs and income, incidents, arrests and equipment, (including Hikvision cameras).



The Committee received a presentation by the Cabinet Member for Operations, which provided an overview of the council’s CCTV service, including the services provided, staffing, costs and income, incidents, arrests and equipment, including Hikvision cameras.


The CCTV service was responsible for monitoring over 700 cameras across West Suffolk and some in neighbouring areas.  West Suffolk Council had 557 fixed cameras in Brandon; Mildenhall; Newmarket; Haverhill and Bury St Edmunds.  These were located in parks; car parks; housing accommodation; sports pavilions; bus stations; toilet blocks; leisure centres; depots; town centres; West Suffolk House; Mildenhall Hub and West Suffolk Operational Hub.  Three mobile cameras had also been purchased that could be deployed to areas with an identified crime or anti-social behaviour issue.


It was reported that 99% of all cameras were made by Hikvision and the other 1% by Axis.  Hikvision was the biggest CCTV manufacture in the world.  It was believed that Hikvision / Dahua was used by approximately 73% of local authorities; 35% of police forces and 63% by schools in the UK.  Hikvision cameras had been used by West Suffolk since 2017. 


Hikvision was used because it was a technologically technically superior product; HD quality and optical zoom ability; and was much more reliable compared to other manufactures that the council had used.  Hikvision also offered there own encoding format which had reduced the council’s data storage requirements by up to 50% and were significantly cheaper than their competitors.


None of the council’s cameras were directly connected to the internet and were all on a closed network behind firewalls and VPNs.  The systems had been penetration tested by the council’s third-party ethical hackers within the last year and had passed the hacker’s test.  Central servers storing data were vulnerability scanned on a weekly basis and patched monthly.  The council adhered to the Government Surveillance Camera Code of Practice; secure system installation; storage of data and General Data Protection Regulations / Data Protection.


The Committee was reassured that West Suffolk CCTV security protocols were continually monitored, with security software updates applied and considered safe.  Existing camera technology represented best value and Hikvision was currently certified by the Information Commission Office as safe to use.  There was not Government policy on the use of Chinese surveillance equipment.  It would cost the Council a significant amount of money to replace all CCTV cameras, estimated to be in excess of £1.5m.  There was a potential risk of loss of third-party contracts if new cameras were required due to increased costs.  The current situation was being monitored and if there were any changes to legislative policies the Council would act upon them.


The missing patch that the BBC had referenced in a recent Panorama documentary was applied to the council’s systems at the end of 2022 by the council’s CCTV maintainer after being identified by the penetration testers.  Under the council’s contract the CCTV maintainer was responsible for ensuring that all cameras were patched as soon as updates were released.  Any system would become increasingly vulnerable if updates and patches were not used.  Some Local Authorities had decided to find an alternative non-Chinese manufacture when their cameras either needed replacing or new ones were needed.  However, the vast majority of councils were awaiting further guidance from Central Government.


The Committee scrutinised the presentation in detail and asked questions to which comprehensive responses were provided.  In particular detailed discussions were held on whether the coverage of the cameras was adequate; whether there were enough cameras as unable to monitor in real time; whether staffing levels were adequate to operate the system 24/7, 365 days a year; the location of cameras; body worn cameras; and the replacement of cameras.


In response to a question raised as to whether the council had the capacity to sell extra monitoring services externally, the Cabinet Member advised that the current location of the CCTV control room was at capacity.  To expand the current service, more space and at some point additional staffing would be required.  


In response to a question raised about being unable to monitor all screens at the same time, the Cabinet Member explained there were three airwave monitoring units in the CCTV room, which was used by the CCTV operators to liaise with the police headquarters and directly with individual officers to direct units to an incident or be directed by the police to monitor one.  The CCTV room was also able to communicate with pubs and shops through a radio system called Shop Watch.


In response to a question raised on how to request a mobile camera unit, the Cabinet Member explained the mobile units could be booked out by local community groups (subject to adherence with the code of practice for surveillance) at a cost, and the council was looking to buy more mobile units.


In response to a question raised about whether the council had looked at where there might be gaps in the lack of cameras and whether town/parish councils could be asked to help in funding more cameras, the Cabinet Member explained the council was reactive and when an issue was identified a review was carried out to identify a solution.  There could never be 100% coverage and assets need to be prioritised to higher risk areas.


At the conclusion of the debate, the Chair felt when the current Hikvision cameras needed replacing/broken they were replaced by another provider to ensure the council was future proofing itself.  In response the Cabinet Member reiterated that one of the issues was how reliable the Chinese made cameras were.  The council was awaiting further advice from Government and the current cameras were approved by the British Standards and Surveillance Division, the system was set behind an American manufactured firewall and VPNs, and he wished to reassure members the council was doing everything required. 


There being no decision required, the Committee noted the presentation provided on the council’s CCTV service.