CCTV
Local councils are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on CCTV (Reuters)

British councils spent £515m in four years to maintain tens of thousands of CCTV cameras to keep the UK one of the most watched countries in the world.

There are at least 51,600 CCTV cameras controlled by 428 local authorities - with 18 of those spending over £1m a year on the surveillance equipment, said privacy campaigners.

Birmingham and Westminster councils spent more than £10m each in four years on CCTV. Birmingham council topped the list at £14.3m.

The findings are from a report by privacy campaigners Big Brother Watch (BBW), which has examined local authority spending on CCTV from 2007-11.

The organisation argues that money spent on surveillance cameras would be better invested in more police officers.

It claims the cost of CCTV could pay for 4,121 constables.

\"In the current financial climate, sustaining the level of investment in CCTV is impossible to justify,\" The Price of Privacy report said.

\"The surveillance British citizens are subjected to continues to increase, despite being at a level that makes many other democratic countries recoil in horror.

\"CCTV does not have a significant deterrent effect on crime and is not a substitute for police. Yet it continues to be claimed - without evidence - that more CCTV improves public safety.\"

The report makes a number of recommendations, including that any publicly funded CCTV cameras must be justified by the demonstration of \"a significant risk of harm\" without them in a particular area.

\"Britain has an out-of-control surveillance culture that is doing little to improve public safety but has made our cities the most watched in the world,\" Nick Pickles, BBW director, said.

\"Surveillance is an important tool in modern policing but it is not a substitute for policing. In too many cities across the country every corner has a camera but only a few [people] ever see a police officer.\"