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Speedy Policy Change Ahead?

October 12, 2009

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Skegness, England – An interesting declaration of intent on road safety issues from the UK Conservative Parties Shadow Transport Secretary, Theresa Villiers, speaking at last weeks Conservative Party Annual Conference, held in Manchester.

Is Ms Villiers statement “It’s time to put a stop to Labour’s cash cow safety camera culture” a blatant attempt to catch votes or recognition that a future Conservative Government will simple be unable to fund the current UK Safety Camera, better known to most as  speed cameras, regime. I’m guessing the latter.

Before April 2007, safety cameras were funded through the UK Governments National Safety Camera Programme. The capital investment needed to install camera systems came via the Department of Transport (DfT) and business cases submitted from Local Authorities. This meant that all the fines collected from fixed and mobile cameras and red light junction cameras went straight back to the Government’s Department for Constitutional Affairs. The only money that could be claimed back by Local Authorities from the Government was an agreed amount which covered the operational costs of the cameras. This system, called netting off, gave some credence to the anti – camera campaigner’s main strand that safety cameras were a ‘cash cow’.

Because of these ‘cash cow’ allegations the National Safety Camera Programme ended in April 2007, the funding for safety cameras was then integrated into wider road safety budgets held by Local Authorities and paid for by UK Central Government. The aim of this is to give Local Authorities the freedom to look at a mix of road safety measures, including enforcement but also engineering and education which will meet local needs. The money collected from speeding fines still goes directly to the Government (Ministry of Justice). The Treasury then pass the money down to Local Authorities to channel into road safety.

This move by the UK Government smartly side-stepped the anti camera posses ‘cash cows’ strand, but did little to control the burgeoning industry that  safety cameras had become. Many Local Authorities had set up Safety Camera Partnerships (SCPs) to run their safety cameras; by 2007 these had grown into organisations with multi million pound turnovers. These in turn had spawned a legion of contractors to install, maintain and run SCP camera installations and back offices, funded by an every increasing stream of cash from fines. Of course in this gold rush of road safety enthusiasm no thought was given to the day when the stream of speeding fines would slow or stagnant.

The problem is simple it’s the fact that, even with an income of a reckoned £100 million a year, the cost of enforcement via safety cameras is rising faster than the income from fines. Ms Villiers gave the game away by focusing her comments on fixed cameras. They are the ones that are easily avoided and cost most to maintain, particle the costs of replacement/repair following vandalism. It’s reckoned that around two in five fixed cameras are unusable at any one time due to being vandalised. So it appears that far from being a revenue generator safety cameras are actually costing the Treasury. Hence an instant off load if the Conservatives win the up coming UK election

Do the musings of Ms Villiers mean that under a Conservative Government we will see less of those nasty mobile safety cameras? I reckon the answer is yes. Under the current funding system the SCP’s are funded from the Local Authorities road safety budgets. These are being squeezed as cuts relating to the economic downturn are made. So cuts in SCP are inevitable to ensure that Local Authorities take a balanced education, training and publicity approach to road safety. In short we will return to a position where cameras are one of a range of ‘weapons’ that can be deployed to make our roads safer and not the be all and end all of reducing crashes.

Oh dear what are all those retired police offices who people SCP’s going to do. No more nice days out sitting in nice air conditioned camera vans drinking tea. Meditating on how to spend the final salary pension, reminiscing how life was in ‘the job’ while getting a nice little wage from the SCP.

Yep it’s a hard life in speed enforcement.

© Back Roads Rider 2009

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Blue permalink
    October 13, 2009 11:34 am

    One of your best posts ever, really putting safety cameras into perspective, thanks.

  2. Dave permalink
    October 20, 2009 12:49 pm

    I would be cautious here, the cutting of fixed cameras which are expensive could see a rise in the number of mobile camera units which are cheaper to operate and more effective – i.e. they catch more people and so generate more money… Camera partnerships will say that these are more effective at reducing casualties of course…
    We are all aware that if the Government were serious about enforcing speed limits as a road safety measure rather than a way of generating income and criminalising the masses they would have invested in getting ISA technology into all vehicles ASAP rather than funding cameras.

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