West Midlands Police is facing a financial fall-out from its controversial scheme to install surveillance cameras in parts of Birmingham after it emerged it could cost £630,000 to remove them.
And the force could be hit with a double whammy if the Home Office demands it repays some of the £3.3million of anti-terror money that paid for the cameras.
West Midlands Police said it would also have to win back the trust of the city’s Muslim community which was lost after it was discovered police had installed more than 200 surveillance cameras in two largely Muslim areas of the city.
The project, intended to throw a “vehicle movement net” around the suburbs, was initially designed to help counter-terrorism officers carry out surveillance against suspects, without compromising investigations.
It would have seen more than 200 CCTV and ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras, including some secret devices hidden in the street, installed throughout Washwood Heath, Alum Rock and Sparkhill.
The project was shelved after an outcry by the community.
Chief Constable Chris Sims was forced to apologise over the plan, admitting the force got the balance between counter-terrorism and excessive intrusion into people’s lives “so wrong”.
After a damning report criticised the way the force implemented the scheme, Mr Sims recommended to the force’s ruling Police Authority that the cameras be ripped out.
“I do not see an operational way out that does not involve removing the scheme and using that as an opportunity to rebuild trust,” he said.
An independent advisory group, including members of the community echoed that decision. A report to the Police Authority on Project Champion this week revealed it would cost an estimated £630,000 to remove all of the cameras, support poles and cabling to totally disable the network.
The report added: “Depending on the option which is finally agreed, it is possible, based on informal discussions at officer level, that the Home Office may require the repayment of part of the original grant.
“It is difficult to put a firm figure on these notional amounts at this stage, which in any event would be subject to further detailed discussions with the Home Office.”
That repayment could be ordered if the equipment was re-used elsewhere or if it was sold.
The report warned that the removal bill could see the constabulary forced to draw on its reserves to balance the budget at the end of the year.
The financial fall-out to Project Champion comes at a time when the force is already planning for major cuts to its budget that would see the axe fall on at least 2,200 police officer and staff jobs.
The force is planning for an estimated 20 per cent budget cut over the next four years, although the full impact will not be known until the end of the month.
The force also needs to budget for a voluntary redundancy scheme offered to police staff in an attempt to shed 400 jobs.