Birmingham City Council has appointed a CCTV 'tsar' to tackle its closed circuit camera crisis.
Colin Murphy, a former West Midlands Police officer, will oversee the funding and maintenance of thousands of cameras across the city as part of the £36,500-a-year CCTV coordinator's post.
The council has admitted it has no idea how many cameras there are or how much they cost because they are owned by at least five organisations.
West Midlands Police, Centro/Travel West Midlands, Birmingham City Council, the Bullring and housing trusts all own CCTV cameras.
Coun Timothy Huxtable (Con Bournville), chairman of the scrutiny committee for local services and community safety, said the post had been created to "resolve the mess that is CCTV in Birmingham". Mr Murphy, who was the country's first local authority community liaison officer, will take up his new post next month.
He said: "CCTV in the city is a total hotch-potch and no-one has previously thought about it in a strategic or coordinated way.
"We, the city council, do not know how many cameras there are and we have no idea how much money is needed to fund them. It could be millions of pounds.
"We just don't know the answers to the most basic of questions."
At least 20 cameras, most of them in local shopping areas such as in Northfield and Kings Heath, could be at risk of being switched off if the council finds there is insufficient cash to fund them.
Those installed by Travel West Midlands on buses, next to park-and-rides and by bus stops are not in danger.
"It is unfortunately possible that CCTV cameras across the city could be switched off. Of course we will do everything possible to avoid this and I would be very disappointed if any were turned off," said Coun Huxtable.
"But at the moment we just don't know where the money is going to come from to fund them."
Costs vary but an eightcamera system in one Birmingham district cost more than £200,000 to set up with running costs of nearly £30,000 a year.
Coun Emily Cox (Lib Dem Moseley and Kings Heath) said she feared some of the 14 cameras in her ward could be switched off on financial grounds.
She said: "There isn't the money to fund the cameras. The money has run out quickly because 14 cameras were installed when the calculations made were for eight cameras.
"However, we are trying to identify other sources of income."
Coun Huxtable said: "What has happened in Kings Heath and Moseley is an example of what is happening in the whole city.
"We think that perhaps there wasn't enough forward thinking about the money needed for CCTV. What we are doing now is making sure we get legal advice and help from urban designers for future CCTV schemes."
Most of Birmingham's business community believe CCTV has helped reduce crimes such as shoplifting.
Traders on Kings Heath High Street noticed they were losing less than one per cent of their profits to thieves after the cameras were installed in December 2002, compared with five per cent previously.
However, a Home Office report published in 2002 found that CCTV only reduced crime "to a small degree".