STRICT new curbs proposed in a Bill now going through parliament could prevent Chichester District Council from catching fly-tippers and fraudsters by use of CCTV, members are warning.
The authority’s corporate governance and audit committee agreed to make representations to Chichester MP Andre Tyrie, asking him to pursue amendments to the Bill before it is enacted.
There are fears investigations, including the use of CCTV to catch offenders, might have to be scrapped.
Director of corporate services Diane Shepherd said the council used its powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) sparingly, wisely, and in the public interest.
She told the committee that only 11 applications for ‘directed surveillance’ had been approved during 2010. These were four for fly-tipping, three for taxi licences and four for suspected housing benefit fraud.
Mrs Shepherd drew attention to the implications for the council of the Protection of Freedoms Bill.
She said requirements to obtain approval from a Justice of the Peace and to pass a ‘seriousness’ threshold test meant it was unlikely that the council would be able to use RIPA powers after the Bill was enacted.
Committee members agreed that the council’s use of RIPA powers was valuable in safeguarding the public interest by detecting serious and costly nuisances and fraud.
They decided that committee chairman Cllr Peter Jones should write to Andrew Tyrie seeking amendments to the Bill, in order to enable the council to continue using directed surveillance ‘responsibly and in the public interest.’
Cllr Jones said a lot of councils elsewhere in the country had been abusing the powers, and this had caused central Government to act.
“I feel this is a step backwards,” he added.
“If you are a responsible authority, you have internal controls, and should be able to carry out surveillance.
“This is also a major deterrent to stop offences happening, and it saves a lot of money.”