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Businesses pay for private police in Camden Town

'There’s a broader conversation for society there about recognising that what used to be handled by the state is now being handled by non-state bodies'

14 February, 2019 — By Samantha Booth

Simon Pitkeathley, centre, with security officers Jimi, left, and Charles

PRIVATE security wardens funded by contributions from businesses in Camden Town are helping to fill the void left by dwindling police numbers.

Simon Pitkeathley, chief executive of Camden Town Unlimited (CTU), said money it collected from local companies which could be spent on community projects such as the Camden Highline – a planned walkway between Camden Lock to King’s Cross – is being diverted to pay for six officers.

Businesses above a certain rateable threshold in Camden Town contribute towards CTU – a Business Improvement District (BID) – on top of their business rates.

Mr Pitkeathley told the New Journal: “We’ve been wringing our hands about it for a couple of years, and because the money we get from the businesses is on top of their business rates, they have to pay extra for the BID to exist. “We don’t feel we should be replacing core services with that money.”

He added: “It sort of undermines our legitimacy really, but at the same time, as a result of all of the cuts to both the council and the police, we are just facing a situation that it didn’t look like anybody else was going able to do anything and we didn’t feel we could let the situation go on as it is. It’s been a good partnership with the police and council and I think it’s starting to work.”

CTU has been running since 2006.

“There’s a broader conversation for society there about recognising that what used to be handled by the state is now being handled by non-state bodies,” said Mr Pitkeathley. “If I’m a business owner here, I may think ‘I like what CTU did for the first 10 years, but now it’s replacing statutory funding – that’s not what I thought it was supposed to be doing’.”

Police are trying to battle against long-standing drug dealing in the area, and Mr Pitkeathley said the officers, as well as three extra Met Police officers funded by the CTU and Camden Market developer Lab Tech, were helping. These extras cost about £300,000.

Camden Inspector Richard Berns said it would be a “step backwards” if the security wardens were removed.

He said: “I don’t think there would be an immediate obvious vacuum we would have to fill, but incidents would happen that we either wouldn’t know about or wouldn’t be dealt with, and the chance of them being tolerated would go up. That’s one of the problems with Camden Town, there seems to be a very high tolerance to bad behaviour and crime.”

Camden cabinet councillor Abdul Hai, who works for Camden Market in his professional life, said: “We recognise the challenges. However, austerity and a reduction of local authority funding from central government has decimated public services including frontline police officers. Now you are having businesses relying on private security in order to make sure visitors and residents feel safe in Camden Town.”

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