Gordon McLanaghan will be well known to many in the UK CCTV industry for his proactive and ground-breaking management of the Bristol Council CCTV system and for his unwavering support for the industry as a whole.
For those who don’t know him or haven’t come across his work before, it’s worth knowing that in his eleven years as CCTV manager at Bristol, he has gone from someone who knew relatively little about CCTV to an expert who is often called upon to deliver talks and sits on a number of advisory groups for the industry and government.
He is a strong advocate of regulation, standards, licensing and training, and has also been proactive and creative in finding ways to make the CCTV system in Bristol self funding. Always humble, he always has time for his colleagues, to share good ideas, swap gossip or simply chew the fat.
It was therefore with great dismay that his colleagues in the industry learned that he had been diagnosed with cancer late last year and undergone radical surgery to help control it. Hopes that the disease had gone into remission were dashed just over a month ago and just a couple of weeks prior to writing this, a place was found for Gordon in a hospice near Bristol to make him as comfortable as possible in his last days.
Room with a view
Gordon is a stalwart supporter of the CCTV industry. He attends many conferences and is always delighted to welcome visitors to his control room in Bristol. As an editor, I have interviewed him many times over the years, to get updates on his control room for the Rooms with a View feature in CCTV Image or simply to get his opinion on topics ranging from regulation and licensing to CCTV management and redeployable cameras.
He has always been very open and happy to talk about almost anything, so it was no surprise when I heard through Gordon’s good friend Derek Maltby (a fellow Bristolian) that Gordon wanted to give a final interview to the security press.
Even in sickness, Gordon is as charming and open as he was in health. Despite being on pain medication and being connected to various devices, he focuses intensely on his guests, talking, listening, cracking jokes and sharing his feelings about his life and his illness.
The outpouring of sympathy and messages of support from people in the CCTV industry surprised him, he confesses, adding that it has been “very humbling”.
Leaving a mark on the CCTV industry was never his intention when he joined Bristol Council 11 years ago after a career in Scotland’s Strathclyde police service.
Of his time in the police, mostly based in and around Glasgow, he says it was rough and tough: “I have seen things that I shouldn’t have seen and done things that no one else should have to do,” he says, adding that he was one of the first officers in Lockerbie on that fateful night. “It marks you forever.”
“Unfortunately I used to be first at the scene of anything horrible that went on,” he says. “I don’t miss that at all – I enjoyed the job but I don’t miss that.”
Following his retirement from the police 12 years ago, he took a diploma in emergency planning which is how he landed the job in Bristol – incidentally as the emergency planning manager, not a CCTV manager.
“I thoroughly enjoy my current job – loved it from day one,” he says. “It has been something new, a challenge, and I have thrown myself into it with a passion.”
Even though he is a former police officer and found it easy to work with the police, he never made a big thing of it. “I have never advertised that because it wasn’t important. That was then, and I was now meeting the police in my current capacity; I would like to think that we built up a mutual respect for each other.”
He looks back on his police career with some affection. He was given a great deal of responsibility to organise major events in Glasgow, for instance, a role he lucked into but one that would garner him a great deal of respect in the force. “As in so many walks of life, once you’ve done something successfully, you become the expert and all these similar jobs come your way – but I loved it.”
It was the combination of his experience in policing and his later role managing the emergency control centre in Bristol that would earn him a Fellowship in The Security Institute, an achievement of which he is particularly proud.
And yet he is humble about his achievement. “I don’t think that I have done anything extra clever – I have just done what I wanted to do.”
When it is suggested to him that this may be the case but he did it with a great deal of energy, he concurs, saying: “Yes, everything I do, I do with passion. I firmly believe that if you’re going to do it, then do it properly – don’t do it half-heartedly at all.”
He is full of praise for Bristol City Council, which gave him free rein from the time he was appointed, putting a great deal of trust in their new member of staff despite being untested and untried. “While some people have had bureaucracy to deal with, I have been quite lucky to be able to control my own budget and be given free rein to be innovative and seek new ways to bring in money and keep the whole control room afloat.”
While he has strived to be innovative, it hasn’t been at the price of being reckless. Far from it. “I’m willing to take a chance but the things I’m willing to take a chance on are based on educated guesses,” Gordon said. “I don’t just jump in with two feet; I think things through very carefully and weigh up the odds and then say, I’ll take a chance on this.”
He is particularly proud of the changes he has made to the monitoring programme for lone workers. Bristol provided a monitoring service for lone workers such as the noise pollution team and a couple of other small teams. The system was primitive, involving writing details down on paper which inevitably led to mistakes and missed contact calls. “If you were busy, you might forget to phone someone back at 9pm or whatever time you had promised, and they wouldn’t be happy and rightly so.”
Gordon thought there had to be a better way, preferably electronic, and after some investigation, he found it. It cost a few thousand pounds but it’s paid for itself as the council has gone from monitoring fewer than 100 workers to over 1800.
Equally revolutionary changes were made in call handling which bolstered the control centre’s reputation for efficiency and effectiveness.
Did he face any resistance to these changes?
“The staff have been all right with it. I think they’ve been all right with it because it gives them more variety in the work that they do. I think my management above me were very pleased because that was another income stream so the more money I was generating the less the council had to put to my budget.”
When he joined the council, he thought it was going to be just a job and he didn’t intend to be as revolutionary as he turned out to be.
“I just thought that the way we were doing things were inefficient. And there were better ways we could be doing things. It suited some of the staff for it to be inefficient, they’d got themselves into a nice little groove where they didn’t have to push themselves too hard and life was quite nice.”
The control room unfortunately had a poor reputation for service delivery and it wasn’t just CCTV, he said.
“It was the call handling side of things as well. We didn’t have a wonderful reputation. So we needed some changes. And we needed to build relationships within the council, build a rapport with other teams, and that was a long slow process of doing that.”
Fortunately Gordon has a knack for networking – he readily admits that it comes naturally to him!
“We can get things sorted so much easier when you have that working relationship instead of getting into exchanges of emails or toxic emails – if you just pick up the phone and say this hasn’t been sorted yet, or … do it in a friendly way,” he says. “Or say, I’ve been thinking about this. Would it work if maybe we tried this or tried that. And more often than not they’re willing to say, yes, let’s give that a go or let us try this.”
Education is very important to him as well, as he has got to grips with what is, after all, a unique job.
“I’ve been on the supervisors course then the managers course and I’ve built up until eventually I got a Tavcom diploma for CCTV. So I have made a point of learning as much as I can. And I make a point when the engineers are in to asking them what’s that you’re doing?” he says.
“I won’t profess to be the most technically knowledgeable person in the world. There are some CCTV managers who are hugely technically knowledgeable and I take my hat off to them. But I don’t feel as I need to know – I understand and I grasp things quite quickly – so as long as I understand then that’s when I can pose more questions and ask can it do this and can it do that, and can we make it do this as well?”
Although his control room is a multi-function centre, CCTV remains his focus. “The CCTV part of it is still the bit that excites me the most. My biggest income generator is through the careline side, that is growing all the time, in leaps and bounds,” he says. “I have proved that staff can do both functions, and when you aren’t busy on one, you’re busy on the other. And the stats are there to show it.”
One must have to have highly motivated staff to achieve this then?
“Yes you do,” he says. “I have so many text messages from my own staff that would bring a tear to your eye – in fact, they have brought a tear to my eye. I have not been a bad manager over the years if so many of them are writing such lovely messages.”
However, he adds: “I don’t mean that I haven’t crossed swords with them over the years – of course I have. You can’t be a manger and be nice to everyone all the time, but I don’t hold grudges. If someone gets a telling off that’s the end of it. But I am also fiercely patriotic to my staff. I resent any other manager in the council giving my staff a telling off – come to me and tell me what the problem is and I’ll deal with it.”
He smiles and adds: “But don’t go off at one of my staff please – that’s my job!”
Gordon has redefined CCTV – literally. In his control room, he has put a banner up above the monitor wall that reads: “Caring for the Community Through Vigilance”.
“That’s what I like to think we are there for. We look out for the lost souls, the vulnerable and the distressed, as well as catching the bad guys. We love catching bad guys – who doesn’t?”
He thinks it’s unfair of groups like Big Brother Watch to pick on local authority CCTV systems when they represent just 2% or so of the total number of cameras in Britain and they are the most heavily regulated and controlled of the lot.
“The Home Office has laid down the criteria that we should be working to – in 99% of cases we work to it. And if it’s not 100% it’s through error and not deliberate intention not to work to the rules and regulations.”
Referring to research on public attitudes to CCTV and his own experiences with the public in Bristol, he points out that most of the public would like to have more public space cameras.
“I get more calls in the office that someone’s neighbour has got a camera that overlooks their garden and the children are playing in the garden, and they ask what can I do about it. And I say, honestly, nothing because there are no rules and regulations about it.”
He would like to see the government through the office of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner do something about the 98% of cameras which are not compliant with any regulations or codes of practice.
He would like to see local authority CCTV centres acting as a source of best practice and advice for private CCTV systems. “I could easily go out and carry out audits and give advice to people. I could advertise the fact that we’re the local authority, if you want any advice on your CCTV system, is it compliant or not, then I’ll do a free visit and give you free advice. More than happy to do that.”
There’s a great deal of expertise within the CCTV industry that the government should be tapping into as it develops regulation to meet the changing technological and social environment.
One of the things that Gordon loves about the CCTV industry is the fact that everyone in the industry has a wealth of expertise in everything from technology to best practice and management and is willing to share it.
“What I like about this industry is that I’m not in direct conflict with any of these managers, I’m not trying to take business off them. And they are always happy to share information which is good,” he says.
“Managers are more than happy to tell the bad things with the good things. They share their experiences – ay, I got my fingers burned with this product. If you are going to buy it, do a little more research then we did. I like the share and share alike relationship.”
He says attendance at conferences has been an invaluable investment over the years, both in terms of the time and the money spent. “Lots of local authorities look upon these as a jolly and they won’t fund the staff to go to them. And I think that’s a travesty. Once a year, go along to one of the big conferences because you’ll learn so much. And if the local authority is so naïve as to think that £600 is too much – well, that’s nothing!”
The benefit of the conferences is partly the contacts you make and partly the discussions you have. “You find when you go to these conferences and speak with colleagues, you don’t always see eye to eye on these things, but that’s healthy. We don’t all want to be saying the exact same thing all the time. Everybody has diff views and comes at it from diff angles and that’s healthy because the end product should reflect all of those.”
Gordon of course has been on both sides of the audience at these events, first as a delegate in the audience and later as a speaker on stage. At what point did he find himself moving onto the stage?
“I think it was Derek [Maltby, Managing Director of Global MSC] who first got me up. I think it was at his Newcastle show – 6-7 years ago,” he says.
Following the success of that, he was invited once again to Newcastle to talk to a gathering of council staff. “Newcastle Council were quite disjointed in the way they did things. They were having a strategy day that Global MSC were hosting and I was invited.
“The chief executive and all the departments were represented. I was given the perfect start to my talk when walking into the venue. There were two cameras located just six feet apart. One was a public space camera and other was a traffic camera. So both owned by same authority, but they’d spent money putting up two columns and two cameras.
“So I got up and introduced myself and said, can I just start off by saying I’ve just seen two cameras outside that are just six feet apart. Now something tells me that one is a public space camera and the other is a traffic camera. I said, does no one speak to each other in this authority?
“I said, I can’t believe that – that one part of the council doesn’t talk to the other. And the chief exec stood up and said, that’s what today is all about. That went down quite well.”
CCTV managers need as much support as they can get from each other. “We are all trying to do the same job as each other. Why not help each other, because it can be a difficult enough job at times? You get flak from all diff angles, trying to justify what you are doing,” he says. “I’m never arrogant to think I have the answer to everything. There are some fantastic managers out there who do some things in better ways than I do them, and I’m always looking to learn from them.”
Because of the unique nature of what they do, CCTV managers on opposite ends of the country will have more in common with each other than they do with the person in the next room. “I don’t have as much in common with other people in my authority as I do with other CCTV managers. Even those who you are working with, the police, etc. – you are always dealing with external agencies all the time and very little with rest of the council.”
And he adds: “I’ll miss everyone in the world of CCTV – genuinely I have met so many nice people over the years, that I looked forward to bumping into at conferences and various places. And I wish them all the very best for the future. I think there’s a place for us all yet, and still a future for CCTV – very much so.”
As he thinks about dying, he says the experience puts things sharply into perspective. “Your family definitely comes first. Live for today because you never know what tomorrow will bring. Don’t be boring all your life. Go have adventures and have a nice time, because you never get your life back. Once it’s gone it’s gone.”
And have fun. “Go and have a laugh, do something daft now and again. Do something thrilling every now and again. Surprise even yourself, never mind even your family. In nice ways. Go and do things,” he says, describing a memorable trip to Switzerland and the time he surprised his wife by taking her to Paris for their 25th anniversary. “I’m quite lucky – there’s a lot of things that I had on the cards to do, that I wanted to do, that my wife and I wanted to do, and we’ll never be able to do those, but equally, we have done lots and lots of things as well, so we’ve had a nice time. It’s not been dull or boring all the way through.”
He pauses to look out the window of his room at the St Margaret’s Hospice, admiring the view of the gardens.
“I’m pleased with this place – it’s beautiful,” he says. “You’ll understand what I’m about to say. I’m happy here but sad as well – because I’m not going anywhere else. Ah well. Things happen very quickly. No one foresaw it. It came as such a pace. Even my specialists said you only see a form of cancer like this every four years – it was so fast. You know, I had a major operation at the start of the year and I thought I’d got rid of the tumour and I felt so well after it. I made a really good recovery and I had started back at my work.”
Unfortunately, he started getting sick again and despite the best efforts of the doctors, they found there was nothing they could do.
“It’s just a waiting game now,” he says. “But I get huge support – it’s very humbling. It’s lovely. I genuinely didn’t appreciate what so many people thought of me out there. And it’s lovely. It’s just so nice. It has made things so much easier.
“If people think that I’ve left some sort of legacy behind, then that’s fantastic, because it was never what I set out to do. I just set out to do a good job, do a job and do it well, that was it really.
“I love doing what I do and I love the people that I met in the industry.”