The Liberal Democrat party conference taking place in Sheffield in March is expected to generate £2.5 million for the city economy, the council’s chief executive said today.
But the benefits to the economy could be outweighed by the bill for the huge policing operation which has seen all South Yorkshire Police officers’ leave cancelled and could cost between £500,000 and £2m.
Since the booking was taken in 2008 the party’s profile has soared after Sheffield MP Nick Clegg became deputy prime minister when he formed the coalition government with the Conservatives.
But unpopular public sector cuts which has seen violent demonstrations, particularly in relation to university tuition fees, has meant South Yorskhire Police are having to plan for “all eventualities”.
A six-foot security fence will be erected around City Hall and armed police officers will also be on duty.
Police will patrol on horseback, motorcycles and bikes as well as on foot.
At a pre-conference briefing at the City Hall - the main conference venue - council chief executive John Mothersole said: “I’m delighted the Lib Dem party conference is coming to Sheffield, delighted because it’s a big conference worth £2.5m to our local economy.
“It’s clearly bigger in profile than we expected when we took the booking, which we took on a commercial basis.
“If you asked me in hindsight, ‘do I wish it wasn’t coming to Sheffield?’, my answer would be emphatically ‘no’. Sheffield is the fourth largest city in England and it has to behave like it.
“This conference is about jobs and the local economy.
“It happens to be a party political conference but Sheffield will demonstrate it can handle these big events.”
Up to 1,800 delegates are expected from Friday March 11 to Sunday March 13.
Superintendent Martin Scothern, who is leading the police operation, said: “We are aware of the intention of some groups to protest, however, at this time we have no specific information that suggests the protests will be anything other than peaceful.
“Police have a positive duty to protect the democratic rights of UK citizens to peacefully protest, while balancing the community rights of residents and the public.”
Supt Scothern said police leave had been cancelled and extra officers would be drafted in from West Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
Supt Scothern said officers would only wear riot gear if necessary.
He added containment tactics - or “kettling” - where protestors are kept within a limited area - would be a ‘last resort’.
Police are expecting between 2,500 and 3,000 protestors but the number could be much bigger.
The conference will be most heavily policed for 24 hours from Saturday to Sunday, when there will be 1,000 officers on duty
Supt Scothern said the cost of policing is expected to be between £500,000 and £2m and would be paid for out of reserves.