Police foot £1m bill for Lib Dem conference

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THE Home Office has rejected a claim for cash to help South Yorkshire Police recoup the money spent policing the Lib Dem party conference in Sheffield earlier this year.

Police chiefs asked the Government for the £1.04 million spent on making sure party delegates, protesters and the wider public were safe during the three-day spring conference.

Lib Dems said the conference was expected to have made £2.5 million for Sheffield’s economy - but the policing bill will now have to be met from the force’s already stretched budget, which faces cuts of £43 million over the next four years.

Sheffield South East Labour MP Clive Betts said the decision by the Government not to cover the bill was ‘absolutely wrong’ and said he would raise the issue with Home Secretary Theresa May.

He said: “The costs were for a national conference of a party and should come from national budgets. For South Yorkshire Police to cover the cost at the current time will have a direct impact on frontline services.”

A ring of steel was set up around Sheffield City Hall, where the conference was held, and police leave was cancelled to ensure there were enough officers available if trouble had broken out.

Officers from neighbouring forces were also drafted in as back-up.

Before the event police chiefs said the conference posed the ‘biggest challenge’ for the county’s police force since widespread floods devastated the county in 2007.

They had been expecting thousands of protesters to flock to the city for the conference - the first held since the Lib Dems and Conservatives formed the coalition government.

Mass political protests a few months earlier, including the tuition fees riot at the Tory Party HQ in London, had left police chiefs preparing for the worst but the conference went ahead peacefully without any trouble.

A South Yorkshire Police spokesman said the force accepted the Home Office funding decision.

He added: “South Yorkshire Police attempted to claim back the total cost to the force of the Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference, which was £1.04 million pounds.

“There were around 1,000 officers deployed over the three days of the conference.

“The force accepts the decision made by the Home Office.”

Police chiefs in South Yorkshire have to save £43 million over the next four years after the Government reduced police force budgets by 20 per cent in a bid to reduce public spending.

A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg said: “Unlike the other two parties, the Liberal Democrats never received public subsidy for our party conference. Since entering Government the Home Office agreed to help fund security for the Liberal Democrats, but only for the autumn conference.

“The security at the conference venue was paid for by the party. The cost of policing the surrounding protests, protecting local residents and businesses and ensuring the safety of conference goers outside the venue was met by the South Yorkshire force.

“South Yorkshire Police did an excellent job at our conference and we would like to pay tribute to the organisation and officers on duty. It is regrettable that the Home Office has been unable to help meet the cost of policing the protests at a major political conference.

“Ultimately these conferences are believed to bring in more than £2.5m to the local economy and we are proud to be able to bring that level of business to Sheffield.”