Was conference worth expense?

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AS the barricades come down and Sheffield returns to normal, the question on most lips is whether the Lib Dem Spring conference was worth all the expense and disruption.

Many people apparently stayed away from the city centre, put off by claims that up to 10,000 protesters would ‘rage’ against the conference delegates.

And the city was turned into a fortress with intimidating steel fencing erected to keep apart the two sides, all of it policed by a small army of officers drafted in from throughout the North.

The cost for policing the conference and protests was around £2 million, leading some to say that the operation was over the top.

But the police, still smarting from the violence during anti-tuition fee protests in London, had no option but to put on a show of strength which sent out an uncompromising signal that protesters should behave themselves. At the end of the day, the protests were luke-warm at best and a few trouble causers hell-bent on storming the Natwest Bank, Boots and Top Shop - singled out for special attention - were easily restrained by a police cordon.

With hindsight, we could have managed with fewer police. But that was not to be known at the planning stage, when there was talk of many thousands more protesters than actually turned up, some possibly with a history of violence.

However, we believe that now is the time to look for the positives which have come from this weekend’s experiences.

And there are many.

First and foremost, freedom of speech was assured. The protesters were allowed to protest and delegates were able to attend their conference in comparative peace.

It is a pity that no meaningful debate between the two sides appears to have taken place but, considering the heat of the moment, that is perhaps too much to have expected.

Secondly, the city showed it was up to the task of putting on a major conference. When the City Hall was refurbished, it was hoped to build conference business within Sheffield.

That did not happen - until this weekend, when the city showed it is an ideal place for conferences with excellent facilities at all levels.

Criticism was levelled at claims that the conference would bring in millions to the local economy, as this was offset by the cost of policing the event.

But the stage has been set for future conferences now we have shown that Sheffield is open for business.

A welcome break

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