Additional policing to cover campaigners attempting to prevent controversial tree felling in Sheffield cost South Yorkshire Police £47,000 in overtime in less than a month, the force has revealed.
Speaking at a meeting called by STAG (Sheffield Tree Action Groups) today (Friday, April 20), Superintendent Paul McCurry and Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts said the figure covered additional police resources to cover protests from February 26 to March 23 this year, when the controversial programme was temporarily suspended.
The figure equates to almost two full-time probationary police officers.
No exact figures were made available on the number of trees felled over the period by Sheffield City Council and their contractors Amey, but Stag said they estimated that no more than 20 trees were removed by contractors.
If the same police presence is required to remove the 300 trees the council and Amey are understood to be immediately targeting, and trees are removed at the same rate, the policing overtime bill would be in the region of £705,000 - enough to employ 29 additional police officers in South Yorkshire.
Supt McCurry said: “To put this into context, what we always try to do is only use officers in duty time, but the actual cost of the operation is £47,000 - that’s in terms of overtime - and we’ve sent that information to the accountability board and the police and crime commissioner.
“What that doesn’t take into consideration is that officers used in duty time are not available for other duties.”
Mr Roberts added: “Money we spend on this is money we can’t spend on something else. In terms of whether this is sustainable, our core responsibility is to keep people safe. We’d sooner not have this charge but it’s not something we can seek to wriggle out of.”
STAG co-chairman Chris Rust also told the meeting that their solicitors had written to Sheffield City Council threatening a second judicial review, after freedom of information requests revealed that Amey had failed to disclose health and safety problems when bidding for the contract with Sheffield City Council.
“Amey broke contract law by failing to disclose investigations into, and the subsequent prosecutions for, health and safety violations that led to at least two deaths.,” he said.
“Initially denied by Sheffield Council, they subsequently admitted that they became aware of one of these incidents just five months before the contract was signed, but did not believe it relevant.
“The breach of contract law allows Sheffield Council to rescind the whole PFI contract, should it choose to do so.”
Sheffield City Council spokesman Paul Billingtonsaid: “The council has already responded to a number of Freedom of Information Act requests and petitions, as well as a KPMG investigation instigated by members of the public, in relation to these allegations and the suggestion that the Streets Ahead contract can and should be terminated. In doing so we have been clear that we do not agree with the assertions that are being made.
“We are aware of the H&S conviction in 2011, and indeed were aware of it prior to contract award, and we are still satisfied that there has been no breach by Amey of the PQQ process or the Bid Process Agreement.
“In relation to the most recent H&S Contravention Notices given to Amey by the HSE, Amey are complying with the terms of the PFI Contract by notifying us of the Contravention Notices and continuing to update the Council on the ongoing discussions relating to the alleged contraventions. Therefore there are no grounds for termination of the PFI contract.”