A DRAIN on depleted resources or a £2.5million boost to Sheffield’s economy?
A chance for Sheffield to shine on the national stage or an opportunity for Nick Clegg to hog the limelight in his ‘home’ city?
The Liberal Democrats’ annual spring conference comes to the city in two weeks.
The three-day gathering over the weekend of March 11 to 13 will bring up to 1,800 conference delegates and their families to the city filling hotels, restaurants and shops.
It will also drain up to £2million from the police authority budget as officers’ leave is cancelled and up to 1,000 police – including armed officers – will be deployed to maintain security.
The city may gain in terms of cash through the tills but that won’t help to pay policing bills for an authority that has announced 127 job losses with an estimated 700 more over four years.
“I am not going to apologise for bringing the conference to Sheffield,” Nick Clegg told a Star ‘question and answer’ session at Ponds Forge on Monday night.
“I think it’s a good thing for people to come to Sheffield and see how good it is – it is our chance to showcase the city.
“What the city will gain in revenue will far outweigh the cost.
“There will be a cost no matter where the conference is held but it is chance for Sheffield to gain.
“It is important that parties get out of the Westminster bubble and I am personally very keen to come here. I’m always going on to people in London what a great city Sheffield is. I want them to come here and see it and to spend their money in the shops and restaurants.”
The conference is the most high profile Sheffield has hosted since a G8 summit meeting in 2005. The cost of policing the event will come from police reserves.
City Council chief executive John Mothersole said: “It’s a ‘game-changing’ conference for Sheffield. “It means Sheffield can prove it can cope with the big conferences - not just the political ones. But that is the level we need to be looking to bring to the city.
“It’s five years since we revamped Sheffield City Hall – we wanted to re-position the City Hall as a major conference centre.
“We took the booking on a purely commercial basis and with hindsight would we have done things differently? No.
“Sheffield is the fourth-largest city in the country and it has to believe in itself if it’s going to play its part in the country and get the economic benefit. It’s about jobs and the economy.
“The hotels are full and it’s going to be a big boost to the city.
“We have been getting ready for this for a long time now along with South Yorkshire Police.
“The conference is a chance for the delegates to enjoy Sheffield and for Sheffield to enjoy the conference.”
Then there is the chance of the conference attracting a mass protest.
The strength of feeling against Government cuts and the raising of university tuition fees to a potential £9,000 a year seems to have dissipated of late but protests are still expected.
Superintendent Martin Scothern is leading the police operation,
“People are telling us there will be peaceful protests and we are in touch with some of the groups.
“There will be some disruption to the people of Sheffield.
“Roads around the City Hall will be closed for a week and it will disrupt some Sheffielders. Much of Barkers Pool will be fenced off. Part of our policing policy is that people are allowed to exercise their democratic rights to peaceful protest.
“The more peaceful it is, the less it costs.
“No additional cost will be levied on the people of Sheffield.
“It will be found from contingency money in the police budget and we are talking to the Government about claiming the cost back from central funding.
“The costs have obviously increased now the Deputy Prime Minister will be at the conference. It would have been a very small police operation at the outset.
“We only have London to compare with, but it’s not a good comparison.
“We are not naive. We have contingency plans for if things go wrong.
“But we do not want to be over-policing the event. I do not want to place restrictions on ordinary Sheffielders.
There will be 1,000 police on duty on the busiest day over 24 hours but many of those will be available for other duties nearby and not sitting around waiting.
“We will plan for the best and prepare for the worst.”
Police secret weapon: A chat on twitter
SOUTH Yorkshire police are to unleash a new high-tech defence against potential rioters - Twitter.
A force ‘protest liaison team’ is being set up to communicate to protesters outside the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference at Sheffield City Hall.
The team will reach protesters through the social media network Twitter, accessible to many via mobile phones.
“We are in regular talks with the businesses that might be affected and we have opened social media ie Twitter accounts so that we can counter inflammatory messages that may be sent from within the crowd outside the hall,” said Superintendent Martin Scothern.
“We will try to build relationships with the protest groups to try and build understanding.
“We want to try to defuse any tension that may be caused by people sending inflammatory messages from the protest while it’s going on to wind up protesters.
“We want to be able to counter that with our own messages – it reduces tension.
“I am aware that it may be a significant protest but we do not want the profile where we’re over-policing the event.
“There will be 1,000 police on duty on the busiest day over 24 hours but many of those will be available for other duties nearby and not sitting around waiting.
“The cost of the event is across the board in transport, accommodation and overtime and officers from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire will be on stand-by.
“Levels of policing will be decided a week before the event based on the intelligence we have available.”
Ring of steel will protect Clegg’s delegates
A RIOT-proof ring of steel will surround the City Hall for the duration of the Liberal Democrats conference.
The six-foot fence, made in Sheffield, will create an exclusion zone around the venue and in front of the City Hall to give security officials control of the area.
Reaching three-quarters of the way across Barker’s Pool the fenced-off area will stretch beyond the war memorial and almost up to the John Lewis store.
The fencing is made in Sheffield - believed to be by Gripple and erected by Betafence - and will be covered by promotional banners advertising Sheffield.
Protestors will be encouraged to gather in the area immediately outside Mothercare in Barkers Pool.
“The idea is that people have a right to see what they are protesting about and the perimeter fence will be lower there and manned by police officers,” said Superintendent Martin Scothern, leading the operation.
“The fenced off area in front of the City Hall is so we have somewhere to evacuate people to in the event of an emergency in the hall. We have spoken to John Lewis and people will be allowed through from Barkers Pool to Division Street but we have the capacity to close gates at either side of the store if necessary.”
The wire fencing is of Italian design, on concrete bases and has not been used before in the city. It will be erected over days running up to the conference.
There will be armed officers among the 1,000 on duty and officers on motorcycles, bicycles, horses and on foot. Police say they aim to keep disruption to a minimum while protecting the right of democratic protest.