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The ‘fast for fossil fuel divestment’ vigil outside County Hall on 20 July 2023. Note the fenced-off front entrance and multiple security guards – there were lots more! PHOTO: Divest East Sussex.

County Council wasted over £30k on ‘absurd’ security

A Freedom of Information Act request has revealed that over the last 10 months, East Sussex County Council (ESCC) has hired scores of guards to “protect” County Hall from emails, petition hand-ins and a tiny vigil of peaceful fasters. Gabriel Carlyle from Divest East Sussex reports.

Divest East Sussex has been organising protests at County Hall for many years now, calling on East Sussex County Council (ESCC) to stop investing local people’s pensions in the giant fossil fuel companies that are driving the climate crisis.

People who attend these events are exercising their legitimate right to peaceful protest. Nobody attending a Divest East Sussex event – or, to our knowledge, any other climate protest at County Hall – has ever been arrested for, or charged with, any offence whatsoever.

Nonetheless, over the past year it’s been clear to anyone who has attended these protests that ESCC has been massively ‘overpolicing’ them, with the front of County Hall regularly fenced-off and the Hall surrounded by dozens of specially-hired security guards in high-viz jackets.

So in July Divest East Sussex submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to find out just how much money they have spent.

The Council initially refused to disclose the above information, claiming that it ‘would, or would be likely to prejudice… the prevention or detection of crime… [and] the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it).’

However, ESCC has now disclosed the figure – but only after Divest East Sussex challenged the initial refusal by using the Council’s Internal Review process. Unsurprisingly, its grounds for refusal turned out to be entirely bogus.

East Sussex County Council wasted over £5k of tax payers’ money ‘protecting’ itself from this petition hand-in on 21 March 2023. PHOTO: Natasa Leoni

£30,000 and counting

Here’s what has been revealed so far.

East Sussex County Council:

  • spent over £11,000 + VAT hiring 40 security personnel on 21 March 2023 and 9 May 2023, the dates on which members of the public handed in a petition (signed by 5,236 local people) and attended the debate triggered by this petition respectively;
  • spent £2,652.40 + VAT on hiring 20 security personnel to ‘guard’ the Hall on 7 February 2023 [3] – a date for which no protests had been publicised or organised and none took place. Members of the public had merely been encouraged to email written questions to the meeting.
  • spent £5,631.60 + VAT hiring 40 security personnel to ‘guard’ the Hall again on 18 July – a date for which no protests had been publicised or organised and *none* took place.
  • spent 5,631.60 + VAT hiring 40 additional personnel to ‘guard’ the Hall from the ‘Fast for Fossil Fuel Divestment’, a tiny and completely peaceful vigil of (at its peak) seven people.

The total figure for unnecessary security during 2023 is considerably higher than £30,000, as a similar number of security personnel were present during an hour-long photo-call outside the Hall on 19 September.

‘The security presence has been absurd’

In response to an earlier press release from Divest East Sussex revealing that £13,000 + VAT had been wasted on three of the above listed dates, ESCC Councillor James MacCleary (Liberal Democrat, Newhaven & Bishopstone) tweeted:

‘As a County Cllr I have attended these meetings. The security presence has been absurd. The Conservatives have wasted over £13k that could have been spent on overstretched services. The [Divest East Sussex] protests have been polite, positive and creative and should be welcomed.’

ESCC should stop wasting public money to “protect itself” from emails, petition hand-ins and peaceful fasters and instead do the prudent, the responsible and the right thing and make a public commitment to stop investing in the giant fossil fuel companies that are driving the climate crisis.

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Posted 22:53 Tuesday, Nov 21, 2023 In: Campaigns

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