Council have “wasted” more than £49,000 on “absurd” security costs at County Hall
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The ESCC spending went to hiring multiple security personnel at County Hall on nine dates during the fourteen-month period between 8 October 2022 and 6 December 2023. £19,500 was spent protecting the hall from petition hand-ins, street theatre, and giant newspaper headlines.
An earlier request from Divest East Sussex had revealed that ESCC had spent over £30,000 on five of these dates, including protecting the hall from a petition hand-in and a tiny vigil of peaceful fasters. Now two additional requests have revealed a further £19.5k of expenditure on four more dates.
Divest East Sussex campaign for institutions in East Sussex to divest themselves of all investments in fossil fuel companies.
A spokesperson for Divest East Sussex said: “Divest East Sussex (DES) has been organising events at County Hall for well over seven years now. People who attend these events are exercising their legitimate right to peaceful protest. Nobody attending a DES event – or, to our knowledge, any other climate protest at County Hall – has ever been arrested for, or charged with, any offence whatsoever.
"ESCC should stop wasting public money to “protect itself” from email questions, petition hand-ins, fasters and mince pies 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.”
£1,407.90 was spent on 12 December 2023, hiring 10 security personnel to ‘protect’ the hall from an eight person protest calling on the County Council to “stop wasting our money on absurd security & divest from fossil fuels instead” (pictured), during which mince pies were offered to all of the security guards present.
An East Sussex County Council spokesperson said: “The County Council respects the rights of those who wish to peacefully protest. However, from experience, we are aware that alongside those who want to exercise their right to peacefully protest there may be those who wish to disrupt proceedings.
“Following an incident when protestors gained access to non-public areas of the building and the police had to be called when they refused to leave, the decision was taken to increase the security presence at County Hall for some meetings as a precaution to ensure everyone’s safety. We are pleased that there have not been any arrests and we continue to keep arrangements under review.”
County Councillor James MacCleary, Liberal Democrat, said: "It has been farcical attending full council meetings with security guards standing around with nothing to do but enjoy the peaceful, creative protests that they are there to supposedly protect us from. The protests are about divesting the council's pension fund away from fossil fuels and into more sustainable investments. People have every right to make their voices heard as long as it's done in the right way.
"We've seen how the government has restricted our right to protest and Conservatives on East Sussex County Council seem to want to do the same. Perhaps rather than spending £50,000 of taxpayers money on security for themselves they should welcome these protests as part of a healthy and open democratic debate on an important issue."