Pension campaign group criticises East Sussex County Council for spending more than £20,000 on ‘unnecessary’ security personnel
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The group campaigns to divest the East Sussex Pension Fund from fossil fuels and urges councils not to invest pension funds in oil and gas companies.
A Divest East Sussex spokesperson said: “ESCC should stop wasting public money to ‘protect itself’ from email questions, petition hand-ins and 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.”
According to Divest East Sussex, the FoIA request found that the County Council spent over £11,000 plus VAT hiring 40 security personnel on March 21 (£5,304.80) and May 9 (£5,928). They said March 21 was when members of the public handed in a petition signed by 5,236 people, while May 9 was when they attended a debate triggered by the petition.
Divest East Sussex also said the FoIA request found the council spent £2,652.40 plus VAT on hiring 20 security personnel at the hall on February 7. The council said it received notification of a planned protest but Divest East Sussex said no protests had been organised and none took place.
Divest East Sussex said the council spent £5,631.60 plus VAT hiring 40 security personnel for the hall on July 18 when no protest took place. They added that the council spent £5,631.60 plus VAT hiring 40 additional personnel for the Fast for Fossil Fuel Divestment on July 20, which they called ‘a completely peaceful vigil’ of seven people.
Divest East Sussex have speculated that the total figure for security during 2023 is higher than £30,000 because ‘a similar number of security personnel were present’ at an hour-long photo-call outside the hall on September 19.
Responding to the criticism, 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 last year 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.”
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.”