BY RUTH HAYHURST ON MARCH 29, 2018
Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has called on the Government to reconsider its decision to contribute only 20% of the cost so far in policing anti-fracking protests outside Cuadrilla’s shale gas site near Blackpool.
Clive Grunshaw had asked for the full amount, estimated to be nearly £7m by the end of this month (March 2018).
But this week, the policing minister, Nick Hurd, said the Home Office would contribute £1.4m.
Mr Grunshaw said Lancashire had been “short-changed” and described the decision as a “bitter blow”. His office said he wrote to Mr Hurd yesterday to ask him to reconsider.
In a statement Mr Grunshaw said:
“This is a bitter blow for Lancashire and I have already written back to Nick Hurd urging him to reconsider and to Lancashire MPs to lend their support.
“The decision to frack in our county overturned that made by Lancashire County Council. The expectation on Lancashire Constabulary to cover the costs of a decision borne in Whitehall is not a fair deal.
“This is a resource demand which is not likely to leave Lancashire any time soon. Protests are still ongoing and are expected to escalate as we enter spring and summer and officers on the ground continue to do a very difficult job under intense pressure and scrutiny.
“This is also not just an issue for Blackpool and the Fylde; officers from across Lancashire continue to undertake shifts at the site, and this is not how the public of Lancashire expect their police budget to be spent so I will continue to fight this”.
The Home Office told DrillOrDrop today:
“We have provided the Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner with up to £1.4million of funding in accordance with published special grant guidance.”
A spokesperson for the Lancashire PCC said:
“The decision to overturn the refusal of planning permission by Lancashire County Council was made by national government. They should have been aware this would be very contentious and would attract local and national protest. It was also known that the location of the site, next to an arterial route meant that protests had to be policed to keep the road open.
“This was a decision that they knew would have big implications for policing. We know that people are protesting from the local area and from outside. It is not fair that it is left to local residents to foot the bill. It is a national government decision and we’ve said that we believe that national government should pay for it.”
DrillOrDrop understands that Lancashire MPs have also submitted a cross—party letter in support of the PCC request.
Figures from Lancashire Constabulary put the cost of policing from January 2017 to the end of February 2018 at £6,560,000. That includes £2,962,000 in officer overtime and more than £700,000 in funding support from other forces.
In the same period, there were 337 arrests, almost two-thirds of which were from May-August 2017.
Officers on duty
In response to a Freedom of Information request by DrillOrDrop, Lancashire Constabulary said the average number of officers deployed each day at the Preston New Road operation in 2017 was 35.
A report to Lancashire’s Police and Crime Panel meeting in December 2017 said the policing operation had a daily public order capability of 50-75 officers. These officers are supported by investigative, intelligence, logistics, communication, reassurance and professional standards capability. The report said the total size of the operation ranged from 75-100 officers per day.
The report said:
“Maintaining an operation of this scale has presented the force with significant resourcing and financial issues.”
The original plan, according to the report, had been to resource the operation entirely with Lancashire officers, using a combination of officers taken off normal duties and paid overtime on officer’s rest days.
The report said:
“By July  it became evident that Lancashire Constabulary could not operationally sustain this level of daily abstraction. The impact of keeping an operation of this scale staffed entirely with Lancashire officers is a significant strain on the available policing resources to provide ‘business as usual’ policing in Lancashire.”
The force used officers from other forces in the third quarter of 2017 (known as mutual aid), at a cost of £714,000. The response to our FOI request said the number of officers on duty at Preston New Road were divided two-thirds from Lancashire and one-third from other forces.
Permanent command structure
At the March 2018 meeting, the Police and Crime Panel was told the force had established a permanent command structure for the anti-fracking policing operation. This will run for the period 1 March-31 December 2018 and would be supplemented, a report said, by public order officers working on rest day to meet the predicted demand.
The March panel meeting heard that Cuadrilla’s operation at Preston New Road was likely to continue until at least early 2019. The force expected protesters to try to stop fracking at the site using direct action, peaceful protest and mass civil disobedience.
Panel members were told that significant protests by local and national groups were expected. Peak actions were likely at the removal of the drilling rig, arrival of the fracking rig, removal of waste water and construction of the gas pipeline.
The Police and Crime Panel has also received figures on complaints about the policing operation. According to police data, there were 145 complaints for the period from February-October 2017.
The most numerous reasons for complaints were: “other assault” (48); “incivility, impoliteness and intolerance” (21); “other neglect of failure in duty” (11); and “operational policing policies” (10).