Security costs for Pope’s visit could run into hundreds of millions
Police forces in Lothian and Borders and Strathclyde in Scotland are reeling at a prediction that the cost of security for the Pope’s visit to Glasgow could be as much as £70 million. Terrorism expert David Capitanchik, from Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen, says that the security operation for the Pope’s Mass in Bellahouston Park could be on a par with that required for the G8 summit which was held in Gleneagles – and that cost £72 million.
Mr Capitanchik told the Scottish Daily Express: “Strathclyde Police do not have the resources for this. They do not have the number of officers needed for the huge counter-terrorism operation and to protect the large numbers of people in Glasgow from everyday crime at the same time.”
The Scottish police forces, which are already facing substantial cutbacks, now say that central Government must provide more money for the event, but the Cabinet Office is insisting that the costs must come out of “existing police budgets”.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “This is a massive amount of money to expect struggling local police authorities to find. And we should remember that this is only for the first day. When the Pope arrives in England, the security costs are likely to spiral into hundreds of millions of pounds as he holds giant masses in the Midlands and Hyde Park in London. This needless spree has been dreamed up without any care for the cost which hard-pressed taxpayers will have to stump up.”
Now senior Scottish civil servants will meet Foreign Office officials next week to try to negotiate money from central government to pay for the security. An SNP spokesman said: "This week, the Scottish Government was invited, for the first time, onto the main UK planning group for the Papal visit, which we very much welcome. Obviously, as a State Visit, there would be an expectation that Westminster would have a prime responsibility for security costs.
Strathclyde Police Authority chairman Stephen Curran said: "The outcome of these discussions is critical given the policing budget is already under considerable pressure."
A Cabinet Office spokesman declined to discuss Thursday's meeting, but said: "The Scottish Government and UK Government are working together closely, including on finance, to make this visit a success." But Scottish Tory community safety spokesman Bill Aitken said: "It is concerning that, 10 weeks prior to this event, no funding arrangements have been agreed. What has everybody been doing? Should the Scottish Government not have been making the appropriate noises earlier?"
The Tablet reports today that the beatification ceremony is likely to be shifted from Coventry Airport to the former Longbridge car factory. It also quotes Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes, the policing national coordinator for the UK papal visit, as saying: “Security inside venues (including crowd control and safety) would normally be met by the event organisers, with minimal numbers of police officers being deployed.” He confirmed that the cost of policing, including personal protection for the Pope during the trip, would be met out of existing budgets.
At the time of the visit’s announcement, the cost was set at £15m (excluding security) with the Church setting itself a target contribution of £6.75m. It is understood that, so far, the Church has only raised £2.4m from a mixture of donations and pledges. They hope to raise a further £1m by the national collection that took place on 23 May, although there were reports that the distribution of the relevant gift aid envelopes (necessary to secure a charity tax subsidy that is presumably part of the target contribution of £6.75 m) went awry.
After the appointment of Lord (Chris) Patten as government co-ordinator of the event, presumably to bring some control over the mounting chaos, the Church has confirmed that despite speculation of cancellations, the religious event in Bellahouston Park will go ahead as planned, although the Royal Parks are still saying that the Hyde Park event has not been confirmed.
Terry Sanderson said: “We have written to Lord Patten requesting that no further taxpayers’ money be pumped into this totally overblown and unnecessary event. In a week when the Government has told us that it needs to make unprecedented cuts in public and welfare spending that will last for decades, the amount of taxpayer money that is being flung at this indulgent State visit is obscene.”
Mr Sanderson said he did not hold out much hope that Lord Patten would listen and feared that the public purse is going to be opened to meet the shortfall.
Mr Sanderson commented that when the Pope had visited Germany, a minister there had jokingly remarked that it would have been cheaper to fly everyone who wanted to see him to Rome. The way things are going, the same could apply here.