Government rejects £7 million fracking policing funds bidAt its peak Operation Manilla used 75-100 officers per day
A police and crime commissioner has urged the policing minister to reconsider his plea for extra help with the multi-million pound cost of local anti-fracking protests.
Residents have been battling plans for major gas exploration in Little Plumpton near Blackpool for years.
Protests, concentrated at Preston New Road, peaked last summer, with the policing response, Operation Manilla, using between 75-100 officers per day.
To date Lancashire Constabulary has made over 350 arrests, dealt with more than 80 lock-ons, 46 full or partial road closures and 145 complaints about policing of the fracking scheme.
Dealing with the level of protest has required a large ongoing policing operation to be in place since January last year, with a public order capability of around 50-75 officers per day.
Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw said Operation Manilla has cost his force £7 million since the beginning of 2017 but has received just £1.4 million in support from the government.
Mr Grunshaw has argued the multi-million pound bill should be reimbursed in full as it is a large scale police operation but the Home Office insists the request was considered in context of the department's guidance for Special Grant Funding.
He said: “This is a bitter blow for Lancashire and I have already written back to Nick Hurd urging him to reconsider.
“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.”
A spokesman for Mr Grunshaw’s office said the extra £6.6 million will be met from force reserves but, since the operation is ongoing, the PCC has concerns about how Lancashire Constabulary will sustain the huge monthly costs.
Last month Police Oracle reported Lancashire Constabulary has set-up a separate command structure to deal with anti-fracking protests using officers working rest days - despite “growing concerns” over their wellbeing.
Mutual aid from North Wales was withdrawn in July after its PCC Arfon Jones complained his own force was struggling with capacity issues.
A Home Office spokesman said: "We have provided the Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner with up to £1.4 million of funding in accordance with published special grant guidance.”
In general, grants will only be considered where costs exceed one per cent of the force’s budgets but ministers can waive this requirement.
Lancashire’s budget for 2016/17 was £261,521,000 meaning one per cent of its budget would be £2,615,210.
Home Office guidance to PCCs for special grant applications states: “By its nature, policing has to deal with unpredictable events and emergencies. The Home Office expect PCCs to make reasonable provision and hold financial reserves to meet these exceptional items or events, especially in light of the strategic policing requirement.
“There should be no presumption that financial assistance will be available in addition to general and specific grants.
“The Home Office will consider requests for special grant funding to help meet costs where necessary, additional expenditure incurred would otherwise create a serious threat to the force’s financial stability and their capacity to deliver normal policing.”
HMICFRS conducts an independent assessment of each application which it passes on to the Home Office. Home Office officials will also provide advice to ministers as they take the final decision.
In 2016/17 austerity measures forced Lancashire Constabulary to cut 77 posts across its workforce to make £11m in savings, on top of £8.3m in cuts from 2015/16.
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