Friday, 29 April 2011

Cost of the pope's visit keeps on rising

 Cost of the pope's visit keeps on rising – and now he's helped himself to money meant for poor countries

 Newly-released figures from the Lothian and Borders police board show that the pope's few hours in Edinburgh during his visit to the UK in September last year cost the force £543,226 and involved 900 police officers. And now the Government has revealed that it took almost £2 million from the overseas aid budget to help finance the pope's jamboree.

Lothian and Borders police chiefs are now in negotiations with the Scottish Government over recovering costs from the visit to the city, with ministers expected to "comment shortly" on a deal. Councillor Iain Whyte, convener of the police board, said the Government had landed the pope's visit on the police, adding: "If something is a major national event that is chosen to come to your area, such as the Papal visit, there is the expectation that there will some assistance with the cost of that. I would hope we would be successful in getting some of that funding back."

The policing costs are on top of Edinburgh City council's own bill of almost £300,000 for decorating the streets and arranging a parade.

Meanwhile, it was revealed in parliament this week that £1.85 million of the £10.2 million that the taxpayer shelled out for the visit came from funds set aside to aid development in poor countries.

Malcolm Bruce MP, the head of the Committee on International Development, found the contribution to the pope's visit while examining the accounts of the Department for International Development (DfID) for 2010. Mr Bruce said: "Many people are surprised as we discover that the money for British aid has been used to finance the pope's visit last year. The government must explain precisely what this money was used for and how it fits into the remit of foreign aid."

A spokesman for the Department for International Development said: "DFID was one of a number of Government departments part-funding the Pope's visit to the UK. "Our contribution recognised the Catholic Church's role as a major provider of health and education services in developing countries. This money does not constitute official development assistance and is therefore additional to the coalition Government's historic commitment to meet the 0.7% UN aid target from 2013," the spokesman said.

Paul Chitnis, chief executive of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) — which is a Catholic charity — told The Scotsman that raiding the overseas aid budget to fund the pope was "not appropriate". Mr Chitnis called for rules about how international aid is spent to be "tightened up", as the shadow international development secretary, Harriet Harman, said the money should be put back into the aid budget.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "The use of foreign aid money to help one of the wealthiest organisations in the world to aggrandise itself in this way is disgraceful. Far worse than even that, is that the pope's ego trip has led directly to taking food and clean water straight out of the mouths of some of the poorest people in the world."

This is what we have uncovered so far of the costs of the pope's visit
Central Government: £10.2 million
West Midlands Police: £280,000
Birmingham City Council: £82,000
Warwickshire Police (for planning for a mass at Coventry airport that was subsequently abandoned): £80,000
Edinburgh city council: parades and street decorations: £300,000
Lothian and Borders Police £543,000
The Metropolitan Police had an initial budget of £1.8 million, but that is bound to have increased. We are trying to find out (using FoI) what was actually spent. We also need to know how much Strathclyde police spent in the Glasgow visit. And that's before the security services present their bill (if that is ever publicly revealed).

The Catholic Church promised a £7 million contribution, but at the last count it has raised only something like £3 million. Terry Sanderson said: "We are determined that the Catholic Church will not walk away from this debt and leave even more millions for the British taxpayer to fork out. We will continue to insist that the Government demand this money as promised."

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