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Protesters Say Council Should Not Suspend Sponsorship Policy for Armed Forces Day

Published on: 1 Oct, 2014
Updated on: 1 Oct, 2014
Protestors against the suspension of the council's sponsorship policy outside the council chamber at Millmead last night (September 30).

Protestors against the suspension of the council’s sponsorship policy outside the council chamber at Millmead last night (September 30).

Protesters gathered outside Millmead council officers last night as the Executive prepared to debate a decision, already taken by Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC) managing director, to suspend its sponsorship policy and allow arms manufacturers to sponsor National Armed Forces Day next year, 2015.

Council policy specifically prohibits sponsorship from some organisations including those involved in the production and sale of weaponry including firearms.

But on September 19 GBC’s MD, Sue Sturgeon, in consultation with the leader of the council, Stephen Mansbridge, took the decision, using delegated powers under the “urgency provisions”, to suspend the sponsorship policy for the Armed Forces Day event.

It was considered that without sponsorship from some of the companies normally prohibited the council would be unlikely to meet its target of £150,000 and threaten the success of the occasion.

The eight protesters at the meeting, a mixed group representing different organisations including: Buddhists, Guildford Amnesty, Fair Trade, Friends of the Earth, and an Inter Faith Group, had found common cause to protest the council’s decision. Most of the group said that they were not against the Armed Forces Day event being held but they did not wish it to be funded with sponsorship money from arms manufacturers.

In the council chamber a spokesman for the protesters, Kevin Burr, said: “Armed Force Day is an opportunity for us to show our appreciation for those who put their lives on the line for the civilised principles we all aspire to. At risk of injury or death they show great bravery in upholding our values and our freedom but even in theses very demanding circumstances we expect them to observe the rules of engagement.

“[Your policies] are your rules of engagement. Supposing the head of HR came and said we’ve got a tricky disciplinary hearing tomorrow afternoon I propose that we suspend our gender equality policy for the day… I hope you and I know what the answer would be.

“What’s so special about GBC that it can waive away its own policies when they are inconvenient?”

Cllr Zoe Franklin (Stoke) speaking on behalf of The Lib Dem group said: “As a group we believe this decision should have been considered by the full council or, at the very least, a scrutiny committee before the final decision was made.

“The council’s sponsorship policy gives a clear steer to an ethical approach to sponsorship and yet here we are discarding, albeit temporarily, a paragraph stating that we would not accept sponsorship from organisations involved in the production and sale of weaponry, for the sake of financial convenience.

“The fact that such a significant decision can be made based on the decision of the managing director and the council leader alone raises a whole lot of questions about appropriate council process.”

She added that she hoped to arrange an invitation to the council leader and the managing director and debate that process.

Angela Gunning (Labour, Stoke): “I felt very strongly about this item… it came as a shock to me that this decision was made on 19th September, almost two weeks ago. It is a great honour for Guildford to host Armed Forces Day but this is not a reason to suspend our policy.

“We should contact Nottingham City Council to find out how they funded the event in 2013 and we should investigate how this loophole in our constitution can be stopped.

“I heard this morning that it was the Ministry of Defence that wanted us to suspend this policy and that if we refused then the event might be taken from us.”

In response Cllr Matt Furniss (Con, Christchurch): Anything to do with defence can be very controversial… we have made it clear all the way through that we will be seeking local organisations and businesses to sponsor Armed Forces Day… I have proposed that we just have the single line suspended and that it is for a single event, no other event. This will mean that there will still be a review process by myself, my team, as well as the legal team, to review all bids.

“Cllr Gunning mentioned that MoD had pressured us to adopt this policy but as far as I know they did not exert any such pressure. Nottingham City Council were actually sponsored by some defence contractors. Actually, every Armed Forces Day has been sponsored by a defence contractor.

“If we did not suspend this particular item of policy it would mean that we would not be able to accept a grant from the Ministry of Defence for £25,000, which… relieves the burden on the Council Tax payer.”

Cllr, Sarah Creedy (Con, Holy Trinity) suggested that the leader of the Lib Dem group be invited to join Cllr Furniss’s team in assessing sponsorship bids. The invitation was agreed and accepted.

Cllr Gordon Jackson (Con, Pirbright) said: “These are very difficult decisions I personally would tend much more towards a policy of not supporting arms – I have strong personal views in that way – but having said that, I really did think that in circumstances where we are supporting our armed forces we cannot ignore the fact that weapons need to be made for them to do their job…

“I am sure that everyone around this room would rather see no weapons in the world, at all, but I don’t think it is really possible to…not recognise the role of the arms providers. And it would be almost two-faced if we seek to support the armed forces and then turn around and say that we don’t believe that weaponry should ever exist.”

The council leader, summing up, agreed that it was a difficult issue and that he understood the level of public concern and those expressed by the councillors.

His own opinion was that the decision needed to be taken in context, and that there was a danger that the British defence industry, a significant part of the country’s industrial base would be made a pariah. The policy, he reassured the meeting, was being suspended purely for this one event and he would be happy, he said, to be called by a scrutiny committee to discuss the relevant processes further.

The meeting endorsed the managing director’s decision. Several councillors mentioned during the debate and afterwards that they had received numerous email protesting against the decision from their constituents and other residents within the borough.

Cllrs Matt Furniss and Mark Chapman (Lib Dem, Westborough) have agreed to contribute opinion pieces setting out their views on this controversial decision from their different sides of the argument. We hope to publish these next week.



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Responses to Protesters Say Council Should Not Suspend Sponsorship Policy for Armed Forces Day

  1. Anna-Marie Davis Reply

    October 2, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    So when the constitution doesn’t suit it is either ignored (councillor conduct) or suspended, as in this case. And under “urgency provisions” and delegated powers too. Governance at its very poorest, in my view, and in need of investigation.

  2. Natasha Barnes Reply

    October 3, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    On the one hand, I’m inclined towards Cllr Jackson’s view that it seems odd to want to honour our armed forces, but not want anything to do with those who produce weapons.

    But I feel the deeper issue here is that, as Cllr Gunning pointed out, the decision was already made two weeks ago behind closed doors and is only now being ratified by the Executive in public.

    As the council is currently reviewing its constitution, it would seem now a good time to close this gaping loophole.

  3. Anna-Marie Davis Reply

    October 3, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    The problem is that our elected representatives didn’t take the decision.

  4. Stephen Page Reply

    January 10, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Typical double standards, don’t let the usual suspects stop hosting AFD because Guildford would never live down the shame that they couldn’t get the sponsership to host our armed forces, disgraceful.

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