A week in Blackpool? That'll be pounds 5m

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LABOUR'S ANNUAL conference will be the most expensive Britain has ever seen, figures obtained by The Independent have revealed.

The policing operation alone will cost pounds 3.2m and the bill for the conference will be between pounds 1.5m and pounds 2m, taking the total to around pounds 5m. The Liberal Democrats paid pounds 500,000 for two annual conferences.

While the Lancashire town's economy will benefit from an injection of cash, the party's bank account will take a knock.

The stage set alone is estimated to cost between pounds 50,000 and pounds 100,000. On top of that will come the cost of hiring exhibition space, transporting staff and equipment from London and providing stewards and technology.

Along with the 2,000 delegates, 8,000 visitors and 2,000 journalists are expected at the conference. Their every move will be watched by 200 guards from Group Four.

Lancashire police will cut off roads around the conference centre, divers will check drains and firearms officers will be there. The cost of the police bill will be eased by a pounds 750,000 Home Office grant.

Even one of the biggest commercial sponsorship operations ever seen at a party conference will not cover the whole bill, Labour sources said.

Sponsorship and other commercial events are expected to raise around pounds 2m of Labour's pounds 21m income this year, with much of that being taken during the conference week. In the exhibition area, 230 organisations will pay between pounds 3,000 and pounds 8,000 for stands, bringing in more than pounds 1m. Everything from the "Welcome" stand at Blackpool station to the floral displays will be sponsored. That will bring in pounds 300,000.

Thomas Cook, the travel company, is paying between pounds 20,000 and pounds 25,000 to sponsor a pounds 200-per-head gala dinner withTony and Cherie Blair. There have been reports that some ministers have pulled out after the "cash- for-access" row earlier this year. However, the party says that all the 570 places have been taken.

The major lobbying companies will have a much lower profile this year after controversy over their role in politics.