PSPO Watch: Join the fightback
Scrapping plans for Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) was never likely to be high on the list of local councils’ New Year’s resolutions.
Although more and more people have become aware of the absurd – and often cruel – ways PSPOs are being misused, it unfortunately looks like we’ll continue to see our freedoms chipped away in 2017.
PSPOs let councils ban any activity they deem to have a “detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”. Orders carry £100 on-the-spot fines, or trips to court and potential £1,000 penalties if those original charges go unpaid.
When the power to enforce PSPOs was created in 2014, Liberty warned they were so broad that they were ripe for abuse.
Sadly we have been proved right. They have been used time and again against vulnerable people councils should be helping.
And, as people take to the streets to protest against discriminatory politics, local authorities show no signs of taking a more compassionate approach.
Peterborough City Council has made no bones about its intentions. Its proposed PSPO will ban anyone from requesting money from an unknown individual, even if it is only implied by their conduct. For many homeless people, it will be near impossible not to fall foul of the Order.
That is, if the council hasn’t muscled them all out by the time the PSPO comes into force. It shamefully hired security guards at a cost of £8,000 to remove rough sleepers from a popular area of the city over the Christmas period.
That’s money that could have gone towards supporting people in need, rather than treating them like litter to be swept off the streets.
Reading between the lines
Shropshire Council has recently proposed criminalising anyone who leaves any personal belongings in any public area for any amount of time in Shrewsbury town centre.
Perhaps deterred by Liberty’s previous warning that this would be unlawful, they stopped short of proposing an outright blanket ban on rough sleeping. But that’s exactly what this Order would amount to.
There doesn’t seem to be any practical way rough sleepers could avoid being caught by this plan. The council is currently consulting the public – be sure to have your say on the discriminatory measure.
And West Dorset District Council’s website says a new PSPO will ban “aggressive begging” – but the public survey actually asks for views on creating an offence of making “verbal, non-verbal or written requests for goods, money or donations”.
That proposal seems to make a criminal of any homeless person, regardless of their demeanour. Tell the council you won’t stand for it.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – PSPOs are incapable of alleviating hardship. They can only plunge the homeless into ever more debt and slap them with criminal records.
So it’s essential we fight back against this cruel trend – and fighting back does yield results.
In December, Exeter City Council amended its PSPO proposals following pressure from Liberty, local protests and numerous responses to its public consultation. The new Order has scrapped powers to remove any bedding found in the city centre, and also now only applies to (clearly defined) “aggressive begging” – rather than to any unsolicited requests for money.
Community activism has resulted in a complete turnaround from Hackney Borough Council. Having banned rough sleeping in 2015 – before public condemnation led to the PSPO being discarded – the council has now committed to ending rough sleeping in the borough by 2020 through outreach support.
And last month a petition organised by the Swindon Trades Council against an active PSPO targeting rough sleepers was handed to the council with more than 3,000 signatures. A petition is also ongoing against similar proposals for Wandsworth.
PSPOs can be defeated, but only if we stand up and face them head-on.
Liberty is challenging individual Orders whenever we can, while campaigning for the power to create PSPOs to be scrapped altogether.
Join the fightback and let councils know we don’t accept discrimination and prejudice in our hometowns – or anyone else’s.