On Thursday 25th July, two representatives from our campaign attended a meeting of the Housing and Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee at the Council House in Birmingham, in order to outline our opposition to the current proposals to introduce a Public Space Protection Order in Central Birmingham. This was the second of two meetings by this committee to examine these proposals. The first meeting, held in June, gave Councillor John Cotton, leading on the PSPO, and Superintendent Green from West Midlands Police, the opportunity to outline the proposals and the reasoning behind them. The purpose of the second meeting, which we attended, was to hear ‘other voices’ in relation to the proposals. (Both of these meetings were live streamed and are available to view on the Birmingham City Council website under the heading, ‘Overview and Scrutiny’).
In addition to representatives from our campaign, this meeting was also attended by individuals from a number of organisations who wished to raise concerns regarding the potential impact of the PSPO proposals on the most vulnerable in our community, in particular those sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness. The organisations who attended were largely from the third sector, including SIFA, Shelter and Complex Needs and Rough Sleeper Outreach. The Community Law Partnership were also in attendance.
In addition to concurring with the legal objections made by the Community Law Partnership and Liberty (who were unable to attend due to the date of the meeting being changed), our campaign representatives focused on the inefficiency of the consultation, and our concerns that despite Councillor Cotton’s insistence that the proposals would not affect homeless people, the paragraphs we particularly objected to, specifically those regarding obstruction of footpaths and doorways by individuals and their belongings, and begging, were in direct contradiction with this statement. We drew attention to Home Office guidelines for Local Government which caution against using PSPO’s to deal with the issue of rough sleeping, and also the fact that the consultation itself, in our opinion and that of the accompanying legal experts, was not conducted in accordance with the Consultation Guidelines 2018. To conclude, we reiterated our willingness to meet with Councillor Cotton to discuss the proposals, but made it clear that such a discussion could only take place if the option to remove the sections which could be used to criminalise those sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness was to form part of that discussion.
As the meeting progressed, it became clear that our concerns were shared by many of those in attendance. The representative from SIFA raised the issue of individuals with no recourse to public funds who are not eligible for temporary accommodation and therefore effectively have no route out of homelessness. Shelter made the committee aware that there had been no consultation with their organisation with regards to the proposals. Shelter had even contacted Birmingham City Council to offer support in helping vulnerable people access the consultation, but this offer was declined. In fact, none of the other organisations represented had been consulted on the proposals. This information is particularly relevant as consultations of this nature are meant to include those that a proposal such as this is most likely to impact.
After the discussion, Councillor Penny Holbrook, Chair of the Scrutiny Committee, told Councillor Cotton that the meeting painted ‘a very different picture’ to the one outlined at the first meeting, and questioned why local charity organisations had not been consulted. As a result of this, the committee recommended that Councillor Cotton and his team set up consultation with local charities to discuss the proposal before any further decision be made. This is reflected in the statement released by Birmingham City Council across various social media platforms that Councillor Cotton will be ‘taking a fresh look’ at the PSPO proposals.
Our campaign welcomes this decision, but retains significant concerns that the consultation was not conducted according to standard requirements, and that implementing the PSPO proposals as a result of this would be unlawful. Whilst we await the outcome of discussions between Birmingham City Council and local charity organisations, we will continue to raise awareness and put pressure on those involved to agree to withdraw the proposals in their current form. It remains our view that the proposal for Central Birmingham as it stands contradicts Home Office guidelines for the use of PSPOs. Birmingham has the highest death rate due to homelessness in England and Wales, and sadly, with no end to austerity in sight, we fear the situation will not improve in the near future. With this in mind, we are fully prepared to crowdfund for a legal challenge if all else fails to prevent the implementation of powers that could further impact the most vulnerable in our society.
Say No to the Birmingham PSPO