Councils defend anti-social behaviour banning orders ahead of protests
Councils chiefs have defended their use of banning orders designed to tackle anti-social behaviour after a campaign group attacked them as a "busybodies' charter" that should be scrapped or dramatically scaled back.
Civil liberties group the Manifesto Club claims Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) criminalise everyday activities by allowing councils to ban any behaviour deemed to have a detrimental effect on the quality of life within a specified area. It is organising a weekend of protests against PSPOs on 6 and 7 August, saying they are creating "bizarre new criminal offences".
PSPOs were introduced in October 2014 under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime & Policing Act. Breaching an order can result in an on-the-spot fine of £100. Failure to pay can result in a potential prosecution, a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal record.
FoI responses published by the Manifesto Club in February showed 130 orders had been issued by 79 local authorities, including nine bans on swearing, three on rough sleeping and 12 on loitering or "standing in groups".
It says that since then, the rate of new PSPOs has increased covering behaviour such as persistent begging, street drinking, busking, remaining in a public toilet "without reasonable excuse" and lying down or sleeping in a public place unless homeless. Some have introduced curfews, with under-18s not allowed out after 11pm in certain areas.
Cambridge City Council has passed a PSPO to ban touting by punt operators in the city centre, while Blaby Council in Leicestershire has banned 10 to 17-year-olds from gathering in groups of four or more in the village of Countesthorpe , with exceptions for school journeys and bus stops. A consultation involving 250 local people showed 95 per cent backed the PSPO.
Some charities have previously criticised PSPOs that ban activities such as rough sleeping, saying they effectively criminalise the homeless.
But the Local Government Association defended the use of the orders and accused the Manifesto Club of trivialising anti-social behaviour such as aggressive begging, street drinking or car racing that makes victims' lives a misery - or even put them in danger.
"PSPOs are an effective tool for combating anti-social activities like these," said Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA's Safer & Stronger Communities Board.
"They are just one of a number of powers used by councils to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour. Like any other council service, they can be subject to democratic scrutiny and review.
"Councils listen to the concerns of local residents and businesses, and consult with them to bring in PSPOs to address particular anti-social behaviour issues.
"Crime and anti-social behaviour by its very nature varies from place to place and that is why different councils are responding in a variety of ways."