ABERDEEN City Council today voted to press ahead with controversial plans to outlaw begging on the city’s streets - despite being warned by senior officials there is little prospect of a special bye-law getting the go head from the Scottish Government.
The Labour-led coalition is make a formal application to the Government for street begging to be criminalised following a 23 votes to four vote at a full meeting of the council.
The potential byelaw would make it an offence, punishable by a fine, for a person within a designated area of the city centre to beg or induce the “gifting of money or goods.”
Seven years ago the council established a system of “begging boxes”, sited at various locations across the city, after a previous attempt to criminalise begging was blocked by the then Scottish Executive.
Pete Leonard, the council’s director of housing and environment, told councillors today that a street-begging byelaw could not be achieved without the agreement of Scottish Ministers.
He said: “The Scottish Government are unequivocal that they do not support byelaws for street-begging. Police Scotland and the Procurator Fiscal would concur that there are already sufficient powers to deal with aggressive begging. There would also be consensus with the Scottish Government’s view that beggars’ housing, social and health needs should be met and a collaborative approach is key to this.
“The Scottish Government wrote to all local authorities in 2012 informing of their policy in respect of street-begging byelaws. The Scottish Government stated that ‘the act of begging itself should not to be
criminalised and we will not support any byelaws that seek to criminalise the act of begging.’ This gives a clear indication that the Scottish Government is highly unlikely to confirm a street-begging byelaw. “
Mr Leonard continued: “Council should also consider that begging has been against the law in England for over 100 years and yet begging remains an issue in cities and large towns there. This would support Procurator Fiscal’s view that a street-begging byelaw may not be sufficiently effective. “
Mr Leonard also told councillors that a survey undertaken by Police officers in February of this year appeared to show that street begging in the city had decreased in the previous nine months. The survey found 31 individuals who regularly begged. Nineteen were UK nationals and 12 foreign nationals - a mix of mostly Eastern European individuals. None were classified as homeless.
He said: “Since April 2013 Police Scotland has recorded 32 incidents in the city centre where reference has been made to street beggars. Not all of these related to begging activity. In the same period police has detected 15 crime in relation to street begging. Most of which were proactively initiated by Police Officers. Of these 15 people charged two have been from Eastern European states and the majority local residents of white Scottish ethnicity.
“It should be noted that police also receive complaints from street-beggars reporting as victims of aggression and intimidation from members of the public.”
Officials of Aberdeen Inspired - formerly known as Aberdeen Business Improvement District - had also reported that various members had been adversely affected by street-begging activity.
Said Mr Leonard: “Street-begging is a long-standing issue in Aberdeen city centre and in many other major towns and cities, nationally and internationally. Since 2009 when the council previously considered a street-begging byelaw the extent of begging has not increased and perhaps there may have been a slight decrease in activity. A significant change has been the prevalence of migrant street-beggars attracted to beg in Aberdeen apparently due to it providing an easy source of income.
“Unlike most UK national street-beggars, most migrant street-beggars are not begging to fund any substance misuse problem nor does it seem to be a consequence of housing, social or health needs. It also seems that there may be an element of organisation to street-begging by migrant beggars in order to maximise income. Recorded complaints about street-begging in Aberdeen may be considered
low compared with perceived levels of public dissatisfaction about the prevalence of street-begging in Aberdeen city centre.
“The low level of recorded complaints may be explained by apathy and uncertainty about where complaints should be made. However, essentially members of the public who give money to street-beggars are perpetuating the problem through these actions.