Oxford Council: don’t criminalise begging/busking tonight!

As things stand, it is likely that Oxford Council will tonight enact a PSPO (public spaces protection order), creating a series of new criminal offences in the city centre.

The new offences include :

  • A new crime of ‘non-compliant busking’. This means that a busker playing in the wrong spot or for longer than an hour would be committing a criminal offence: they could receive an £100 on-the-spot fine, or £1000 fine on conviction.
  • It will be a crime to beg ‘on more than one occasion’ in the city centre. This means that homeless people in Oxford will be committing an offence if they accept money from members of the public. They could receive a £100 on-the-spot fine, or up to £1000 fine on conviction.
  • Other new offences include : ‘remaining in a public toilet without reasonable excuse’, specifically including sleeping in toilets; pavement art of all kinds (‘any form of art/drawing which is applied directly onto any highway or pavement’).

Each of these new offences was rejected by a significant majority of the public responding to the council’s consultation.

An alliance of homeless charities, busking organisations and councillors are opposing this PSPO at the eleventh hour. A protest will gather at 3pm outside HSBC on Cornmarket, moving at 4.30pm to outside the Town Hall where councillors will be meeting. See the Facebook Event page.

Take action!

  • Join or follow the protest
  • Tweet to @OxfordCity
  • Email members of the committee who will be making the decision tonight: cllrbprice@oxford.gov.uk, cllreturner@oxford.gov.uk, cllrsbrown@oxford.gov.uk, cllrahollingsworth@oxford.gov.uk, cllrpkennedy@oxford.gov.uk, cllrmrowley@oxford.gov.uk, cllrsseamons@oxford.gov.uk, cllrcsimm@oxford.gov.uk, cllrdsinclair@oxford.gov.uk ,cllrjtanner@oxford.gov.uk

Here are statements from the coalition opposed to Oxford’s PSPO:

Jonny Walker, Keep Streets Live: “Oxford’s decision to invent a new ‘crime’ of ‘noncompliant’ busking and pavement art is an attack on street culture and the use of public space which will lead to artists and musicians facing punitive fines of up to £1000 and a criminal record. The local authority have a wide range of existing powers to deal with issues that sometimes arise from busking and have no need to invent new crimes. We invite the local authority to rethink their plans and to work alongside the busking community to introduce busking guidance based upon collaboration rather than criminalisation.”

Freya Turner, On Your Doorstep: “We recognise that the PSPO is intended to target a small group of people who genuinely cause problems with anti social behaviour. If this is so we do not see the need for a blanket criminalising measure such as the PSPO, when there are already powers available to target individuals. Those who beg are some of the most vulnerable in our society, and are often facing deeper rooted problems such as homelessness, addiction and mental health issues. There is no conclusive evidence that enforced behaviour change is the best way to support these people into services; and it could have very detrimental effects on their wellbeing. We urge Oxford City Council to consult fully with the range of homelessness organisations in Oxford who have expressed concern over the use of a PSPO, and use their expertise to develop a holistic, positive and constructive package of support for those who beg.”

Ruthi Brandt, Green Councillor, Carfax Ward: “The PSPO is an authoritarian piece of Tory legislation, making it far too easy to turn into criminals people who don’t conform to some pre-conceived idea of an ‘upstanding citizen”. That Oxford City Council has chosen to use these powers is disappointing. The Council usually does good work with homeless people, and the city-centre team – which as the local councillor I work with and have a lot of respect for – do good work in managing a complex environment. However, even with the best of intentions a PSPO is not the right tool to help manage this environment, not if we want to live in a society which respects personal freedoms and supports the more vulnerable of its members.”

Josie Appleton, Manifesto Club: “This shows the danger of PSPOs, which invest arbitrary power in a small number of council officials to invent laws for public spaces. If Oxford council officials vote this through on Thursday they will do so against the majority of respondents to their public consultation. They will show that they are not representing the public but representing themselves – particularly their idea of a ‘clean’ city, devoid of anything which looks messy or unpredictable. This PSPO would both violate public liberties and suck the life out of the city of Oxford, which is a living community and not a presentation for a tourist brochure.”

David Thomas, Green Councillor: “Labour’s love affair with PSPOs is targeting the wrong people with the wrong powers and will only ever push the vulnerable away from essential services and rip the joy out of performing in the city centre. The alacrity with which Labour is awarding itself these summary powers is alarming. Harriet Harman is scratching her head wondering why Labour lost the general election. She should come Oxford to find out.”