I completely sympathise with everyone’s frustration with the problem of East European rough sleepers and aggressive beggars. Like everyone else locally I see them, or the mess they leave, at least every couple of days. I reminded a lengthy senior officers’ meeting at Westminster City Hall this morning of just that.
As I emailed HPEA members earlier, the fundamental problem is the weakness of UK law on begging, along with the right to free movement in the EU. For what it is worth, a Met operation is now underway to demonstrate the “offensive consequences” of begging (ie what we see every day in Hyde Park ward). Home Office ministers, the Mayor, the Met Commissioner and the UK Borders Agency are being lobbied on a constant basis, often alongside other affected councils. Clean-up and other costs have reached £500,000 for Westminster City Council alone. I can’t promise fast results but a lot of work is going into a problem which is a bureaucratic nightmare to solve. PR offensives to encourage giving to charities rather than to street beggars are also being worked upon.
There is a problem in that rough sleeping and begging are not one of the seven priorities of the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime. However, Nickie Aiken, my colleague whom you will have seen quoted on TV and in the papers on this problem, is pushing to move this up the police priority list, not just at neighbourhood level but higher up the Met. She’s even spoken to the PM about it! Maybe we just need one of our rough sleeping friends to doss down a bit nearer Downing Street…….