Thursday 29 December 2016

Brent's Cricklewood PSPO against casual workers opposed by Brent's Independent councillor

Cllr Helen Carr (Independent, Mabesbury) has reiterated her opposition to the extension of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) in Cricklewood. Consultation has closed on the extension which will go through to December 2017. The PSPO is aimed at workers waiting to be picked up for casual work. This has been a traditional picking up point for decades and formerly the casual workers were Irish, now they are also from Eastern and Central Europe.

Cllr Carr said,  "Shall we ban the homeless, as far right Hungarian, Victor Orban, has done?" LINK

She went on:
I oppose this extension, on the following grounds: This is a draconian measure not originally intended as a response to the complaints of, what I understand it, are a handful of people, albeit they have clocked up more than 400 complaints in a year. This does not mean people should not complain - I myself continually alert the Transport police to Romanian speaking beggars on the underground (a losing battle ..,) who when challenged in Romanian (as I am very capable of doing given my background), can become aggressive. But we need to ask who these young women are (invariably young women), where are they from, and why do they beg? Are they being coerced by a larger, nastier gang (invariably yes) observing them from the next carriage who will physically abuse them if they do not bring home a set amount of takings each day?  

The measure is not successful: at 7am, when I usually set out for work and pass through the Broadway, it did not take long for the small groups of men hoping to gain work, to resume unchallenged. The measure ensured they congregated elsewhere outside the zone, and in cafes etc. As I understand it from the Police themselves, this is an historical issue and originates long before the arrival of Romanians, who seems to be the new Irish in terms of being subject to prejudice and discrimination as the suppliers of no skill/low skilled casual labour. 

Not all residents support this move: I appreciate and agree with those who claim the police are unable to implement the measure - they have more serious issues to attend to. This, then, sets a very bad precedent. In the UK, policing is by consent. Servants not masters. In Romania, as in other new democracies of Eastern & Central Europe  I have lived and worked in which are only recently free of totalitarian rule, the police are a generally viewed as bodies to be feared. They operate by  a mixture of dazzle, bribery and intimidation: coercion not persuasion and consensus. We need to use these measures sparingly if the tolerance and co operation of our own police are not to be considered weaknesses and vulnerabilities to be exploited.

These are difficult and dangerous times. We need to protect those fleeing war, persecution, discrimination and deprivation. Not lock them up.
This was the Council's introduction to the consultation:
Brent Council is consulting to extend a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) from 21 December, 2016 until 20 December, 2017, which banned the practice of picking up workers for casual cash-in-hand labour within a specified area. Casual workers hired in this way are often exploited, earning less than the minimum wage and exposed to unsafe working environments.

The congregation of people looking for casual work has long been causing problems in the community. The individuals harass and intimidate passers-by and are responsible for other anti-social behaviour in the area. For a number of years there have been complaints from residents and businesses about groups of casual labourers congregating in Cricklewood Broadway and surrounding roads and car parks who harass, intimidate and enact other ASB. A side-effect of this labour market is increased rough sleeping in Brent’s parks, as well as additional levels of street drinking and a spike in offences such as criminal damage and burglary.

From 01/04/2016 to the 30/10/2016 there have been 170 calls – 13% of the calls were between 07:00 and 12:00 hours, this is the peak time for the direct ASB impact from the migrant labour market. We have issued many warnings to businesses advising that they can be fined for picking up workers, and this is reducing the number of people gathering in these areas in hopes of work. However, there is still a long way to go, and we need to keep reinforcing this message consistently to reduce the problem further.  The current PSPO expires on 20 December, 2016.

The consultation will consider whether the PSPO should be extended for a further 12 months until 20 December, 2017, to allow us to continue to penalise those who encourage casual labour markets in the area. The restricted area and prohibitions will remain the same.

Proposed area:

Shoot Up Hill junction with Walm Lane to Chichele Road to Anson Road to Heber Road to Larch Road to Mora Road to Cricklewood Broadway following the railway line to the iron bridge and south along Cricklewood Broadway to Shoot Up Hill junction with Walm Lane. This also includes all other roads, any public space, and communal areas within the mapped area,
The controversy  follows that over a report to the Council's Equality Committee on the Eastern European Community which it was alleged perpetuated negative stereotypes about the Romanian community in particular. LINK LINK


Alison Hopkins said...

The Equality Committee report was utter nonsense and a profound insult to those it purported to report on.

It is however rather clear that Cllr Carr hasn't spoken to Ashford Place or read any of the Operation Ajutor documentation OR talked to the tri borough task force.

Anonymous said...

Whatever the rights and wrongs in this particular case, Cllr Carr's comments and action look like a good advert for Independent (and independent) councillors.

Mike Hine

Scott said...

Commend Cllr Carr for her stance against this particular PSPO. People seeking to work their way out of poverty is not a crime. You would have thought that a political party that goes by the name of 'Labour' would have been able to find a way to faciliate these guys obtaining work. In addition to finding alternative ways to deal with the key complaints of residents which upon review of the consultation (completed by a limited amount of people) related to 'fear' & 'litter'. The current draconian strategy of renewing a PSPO is proven in effective.

Scott Bartle.

Alison Hopkins said...

If this were about homeless people, I'd agree totally with you, Scott. I'm undecided on extending the PSPO, but the issue in this instance isn't true homelessness by any means. It's worth reading what Ashford Place have to say on the matter, them being a bit expert and all.

What the PSPO doesn't address of course is the rough sleeping in open places issue and that's far more complex.

Barnhill Boy said...

Has Cllr Carr read the PSPO?? It is clear that it is targeted against those seeking to exploit casual workers, not towards the casual workers themselves. Enforcement goes hand in hand with support from the employment team to help find legitimate work - which should help reduce the rough sleeping.

If the PSPO was targeted against the rough sleeping as Alison suggests then there would be an almighty hullabaloo, and rightly so. The council have chosen the right approach here and this has been identified as good practice nationally.

Scott said...

@Alison & Barnhill Boy:
Only the first line from Carr above mentioned homelessless, she goes on to discuss the purpose of the PSPO in Cricklewood i.e. penalising people seeking to work their way out of poverty. I'm aware that Labour within other council areas supports the use of PSPO's against homeless people but thankfully hasn't come here yet?

Alison - I'm aware that across the country Liberal Democrats have been running good campaigns against the flawed ideology of PSPO's. Along similar lines to the campaigning organisation Liberty's views on the subject (i.e. Do Brent Liberal Democrats share the views taken elsewhere?

The concerns raised by residents in the consultation were of 'fear' (either due to them being men or relating to stigma of people from different countries similarly practiced by the council in the equalities report controversy - that is linked above) AND 'litter'. I'm not sure that PSPO's are the first lines of defence against either of those.

@Barnhill Boy:
Do you have a source for the people who considered PSPO's good practice, as aside from civil liberties issues, as there's certainly a difference to that view and 'working in practice'. People have been using that location at Chichele Road for over 150years (I understand this from Alison) to exercise their right to contract their skills & labour, a ban is as unlikely to make it go away as bans were to resolve social issues relating to drugs use, sex work or gambling.

Alison Hopkins said...

Having sat in on numerous SNT meetings and Operation Ajutor presentations, what Barnhill Boy says is actually correct in one respect. The principal purpose of this particular PSPO was to enable police to arrest the gangmasters and labour exploiters. That's one reason Ashford PLace was involved: their role was to try to engage with the casual labourers and persuade them to take offered accommodation.

Chichele Road has indeed been an employment hub since the 19th century. That isn't the problem: it's the new nature of what's actually taking place. The labourers being picked up aren't strictly speaking plying for hire, as the Irish did in the 50s, for example. Chichele Road, Geron Way and Wickes are used as publicised rendezvous points where known gangmasters pick up workers. The coach drop off point for them arriving in London is Wickes and Geron Way. They know who is going to employ them - Cricklewood is widely advertised!

Said workers are employed on jobs which all too often have no health and safety whatsoever, and are also often related to illegal conversion work and property development. That, and being employed by those home owners keen to save money by paying cash in hand, who turn a blind eye to those same risks to the workers.

It's not quite accurate to say that the workers are trying to move from poverty. It's a different model, again, from the Irish who came here, who worked on many projects and lived in cheap rooms and boarding houses. (Some of my neighbours did just that!) The workers who have been picked up often have very substantial sums of money on them which they've earned, and are totally unwilling to spend any of it on accommodation. Hence the rough sleeping. They usually reject any help with cheap accommodation. I understand why they do this, as by accumulating a few thousand pounds, they can buy farms and houses "back home". But it does make the job of the charities and voluntary workers very difficulat indeed and isn't solving the problem.

The root of all of this is the gangmasters and the complex and sophisticated information network that now exists. The PSPO isn't a good way to crack this particular nut, but it's all there at the moment. Better legislation is needed. (And no, I totally disagree with targetting homeless people as some councils are doing!)

A PSPO Isn't actually needed to move on rough sleepers in parks. Other law can be and is used.

Philip Grant said...

Brent Council advertisements are also on display in Kingsbury, for another proposed PSPO.

The main "target" for this appears to be the coach services between London and Romania, which have used the north side of Kingsbury Road alongside Roe Green Park as a loading / unloading point for passengers and their luggage every week for many years. Although this may be annoying for people living opposite, I have never observed any "anti-social behaviour" by the people using this coach service.

Is it a coincidence that it appears to be the Romanian community in the "firing line" again?


Barnhill Boy said...


Not PSPOs in general - these are a dog's breakfast across the piece - but the Brent one specifically, which officers say will be included as good practice in forthcoming guidance. Note that the only criticism the Manifesto Club report (which was scathing generally about PSPOs) could levy at Brent was a suggestion to create a safe place for casual workers to be collected - which would still enable the exploitation to take place!

Brent's approach is a model of good practice and we should be proud it's as considered and thoughtful as it is.

Barnhill Boy said...

Ask the people who live there, the businesses in the area, and the council workers who clean up...the coaches don't have toilets. As soon as the bus stops the passengers pile off and relieve themselves at the nearest available opportunity - alleys, bushes, behind bins...being Romanian is neither here nor there.

Scott said...

The wording of the PSPO does not indicate its 'principle purpose' was to enable police to 'arrest gangmasters and labour exploiters'. The PSPO was set up after concerns from a small number of residents, documented in the consultation that people choosing to stand on Chichele road seeking work were a) dropping litter and b) were scary.

Casting aspirations on small business people of various trades who have learnt over a century that the area is a good place to pick up people seeking work as 'gang-masters' is a bit much. This is not indentured servitude, it is in effect an extension of what is known as the 'gig economy'.

Whilst some people who seek work there may be homeless & Ashford Place are involved with them - not all are. Again, homelessness was not a specified function of this particular PSPO. However, from what you say the term 'homelessness' appears inaccurate here as if these particular people wish to sleep rough so that they can buy elsewhere - that is surely their right to do so. They certainly haven't stopped, therefore the role of the council should be of harm reduction (to the individuals involved and to the local neighbourhood) as opposed to ineffectual bans and infringements of civil liberties.

There was the case of Phillip Hanman who lives in Penzance, Cornwall yet works in a East London Council and sleeps in a tent tues-fri - because that is his choice. He later started paying £7 a day for a tent pitch in Epping Forrest.

There are other ways to tackle a) litter b) peoples fear of either 'men' or people who speak other languages c) locations for people to seek work and d) (re comments below) people having difficulties finding a toilet to relieve themselves - all within the remit of a council.

I agree with Cllr Carr, there is a lot of misinformation about Romanian people and attitudes are shaped by our social environments which our local council (with their report) has shamefully forgot.