A security firm has been hired to patrol Peterborough city centre to remove rough sleepers.
The city council is paying £8,024 for two security guards to work for 19 days over Christmas and the new year following complaints about anti-social behaviour.
The cost works out at £424 a day, with the guards starting their patrols yesterday (Wednesday, December 21) and remaining until Sunday, January 8.
It follows comments by council deputy leader Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald about rubbish and needles being left in St Peter’s Arcade - a popular pathway to and from Bridge Street.
Cllr Fitzgerald said senior council officers and cabinet members had discussed closing the arcade due to the mess being left behind, but that he was massively against the idea.
Councillor Irene Walsh, council cabinet member for communities and environmental capital, said: “As the demands at this time of year are heightened, with more people than at any other time of the year visiting the city centre, it was felt that we needed to bolster the number of staff we have available.
“This extra support is being provided by two officers who work for an independent security firm.
“In particular they will cover St Peter’s Arcade to prevent incidences of anti-social behaviour that have taken place recently and to offer advice to rough sleepers about the services that are available to them.”
Cllr Walsh added that there will be an enhanced presence during the festive period of SaferPeterborough Prevention and Enforcement Service (PES) officers.
The PES is made up of council, police, fire service and prison staff in one team.
Cllr Ed Murphy, Labour member for Ravensthorpe, said: “The council has employed these without any discussions with elected members.
“There is a housing emergency in Peterborough. The council’s response should be to fund homeless projects and support local charities and open up empty buildings, and if there is a real crisis open up the Town Hall rather than hiring private guards.
“This is a waste of thousands of pounds that could have been used for council services or even used to tackle some of the homelessness issues in our city.”
The Peterborough Telegraph last week ran a feature on people who spend their days in the city centre begging or busking and are struggling to find a place to stay at night.
It followed a noticeable rise in the number of people seen begging or sleeping rough in and around Bridge Street.
Cllr Fitzgerald told the PT: “There’s an ongoing discussion about the plague of beggars and rough sleepers that seem to blight the city centre. I say that with some compassion. Everybody feels for certain people down on their luck, but there’s help for every single one of them.
“I’ve been told by senior officers there’s no reason why anybody should be sleeping on the streets in this city unless they’ve committed a violent crime in a hostel.”
The council is now looking to introduce a Public Space Protection Order to ban begging in the city centre so fines can be issued. Currently, only aggressive begging can be tackled.
From January 1, 2014 to July 26, 2016, there were 186 incidents of begging reported to the police.
Cllr Walsh added: “Rough sleepers can access support from the New Haven night shelter on Towler Street. This includes over the Christmas and new year period.
“New Haven is also one of the places where individuals can access support through the Winter Night Shelter and our emergency cold weather provision, both of which increase the city’s overnight accommodation capacity for rough sleepers.
“Our homelessness officers speak to rough sleepers on a regular basis and inform them of the support that is available to them. All those sleeping rough will have had an offer of support to leave the streets.”