The Tories have a new policy on homelessness: make it illegal. That is the extraordinary intention of a Conservative flagship council. Worse, they want to ban Salvation Army soup kitchens.
Westminster city council, the richest and most powerful council in the UK, is proposing a new bye-law to ban rough sleeping and “soup runs” in the Victoria area of London. The proposed new bye-law will make it an offence punishable by a fine to “sleep or lie down”, “deposit materials used as bedding” and to “give out, or permit another to give out, food for free”.
If these proposals are passed, they will also prohibit companies with a proud record of corporate social responsibility from doing good things. Companies like Pret a Manger, who have, very quietly, for many years, given away their unsold food to London’s homeless. If the Tories get their way, companies like Pret will be forced to throw the food in the bin.
What must housing minister, Grant Shapps, think of this? Back in Christmas 2007, Shapps, ostentatiously spent a night in a bag outside Victoria station.
Back then he told Andrew Porter of the Daily Telegraph:
“Our policy is we absolutely need more houses. The way to do it is to incentivise communities to want to build houses. It works by saying, ‘build these houses and you get a new town centre or other services like a hospital or school’. The existing community gets the gain, not just those people who move there”.
That was then and this is now. If the Tories on Westminster council get their way, Shapps would have been fined for sleeping in the street. Not, we suspect, that he would do it now.
Shapps first came to our attention when he was the Tory campaign manager in the Ealing Southall by-election. Back then, he hit upon the wizard idea of describing his candidate – on the ballot paper – as a “David Cameron Conservative”. His candidate came third. Shapps has not run a by-election since.
Interestingly, though, Tom Watson has resurrected the idea – in Barnsley. Perhaps we should forever use the phrase “David Cameron’s Conservatives” on all our leaflets.
We may be doing Shapps a disservice. It may be that he is appalled by Westminster’s proposal. He may choose not to trot out the line that it is all Labour’s fault. If he does, though, he should look at Westminster in a little more detail before shooting from the hip.
Last year, the Tories in Westminster spent £3,973,952 on 12 temporary staff, all of whom cost the council over £500 a day. The highest paid temporary staff member, a temporary head of regeneration and partnerships, costs the council £745 a day and has cost £453,446 for the 608 days the person has worked for the council. A senior project manager, charges £600 a day, costing the council £852,600 for
1,421 days work, while a senior business analyst, charging £521 a day, has cost the council £827,400 for 1,588 days work. Overall, the council spends £10.5 million a year on temporary staff.
You can buy a lot of soup for £3,973,952.
Remember, this is the council of Lady Porter. The one that has supposed to have reformed itself since those scandalous days. Its financial management is now so good that it invested nearly £17 million in since-failed Icelandic Banks, of which over £11 million has yet to be recovered.
Shapps might also tell us that that there should be a “big society” solution to the problem of homelessness in Westminster.
Yet the council is cutting over £1 million from voluntary sector grants over the next two years, a cut of 25%. Nearly £60,000 (39%) is being cut from the financial support given to information and advice agencies – the sort of people that give advice to the homeless.
Direct support to the homeless is to be cut by £967,000 over the next two years.
No wonder they want to make it illegal to sleep in a cardboard box.