A CAMPAIGN group has voiced fresh concerns over Southend Council’s plan to introduce an order to ban begging, after national figures showed a massive increase in fines issued by local authorities.

The Manifesto Club slammed the council for “heartless penalisation” after reviewing a draft Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), which could see beggars hit with fines of up to £1,000.

Their criticism comes after the group revealed councils across the country have introduced 276 PSPOs between August 2017 and January 2019, which is more than double the 130 orders issued between November 2014 and February 2016.

Many of those orders included restrictions on begging, swearing and rough sleeping, resulting in 9,930 fines last year – an increase from just 470 in 2015.

The Manifesto Club says that a review of the PSPOs that had been introduced show that councils are failing to abide by statutory guidance, which says the orders should not be used to target rough sleeping or restrict the use of public spaces.

Last week, the human rights group Liberty also labelled the use of PSPOs as “a form of social cleansing”.

While Southend does not have a PSPO in place, it is looking to introduce one.

Last year the council published a draft order ahead of a public consultation. It proposes measures such as banning begging and prohibiting people from sleeping in a public space “in a manner which has a detrimental impact on the quality of life of others”.

While those measures are due to be refined based on responses received during a public consultation held at the beginning of the year, Manifesto Club said that it is targeting the homeless.

Josie Appleton, director of Manifesto Club said the order is "firmly targeted at the homeless community", adding: “They would be unable to ask the public for money, which is in many cases the only way they can eat and survive. They cannot put up tents overnight in order to protect themselves from winter cold, nor can they enjoy a quiet drink on a bench.

“They are not allowed to sleep in a public place if others believe that this has a ‘detrimental impact’ on the quality of life of others. The truth is that the real ‘detrimental effect’ will be on the quality of life of homeless people – a community which, more than others, requires our help, rather than such heartless penalisation.”

A council spokesperson said: “The reasons why a PSPO is needed as an additional tool to tackle persistent and unreasonable anti-social behaviour, was outlined when we launched the PSPO consultation in January.

“The consultation ended in March and we are still collating the results, before drafting a report to be compiled and presented to cabinet.”

Southend Council leader John Lamb has also defended the PSPO proposal, stating in a cabinet meeting at the end of last year that it would not curb people’s liberties but ensure they “act in a way where they respect other people’s liberties”.