Harrogate councillor moves to clarify controversial street begging comments

Coun Sue Lumby (inset) has moved to explain comments she made regarding street begging earlier this month.
Coun Sue Lumby (inset) has moved to explain comments she made regarding street begging earlier this month.

A councillor has moved to clarify comments she made calling on the police to play a greater role in moving beggars along in Harrogate.

Coun Sue Lumby said the comments she made in an overview and scrutiny meeting earlier this month alluded to "professional beggars" travelling into the town from elsewhere, instead of those genuinely on the street.

It comes after Coun Lumby called on police to become more involved in tackling street begging in the town at the August 5 meeting.

"If it's illegal, why not take the bull by the horns and get the police to remove them?" she said at the time.

"I know we're torn by public not liking it, but the police aren't there to do what the public like. I don't agree with this pussy footing around, if they've broken the law they should be removed...If something is illegal and you break the law you face the consequences."

However, Coun Lumby said her comments were exclusively referring to professional beggars or organised begging 'gangs', who come to Harrogate in a bid to make money on its relatively lucrative streets.

"People naturally think I'm suggesting locking up the 11 or 14 genuine beggars (in the Harrogate area), but who is that going to help?" she said.

"As I said, 'There but for the grace of God, go I', any one of us could end up in that position, but it's those who use the plight of others to make money, they're the ones that should be locked up."

Coun Lumby said she had received emails from members of the public upset by the original comments and wanted to clarify what she meant.

"When you've got professional beggars earning in excess of £40,000, it's a business to them," she said.

"It gives the genuine beggars, the ones who need help, a bad name."

She added she fully supported the Street Aid Project, the ambitious project which will see a contactless payment point set up in the town centre, with passers-by able to donate £3 at a time to a central funding pool.

"It's run by good people, they know the 11 or 14 genuine beggars on the street who really need help, and they know the best way to give it to them," she said.

A collaborative project between the council, North Yorkshire Police and Harrogate Homeless Project, the Street Aid grants will be used in a move aimed at reducing the lucrativeness of begging in the town, while helping getting vulnerable people off the street permanently.

Organisations supporting the homeless would be invited to apply for grants of up to £500 to assist individuals to get off the streets.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter