THE process behind emergency measures to support rough sleepers during severe weather conditions has been defended by a senior councillor.

The implementation and lifting of the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) earlier this year was questioned by resident Alex McKinstry at BCP Council’s full council meeting on April 26.

Concerns had been raised over the decision-making process related to SWEP, which sees the council offer emergency accommodation for those sleeping rough during cold bouts of weather, high winds, or extreme weather events.

Councillor Karen Rampton, portfolio holder for people and homes, said the support is automatically triggered when there are three or more consecutive nights are forecast as having minimum temperatures of zero degrees or less.

She said another trigger is when there is a specified amber or red weather warning, such as for snow, ice or wind.

Councillor Rampton said: “The protocol, like any other, is always subject to review, and particularly as circumstances change.

“The last two years have been significantly affected by the pandemic and so the protocol has had to adjust, particularly in terms of the manner of accommodation provision. This will continue to undergo further evaluation including the formal annual review which we undertake as a matter of course with members of the Homelessness Partnership.”

Both of the automatic triggers are based on Met Office forecasts. Cllr Rampton said temperature forecasts could vary by a couple of degrees across different parts of the conurbation.

The council recently held a “debrief session” with homelessness charity St Mungo's following the most recent triggering of SWEP.

The protocol will be reviewed on an “ongoing basis”, Cllr Rampton said.

“We are also considering arranging a briefing session for wider partners and stakeholders regarding SWEP to further explain processes and rational,” she added.

“With SWEP being an emergency protocol, it should ideally not be the means by which accommodation is provided for those who require it and are rough sleeping; this process should be more proactive and minimise any time out.

"There is therefore regular review of those rough sleeping and why, and where there is not a straightforward solution to their situation other solutions are sought on a multi-disciplinary basis.

“We also continue to consider emerging best practise from across the country and also work with partners across BCP to seek to continually improve how SWEP operates.”

Mr McKinstry told the Daily Echo he was disappointed by Cllr Rampton's reply.

"Cllr Rampton was keen to point out that SWEP is 'non-staturory', but by the same token that gives local authorities an immense amount of discretion - and the fact is that BCP Council invokes this protocol far more grudgingly than any other local authority that I'm aware of," said Mr McKinstry. Quibbling about whether to implement the protocol because it's two degrees less freezing in Kinson is absurd.

"I understand however that numerous opposition councillors have had similar concerns about this protocol's rather sparse implementation and I hope the matter will be added to the scrutiny board's workplan, once that board is reconfigured."