GLASGOW City Council is on a collision course with the Scottish Government about its plans to crack down on beggars in the run-up to the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Glasgow, along with Aberdeen City Council, has launched a consultation on using powers under a bylaw to ban public begging.

Businesses in Glasgow have welcomed the move, claiming begging is a blight on the image of the city as the UK's top shopping destination outside London.

The Scottish Government last night said it was firmly against any move that criminalised begging.

The leader of the SNP opposition on Glasgow City Council also weighed into the row, raising concerns about further marginalising already vulnerable citizens.

Councillor Graeme Hendry told the Sunday Herald: "It seems like a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I'm not dismissing that there is an issue, that there is problem with people begging on our streets, but there's already laws in place to deal with aggressive beggars and begging gangs.

"For the more genuine cases we surely to goodness should be sending in teams to find out how we can get them off the street as opposed to locking them up."

Hendry says it is not clear what would be achieved if the council was to drive beggars off the streets and potentially into jail.

He added: "If you are a genuine beggar, you are still going to beg whether there's a law or not. Throwing a genuine beggar in jail will not help anyone and doesn't deal with the underlying problem."

The Scottish Government said it was aware of both councils' plans. A spokesman said: "For anyone begging in an aggressive manner and behaving in a manner that constitutes a breach of the peace or using threatening and abusive behaviour, a range of existing criminal laws can be used to prosecute them for this behaviour and we support our police and prosecutors in exercising their judgment based on the circumstances before them.

"We do not support attempts to criminalise the act of non-aggressive begging and we would not support any local authorities which wish to introduce such a bylaw within their areas. We consider that a multi-agency approach is best for dealing with begging, so that the underlying causes of people begging in the first place can be tackled, such as drug dependency and alcohol dependency."

Sources within the retail trade in Glasgow, the country's major shopping area, say shop owners have had enough of beggars and welcomed the move.

Some members of the retail trade expressed particular concern about what they described as "organised Eastern European begging gangs".

Some retailers claim they are anxious about shoppers taking their custom elsewhere because of begging. Shop owners have been demanding new powers be given to the police so the problem can be tackled more effectively.

One Glasgow store, Greaves Sports, which has outlets in Gordon and Sauchiehall Streets, has been particularly active in asking so-called "barefoot beggars" - Roma people who beg barefoot - to move away from outside their premises.

A spokesman said: "There has to be a change in the law so that the police have the authority to do something about begging.

"Footfall in the city centre is crucial to the economy. It's hard enough on the retail sector as it is,

without people having reasons not to come to town. If people's perceptions of Glasgow are that there are people who are so down on their luck that they can't afford shoes, sitting outside shops, that doesn't do their mindset any good. "

Retailers draw a distinction between hard-luck cases caused by drink, drugs or personal problems and the so-called "barefoot beggars" allegedly controlled by criminal elements.

"You see the guys here who are down on their luck but even they get annoyed by the barefoot beggars, and I've seen them confront them," said the Greaves spokesman. "But the barefoot begging is a scam. It's people getting dropped off in cars and being allocated spots to beg from. You get people holding these beggars' shoes, or collecting their money. That is organised."

It is thought that Glasgow is eager to reconsider the begging problem in the light of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games, which will get under way in a year's time.

A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said: "At the heart of this matter is the welfare and protection of vulnerable individuals. The City Centre Response Team already engages with people who are found begging, and directs them to services which can offer help with issues such as health, housing and addiction.

"There are concerns that a number of individuals are not begging of their own volition."

The spokeswoman said a survey was being carried out to ascertain accurately the level and scale of the problem. "Only once the results are received and analysed will we come to a view as to whether a bylaw would be appropriate," she added.