1 September 2014

My comments to this evening's Performance & Contract Management Committee

Performance & contract management - 1 September 2014

In the first quarter performance report a variation of £1.64m is reported in the Special Parking Account out of a total StreetScene overspend of £1.68m

The report states that the shortfall represents 12% of the budget of that delivery unit although that isn't strictly accurate as the gross budget is £21.6m and so £1.7m is merely 8% although that is still a substantial percentage and speaks volumes about the council's reliance on parking & penalty charge income.

Of the budget for StreetScene some £7.6m comes form the Special Parking Account and the council are hooked on issuing PCN as they are a vital third of the budget for the delivery unit. The problem is that now you will put together a parking income project with the aim of recouping that income shortfall which will almost certainly lead to more PCN being issued. In my book that is called revenue raising.

In the first quarter of 2014/15 the council did issue 10,000 fewer PCN than in the previous year and so the income from that source is likely to be about half a million pounds lower. The council will view this as failure but they should view it as success. Don't take my word for it, take the Secretary of State for Transport's statutory guidance as your cue. It says

"The purpose of penalty charges is to dissuade motorists from breaking parking restrictions. The purpose of Civil Parking Enforcement should be for 100% compliance, with no penalty charges."

Oh dear, the council is issuing 150,000 PCN a year so is completely failing on that measure of success.

Why is that? it is because the council doesn't spend a bean on educating motorists as it would rather have the income from, for example, new drivers who learn expensive lessons from their slightest mistake.

Mistakes that recent motorists have made have been to have their car stolen and only when the council found themselves about to be in the local paper did they decide the lady was telling the truth. She had already given the council a police crime reference number but that wasn't good enough as the income of 11 parking tickets was at stake.

A workman loading his car in North Finchley on double yellow at 10.30 at night got a parking ticket which I am still fighting and is going to the adjudicator at a cost to the council of £40. He had worked 15 hours that day, does he really need a parking picket to finish off his day?; he was perfectly safely parked and loading on double yellows is allowed where it isn't specifically banned. The standard 5 minute observation period was cancelled and the parking ticket issue started after 5 seconds.

A lady has been ticketed for not having her blue badge on display. She keeps it sellotaped to the windscreen and the photographs taken in the dark unsurprisingly don't show it. She is a retired barrister. Who do you think he adjudicator will believe, her or the traffic warden?

Those are just 3 examples of how revenue generation are put before the public.

It is time to change councillors, and I'll tell you how:

- take the Special Parking Account out of the budget, use this year's surplus to fund next year's one off projects

- start believing motorists who aren't habitual offenders

- spend money on educating new drivers and regular offenders to try and reduce the number of PCN issued.

Deja vu

DejaVu specimen 
Mr Mustard expects that you remember this blog from 15 August.

A local resident has contacted Mr Mustard about an event that might amuse or terrify him.

He was neither but he was deeply perturbed.

This public spirited motorist, let us call him Mr Capri, paid using Verrus PayByPhone for his one and only car, let us say the registration number is LB55XYZ, and having done what many people don't, and why should they when they only have the one vehicle, he looked closely at the receipt and saw that is was for his previous car MN55ABC which he had sold the previous year and deleted off his account. Thus he avoided getting a PCN.

He contacted the helpdesk by email and PayByPhone have confirmed the following:

1.  it was a system error
2.  they have no idea how it happened but are investigating
3.  it hasn't happened to anyone else (Mr Mustard doubts this last statement).

What this event does tell you, apart from the fact that the council are relying on software which is not as perfect as they might think it is, is that when you delete a vehicle from your PayByPhone record you are not deleting it at all, you are simply hiding it from view and that is probable based upon a field in a database which has a 1 for live and a 2 for deleted in it.

Mr Mustard can understand why the old vehicle is not deleted straightaway as there might be queries raised which would need this information but under the Data Protection Act the information should only be kept for a reasonable time once you have removed the vehicle from the list of vehicles. The software does not say delete but says "remove from list" but that is equivalent in most minds to delete. It also says "license" plate which rankles with Mr Mustard as it should say "licence" plate.

Mr Mustard recommends that you log in to your PayByPhone account and check if any of your sold vehicles have re-appeared on your list of live vehicles as it could avoid you getting a PCN. Whilst you are logged in you might as well remove any sold vehicles you haven't yet got around to removing.

If this happens to you, do please send an email to mrmustard@zoho.com.

So move forward two weeks and the motorist looks at his PayByPhone account and what do you know, the long ago sold vehicle MN55ABC has appeared once again on his list of registered cars.

This piece of PayByPhone software doesn't seem reliable enough to rely on to Mr Mustard.

Now, this instant, would be a good time to check your own PayByPhone profile and tidy it up.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

31 August 2014

Emmaüs - High Barnet

a bargain at £30.
Mr Mustard knew about Emmaüs as he had. as part of his language learning, translated an article about them from Le Figaro, many years ago. He had been years ago in the St Albans branch to look at their stock which was large, varied and jumbled.

Mr Mustard didn't mind, for once, that yet another charity shop was opening in the High St as to his mind the location is a difficult one for a retailer to make a profit in and because Emmaüs do such good work in helping people get their life back into shape.

So when a friend said she needed some more furniture for her daughter's bedroom Mr Mustard took her round to Emmaüs in the lower section of Barnet High St

picture credit: http://www.emmaus.org.uk/barnet
and we found a clean, well laid out shop with plenty of good quality traditional and modern furniture ranging from the home decorated (collage) £30 shelved cupboard above to a solid rosewood double extending table and 6 chairs at £795, an exquisite piece (which my friend doesn't want you to buy as she covets it - Mr Mustard is in trouble again for blogging). The staff were also friendly and helpful.

Now for the obligatory warning about parking. It was a Saturday and the single kerb marks / flashes / blips tell you that the no loading ban is part time and the rather worn markings alert you to the fact that there is a No loading sign nearby. On a Saturday you can park outside the front of the shop at any time to load a piece of furniture that you have already bought and paid for. You cannot park there for 20 minutes whilst you browse.

During the week you can load outside the shop between 9.30 am and 5pm. Don't be long as the road is quite busy and be careful as the path is much higher than the road.

For those who would like to see him in person the official opening by Terry Waite CBE is on Saturday, 20 September 2014.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

30 August 2014

Find your car stolen & get no help from Barnet Council / NSL / Capita

probably stolen, joy ridden & then dumped

Regular readers will know that Mr Mustard has an agony uncle column in the local Times newspaper group of papers and he gets requests for help from time to time. One that didn't get into the column but onto the front page was the case of Lili who was unfortunate enough to have her car stolen and then find she had 11 PCN to deal with (she hadn't quite realised the scale of the problem).

Lili had told NSL the car was stolen but they wouldn't take her word for it until the local paper got involved when suddenly she was telling the gospel truth (and she was on her way to Church when she found her car missing - if you can find something that is missing?)

Here are some extracts from the correspondence:
extract from the Met Police victim of crime letter
So, clearly a motor crime has been committed, quite possibly the crime of TWOC-ing - taking without the owner's consent.
Barnet Council / NSL's first response of 29 May
so this first response doesn't think of the victim of crime as an innocent citizen, a law abiding citizen deprived of her mode of transport worth £25,000, oh no, what is more important is that she might be trying to avoid a series of PCN worth £110 each. Very generously, the council offer the innocent pensioner the opportunity to pay £55 for a contravention that she did not commit and as there are 11 of these PCN presumably the council would be happy to relieve an honest citizen of £605 for not doing any wrong.
email of 1 June to Barnet Council / NSL
So, the crime reference is provided. It seems highly unlikely to Mr Mustard that people would go round making these up. You can tell from the tone of the correspondence that the case is genuine (27 years of debt collecting means that lies jump off the page for Mr Mustard)

letter of 11 June

A follow up as a 70 year old keeps up with her correspondence faster than NSL do.
Data Protection Act; the Police will not tell Barnet Council anything
This final letter, before the matter came to the attention of Mr Mustard and the local paper, at which time things suddenly changed, is the unhelpful product of a closed mind. Sadly, after a while, many parking people succumb to the philosophy that motorists are lying scum and any cancellation is a let off. That is misguided thinking which needs to be changed.

The funny thing is that as soon as a journalist asks about the PCN they are all magically cancelled (except they are currently live on the council computer so reams of paper will still arrive) without any further evidence being provided.

The system is wrong. It needs to be changed.

Firstly, the honesty question. A Notice to Owner contains the following declaration.

A person who knowingly or recklessly makes a false representation regarding an important fact is guilty of an offence and on summary conviction may be liable for a fine of up to £5,000.

Mr Mustard thinks that the whole way that parking PCN works is the wrong way round. If you do nothing, and don't engage with the process, you end up being automatically guilty of the misdemeanour of others and could end up with a bailiff seizing the car that was previously stolen and returned because you missed a deadline or didn't respond.

Even when you do respond the council expect you to jump through a load of hoops rather than believing you.

What should happen?

There should be a helpline (not with ruddy Capita who have nothing to bring to the party except a call centre which has to deal with a myriad of call types and don't have the ability to actually cancel a PCN - unless you know otherwise?) which you telephone and give the relevant car registration and your contact details.

Then when a PCN is about to be issued to the stolen car, the hand held equipment erupts in a cacophony of sound, notifies the office, and then NSL telephone the owner, on behalf of the council, to tell them that the vehicle has been found and where it is.

A PCN is not issued (hasn't the motorist got enough to worry about without stupid paperwork?). Any or all PCN which have been issued during the period of the theft are automatically cancelled without further ado.

Result: the motorist thinks the council are wonderful.

Mr Mustard has added this idea to his draft parking policy.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

29 August 2014

Secret free parking - so secret the traffic warden doesn't know.

Hadley Green, EN5
One of the supposed benefits of PayByPhone is that if you can see the sign from the comfort of your car then you don't need to leave it. Regular users of the system who stop at the same location quite often only need to check that the sign looks like the one that was there last time they parked and then make their payment.

Should there be a 2 hour free period, it should be on the face of this sign which is on Hadley Green in Chipping Barnet, just past the pond on the right as you head north.

There is a free 2 hour parking period at this location (and unlimited free parking after 2.30pm in the week until 8 the next morning but not on a Saturday) but you would only know if you got out of your car and walked around the other side of the post and found this second sign, which is set rather too high for easy reading:

So where shall we start?

The council have failed to properly sign the rules so people have paid and been given a PCN in error. They should all be automatically refunded.

Many people will have paid for parking that should have been free. You can ask for a refund of all up to 2 hour payments as they have been paid under mistake, going back to when the free 2 hour period started in December 2013.

A traffic warden issued a PCN there on 11 August 14 to a lady who knew the rules and stayed for less than 2 hours. Her initial representations have been rejected. Mr Mustard is about to take over and then they will be accepted, he thinks and if they aren't the council will waste a £40 fee going to PATAS where they will lose.

Don't the Notice Processing Officers who rejected the representations know there is 2 hours free at this location either?

If traffic wardens had regular beats they would get to know the area and the rules better. Mind you it would help if the signs which they have to enforce were correct.

Anyone would think that the council didn't want you to take advantage of the free parking.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Update 15:20

Mr Mustard now has a copy of the thoroughly amateur and non-compliant sign that the council did put up last year and which has gone west.

28 August 2014

PCN down, for now, in 2014-15

The council seem to have been quick to tell Mr Mustard that the number of parking PCN issued in the first 18 weeks of 2014-15 was down on the previous year, which is the truth, down from 55,055 to 45,802.

The truth as always is a movable feast and the decrease could well be related to the fact that the start of the year saw lots of changes in the parking department with new enforcement software and a change of permit processor from in-house to Capita. It could also be that lots of traffic wardens decided to move on and the replacements take time to get up to full churning out PCN capacity.

Anyway here is a little graph of the numbers

If Mr Mustard had been given only the first quarter he might have thought that there was genuine reduction in numbers but once we get to week 15 normality has more or less returned.

The Special Parking Account is £1.7million behind projection for the current year and this will be discussed at committee on Monday and at that point we will see if the reduction in income is being taken on the chin by the council or if there is a plan to make up the shortfall in other ways, such as ramping the number of PCN up even higher such that by the end of the year we will be back where we started.

Mr Mustard will keep an eye out for you.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard