19 September 2014

Why is the £750,000 Barnet Council website so useless?

Go to this page

and click on the Ravensdale Avenue FOI entry and you get this

 then click on Download and it all goes pear shaped
Others have had the same problem.

Sort it out Barnet Council.

18 September 2014

Finally, some good news from Barnet Council

Although this decision arrives somewhat late in the day, as the first illegally over-priced permits and vouchers were sold in April 2011, Mr Mustard does welcome it as the council are doing the right thing for which they should, finally, be gently applauded.

Mr Mustard does have some sympathy with the council who must have thought that after all the free bad publicity about the permit price hike and the judicial review in national newspapers like the Guardian, that residents would be  stampeding up to the Town Hall with their refund applications. That turned out not to be the case.

What the council probably overlooked was their own statistic about resident churn in the borough in that 8% of residents change each year so those who have moved away (or sadly died) wouldn't have known that a refund is due.

So far only about 5,200 out of the estimated 12,000 who are eligible for a refund have received a collective £1.2m with another £1.3m still to be distributed.

Mr Mustard's only concern with this 9 page report (he has shown you just the main 2 pages) is that as far as Mr Mustard can tell Civica are only going to contact residents at the address on file. There is no indication that any tracing action will be taken if the resident does not respond in order to verify if the resident is still resident or if they have moved away and to obtain the new address.

Mr Mustard thinks that another report to effect tracing will be required later on.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

17 September 2014

Permit pandemonium

Visitor vouchers

Mr Mustard had plans to write about Residents permits but first a few words about Visitor Vouchers which completely derailed his plans on Monday afternoon as instead of working he helped a local friend who was expecting builders to sort out enough visitor vouchers to cope with the imminent arrival of the builders. She had phoned the Crapita Coventry call centre, they are also known as "help lines" and it turned out they were absolutely no help at all. Mr Mustard's friend needed to know where her order of Visitor Vouchers, placed a while ago, had got to. The answer she got was that they had run out of vouchers. When asked how her builders were going to be able to park legally she was told that was for her to sort out. Henceforth, Crapita Coventry shall be known as the "absolutely no help at all" line.

Later on she was told she was being sent half day vouchers for the price of full day ones (half day vouchers still have an official price of £2.08) and that the NSL traffic wardens would be told not to ticket. Oh, how Mr Mustard laughed at the notion that advantage would not be taken of the situation. So let us suppose "24 half day full day" vouchers were purchased and 20 were used for the builders. The rest got put in a drawer and forgotten about until 2016 when whilst looking for something else they are unearthed and used for Auntie Mabel who has just come to stay for a few days. She puts out 3 half day vouchers, suitably scratched off, the car is out of sight at the end of the road and it picks up 3 PCN. Will the council believe the motorist who says "my niece spoke to the helpline two years ago who said everything would be all right"? Whenever they tell you something concrete like that at Crapita, ask them to send you an email right now to confirm. Take their full name. If they won't do both of those things, they are fobbing you off.

Resident Permits

Now to Permit Pandemonium. Mr Mustard kept getting cases of PCNs being issued to people who had paid for a new or renewed permit and were waiting weeks or months for the new one to arrive and other PCNs issued to people whose permit had expired without them having been sent a reminder after two decades of receiving them. He hardly ever sends in Freedom of Information requests nowadays, but this topic was worthy of one.

Here it is in digestible chunks:

Mr Mustard thinks, but can't be entirely sure, that the correct answer to the question posed is "zero" but it might be that the council simply handed a carrier bag full of unfinished applications over to Crapita or they could be stuffed in a filing cabinet in a forgotten corner. No-one wants to admit that if it were the case. Whatever the truth, handover does not seem to have been a slick one.

Now this is where the numbers get very interesting. Mr Mustard put them into a table, like this:

Month In hand Applications Issued Backlog
From 12 May 0 3,075 3,708 -633
June -633 3,021 2,019 369
July 369 3,067 2,541 895
Aug 895 2,514 2,595 814
up to 12 Sept 814 985 1,278 521

So in the first month Crapita sent out 633 more permits that they had received requests for. Such efficiency. More permits for less money, or some such nonsense!

Then in June & July far fewer permits were issued than requested. the reason for this may be that, Mr Mustard is told, the council database from in-house days, was not passed to Crapita or if it was they didn't convert it from the existing format into their preferred format.

This is why every person who tried to renew on-line found that their unique identifier had changed and they had to phone or email to get the new one. That is at least 12,000 residents who have had their time wasted. Mr Mustard knows, he was one of them. The council are at liberty to issue new unique identifiers to everyone but should send out notification of them in advance so that the transition for the resident is seamless and stress-free. It would also be an example of that rarely seen notion in Barnet, public service.

Mr Mustard then asked about the number of permits which had not been issued.

The combined answer is 842 which should be the same as the 521 at the top of the page. Perhaps there were 321 handed over form the council to Crapita that no-one took note of? That would mean that Crapita only issue 312 permits that no-one had requested. Perhaps lots of Capita CSG / Re employees gets given one on the quiet?

The answer to the date of the oldest permit application in hand but not yet issued was 1st August as a response was awaited from the customer, possibly to prove something afresh that he proved last year and which wasn't handed over.

If that is the case the permit that Mr Mustard was consulted about (and the related PCN the challenge to which was refused) which was requested and paid for in April and not yet issued (as at 3 September) so that must be the fault of Barnet Council not of Crapita unless it was in the unknown applications that we handed over after all. It doesn't seem very clear does it? the duties of each party. Maybe that was because no-one agreed in detail with Crapita what their duties were before gifting them the work as with blue badges where an Operating Level Agreement was only being cobbled together after the fact?

Overpaying Capita?

Mr Mustard saw in August 14 a Delegated Powers Report about extending the contract with Civica to refund all of the c. 12,000 Residents who are due a refund following the Judicial Review.

Note that in 3 months Crapita claim to have received 8,602 applications, or approx 34,000 in a full year. As 10% of the borough is thought to be inside a CPZ the 12,000 figure looks to be far more accurate than the 34,000. I do hope we are not paying Crapita per application processed and that if we are that someone at the council is properly checking the invoice. One for you Mr Reasonable at next year's armchair audit of the Annual Accounts?

Permit reminders

Finally we get to permit reminders. These are valued by residents who rely on them and have done for over 20 years. When the council fail, residents don't notice the expiry until the wake up call of an unfair PCN.

So it is impossible due to the lack of Crapita management functionality (it isn't the fault of a computer system) to know if the contracted for service was paid for or not. Why should the council pay for it then (they will already have done so of course). If this is also paid for by the item (although email reminders should be pretty cheap) then have we had value for money.

If this is what Crapita are doing in the simple sausage factory processing environment of parking permits and visitor vouchers what sort of complete mess are they getting more vital and complicated services into.

Why does any local authority use them? they are a false economy (if they are an economy at all). Only 9 more years? It feels like a life sentence.

There must be hundreds of ruthlessly efficient local companies who would gladly have tendered for this contract, if it had been offered on its own, and would have supplied local knowledge for free as well as providing local employment and loyalty.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

12 September 2014

No, No = Yes

Mr Mustard is persistent and not easily put off.

You need to be the same if you are challenging a PCN.

It is a game of brinkmanship and Mr Mustard will go to the wire because once you have forgotten about the 50% discount you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You will have read Mr Mustard's guide (top left of the blog if you haven't you naughty reader) and know there are three rounds. Here are the arguments advanced in the three rounds of a recent PCN:

Round 1: informal representations in response to a PCN.

You have issued a PCN for failing to pay in Percy Rd. I have seen a PayByPhone receipt for parking in Percy Road that day, for £1.20. Payment was made for this vehicle at 16:30

Accordingly, the alleged contravention did not occur.

Secondly, the sign in the council's photographs is not authorised for use on its own, only as a sign plate in conjunction with a standard pay-and-display sign. The council has therefore not properly signed the location in accordance with the Secretary of State's authority and may not issue a PCN.

Please cancel the PCN.

Response: The council are not able to cancel your PCN.

Round 2: formal representations in response to a Notice to Owner (they may look familiar: you can quite properly make the same representations as before).

You have issued a PCN for failing to pay in Percy Rd. I have seen a PayByPhone receipt for parking in Percy Road that day, for £1.20. Payment was made for this vehicle at 16:30.

Accordingly, the alleged contravention did not occur.

Secondly, the sign in the council's photographs is not authorised for use on its own, only as a sign plate in conjunction with a standard pay-and-display sign. The council has therefore not properly signed the location in accordance with the Secretary of State's authority and may not issue a PCN.

Please cancel the PCN.

Response: We do not believe it would be appropriate to cancel.

Round 3: filing an Appeal at PATAS (you should be suffering double déjà vu).

You have issued a PCN for failing to pay in Percy Rd. I have seen a PayByPhone receipt for parking in Percy Road that day, for £1.20. Payment was made for this vehicle at 16:30.

Accordingly, the alleged contravention did not occur.

Secondly, the sign in the council's photographs is not authorised for use on its own, only as a sign plate in conjunction with a standard pay-and-display sign. The council has therefore not properly signed the location in accordance with the Secretary of State's authority and may not issue a PCN.

Please cancel the PCN.

Response: The Council has re-examined all of the evidence and on this occasion has decided to not contest your appeal. The PCN has been cancelled due to a processing error.

Is it odd that the processing error was not noticed at rounds 1 & 2?

The challenge that was made at all three stages was the same.

All the council have achieved is wasting £40 on a PATAS Appeal as that is payable as soon as the Appeal is lodged regardless of whether they contest it or throw in the towel as they did in this case.

The PCN was only worth £60 so the council are really out of pocket on this one. They should probably accept all formal representations against lower level (i.e. £60) PCN as otherwise they will; lose money as if half are upheld they have an average income of £30 with a cost of £40 giving a net loss of £10 per PCN. Smart.

So now you know not to be put off by whatever seemingly definite "no" answer the council give you, twice, they may simply be bluffing to try and get you to cough up quietly and they might just throw in the towel when the going gets tough.

Mr Mustard has never yet failed to progress from round 1 to round 3 so when answering his round 2 representations the council should bear in mind that a "no" answer means they will have to write a cheque for £40 and they will almost certainly have zero income to show for it.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

N.B. the wrong bay was paid for and the road was the same as was the tariff so although the paid for wrong location is usually a losing argument Mr Mustard was intending to show that the Traffic Management Order had not been breached. He also had another argument he had not previously advanced as a reserve for the day of the hearing (without needing to produce any further evidence).

11 September 2014

One Barnet - aspirational contract savings.

"is providing"? Mr Mustard thinks this statement is not true
In the bright new world of 2012 the parking section was one of the first services to be contracted out under the One Barnet banner (a brand which has served it's purpose in 2014 according to Richard Cornelius the "leader" of the council). Has the supposed contract saving of £600,000 p.a. been achieved? Mr Mustard checked the first full year ended 31 March 2014. 

Note that costs stay fairly level during the contract period. Inflation was ignored.

The final row of this table = the difference between top & bottoms rows of table above
So this table shows roughly a £600,000 a year projected saving.

How have NSL and the council done?

Firstly, NSL have claimed, and been paid, for extra deployment hours i.e. paying for extra traffic wardens to roam the streets and dish out more Penalty Charge Notices, which might have been in order to catch up with the non-target of expected PCN numbers which would otherwise have been missed.

Month Amount £
April 42,359
May 48,013
June 44,745
July 44,596
August 44,959
September 38,876
October 48,785
November 38,011
December 23,902
January 32,681
February 20,073
March 50,289
Extra hours 477,289

So that was nearly half a £million saving down the drain. Extra hours added 18% to the contract cost.

Then the council (some highly paid consultant who is now miles away) massively under-estimated the costs of PayByPhone. That service certainly isn't cheap and is probably about the same as the cost of cash meters and collecting cash.

Month Amount £
April 28,556
May 28,754
June 28,315
July 29,588
August 24,912
September 27,812
October 31,813
November 31,977
December 24,412
January 29,486
February 27,768
March 30,676
Year 344,069
Budget 164,000
Extra costs 180,069

Then the new software doesn't appear to have been put in the main tender figures. It was quoted separately (hence the fairly level tender costs) and £174,755 has been paid out so far.

The main saving came, ironically, from performance failure as KPI payments had to be negotiated months in arrears.

Amount £
Possible KPI 284,000
Actual KPI 169,664
Saving 114,336

So, there you have the main elements of the contract variances. To summarise:

Overall contract position
Extra hours 477,289
Extra PayByPhone 180,069
KPI failure saving -114,336
New software 174,755
Extra costs 717,777
Planned saving 661,000
Net loss 56,777

So not only does it look like the contract hasn't made the projected £600,000 saving, but it has actually cost £56,000 more than the pre-savings budget. That is partly to do with the software change but NSL needed to be paid for extra hours which wiped out a nett £363,000 of the savings (after deductions for poor performance) and £180,000 went on extra PayByPhone charges which seem to have been grossly under-estimated. So much for the decision to remove cash parking meters being a minor decision. There were hidden costs.

Mr Mustard doesn't have enough data to gauge the effect of NSL on the income stream. He would if he could.

So if this is what the parking contract looks like after almost 2 years what do you suppose will be the position on the two large Capita contracts as time goes by. Will they also fail to produce the projected savings. At least we can get rid of NSL in 2017 when their 5 years is up, unlike Capita who can hang around like a bad smell until 2023.

I think the parking manager needs to start planning now.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

10 September 2014

A self promoting tweet is pointless & doesn't change the truth

In the eighties Mr Mustard used to debt collect door to door in Dollis Valley (and across many of the poorer parts of EN5) so he knows it quite well. It should never have been built but the milk is spilt.

Now, finally, the council are doing something about it and are trying to hoodwink us into believing that they are cracking on, hence this tweet which probably tripped off the tongue of the Tooting Twister as he was taking notes at Monday's meeting of the Degeneration Committee (it may be called something slightly different) and didn't laugh when talk of social cleansing of the borough came up and Mr Mustard leant across and suggested we send our poor to Tooting.

Mr Mustard knew that redevelopment had been decided upon a long time ago and he googled the place and found this note in council committee papers

It takes a pair of rose tinted spectacles to decide that we are going more "quickly than originally planned" unless of course the council decided back in 2003 that they would take 11 years.

By all means tweet concrete achievements but, please, not this misleading nonsense.

Thank you.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

9 September 2014

listen up Monken Hadley church goers

Would anyone who has received a PCN where, ironically, these two cars were parked when the google streemap car came past, as cars often are, please email mrmustard@zoho.com with the details, especially of any successful challenges.

The PCN you will have received is likely to be for parking on the footpath (code 62) or any part of a road other than a carriageway, which gives councils enormous scope to ticket you between the building lines on both sides of the road, in this case anywhere up to the brick wall.

The council don't care that cars will have parked here for time immemorial without causing the slightest problem, wheelchairs & prams can still pass easily along the true pavement, they just want your money. The alternative to parking at this spot is to park on the opposite side of the road, on a slight bend which means that overtaking cars have to cross the centre white line with a blind bend approaching.

Mr Mustard hasn't heard of a PCN in front of the church, but it is probably only a matter of time.

It would be helpful of the council to mark out some parking bays.

Next Sunday's sermon will feature two of the seven deadly sins: Greed (of the council for PCN income) and Pride (civic, lack of).

Mr Mustard may well have made up the previous line.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard