7 October 2011

Guest blog from Nutsville.com - Parking privatisation problems

The following article has been copied from Nutsville.com. Please visit their blog for other local authority news.

In an unprecedented decision Westminster Council plan to recruit their own agency staff to issue parking tickets in the evenings and throughout the night.
Cllr Philippa Roe
Cllr Phillippa Roe

Councillor Lee Rowley, Cabinet Member for Parking and Transportation and Councillor Philippa Roe, Cabinet Member for Strategic Finance have taken the decision to snub the councils parking enforcement sub contractors NSL Services by taking back part of the parking enforcement duties from them. Rowley and Roe say they plan to use an old pre-existing contract with Hays Recruitment Agency to find people which the Council hope to train and run as their own ‘in-house’ Civil Enforcement Officers (CEO’s)

The parking enforcement contract first ran into trouble when it came time to re-let the contract just over a year ago. One of the bidders at the time, Mouchel, who were initially awarded the contract in March 2010 ended up taking legal action against the Council when the contract was taken away from them. Westminster Council chose not to defend the legal action in the High Court and paid off Mouchel around £600,000 in a last minute out of court settlement.

Rowley said at the time that handing over £600,000 was the responsible thing to do, as the Council was facing the possibility of losing £4million in compensation if the case went to court.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Labour leader for Westminster, at the time branded the parking enforcement contract relet saga a “very unsatisfactory and expensive fiasco”.

It was hoped that after the Council had taken over six months and spent an estimated £1million in awarding a contract, then taking it back, launching a new expensive tendering exercise whilst fighting a legal battel with Mouchel that Rolwey had got the hang of running the parking department.

But in October 2010 we revealed how Cllr Rowley had approved spending £1.95M of taxpayers money propping up the NSL contract with 50 extra CEO’s, due to failing technology.

A cabinet report at the time revealed all;
“It is anticipated that these increased compliance levels should be achieved by using new technology. However, at the date of the report that technology has not been implemented. It is expected that this technology will be in place by January 2011 and be delivering the efficiency benefits by the end of the first year of the contract. Therefore, in order to achieve these outcomes in the interim the contractor will need to deploy a greater level of resources across the Overnight and Irregular Periods; this has been assessed to be an increases of 50 FTE.”
Cllr Lee Rowley
Cllr Lee Rowley

Cllr Rowley dismissed accusations that he did not have the authority to make the cabinet decision or that it was against the Councils Constitution, claiming that the use of the word ‘virement’ in the decision notice was simply a mistake.

The October 2010 report also went on to explain that if  NSL’s technology did not live up to expectations they would be expected to pay for any extra CEO’s to meet Council targets in future:

“If the technology fails to deliver the results anticipated by NSL, then at their cost, they can maintain higher FTE levels to meet the compliance outcomes.”

Nutsville has now learnt from NSL insiders that the parking enforcement contract with Westminster has continued not to go to plan. Staff have told Nutsville that NSL have continued to set “Beat Averages” that CEO’s must achieve, otherwise they are disciplined for “poor performance”. This has led to several CEO’s already being disciplined.

CEO’s have also been told that they will soon have to take on extra duties while they are patrolling the streets because not enough penalty tickets are being issued. It looks likely that the first of these new duties will be dog fouling – which is currently something Westminster City Wardens carry out.

NSL staff have also told Nuts that the enforcement contract profit is, at best, breaking even but it is more likely that it’s now losing NSL money but they continue with it for fear that it could start a domino effect amongst other Authorities if they withdraw from Westminster.

In Rowley’s and Roe’s latest decision it states they plan to alter the current contract with NSL services to take away from them the evening and night time enforcement duties. The report goes on to explain that the initial high costs involved in recruitment and training are expected to be clawed back by the money raked in from motorists parking in Westminster, and therefore would effectively mean no extra costs to the taxpayer.

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Mr Mustard would like to thank Westminster Council for the splendid provision of free motorcycle parking spaces in their multi-storey car parks ( well an underground one if that is an accurate description ) in particular the one just off Trafalgar Square to the south, adjacent to the British Council. The lady attendant was friendly and warm ( in manner, silly ) and Mr Mustard's motorbike was safe as it was under camera. 

Mr Mustard is however displeased that on-road bays for motorcycles are £1 a day and that this has to be paid for by phone - it's really not worth the faff if one has to register for a visit made just once a year which is about how often Mr Mustard pops into his bank in that area. One would be longer registering than at the bank appointment. 

And finally this article must give Barnet Council some food for thought. Cllr Brian Coleman recently described the parking service as cr*p so it wouldn't be outsourced until later. Maybe outsourcing, especially to underperformers, isn't the holy grail, the answer to all of your troubles, the golden snitch, the gold at the end of the rainbow - except fool's gold maybe. Surely it must be possible for a London Borough to become more organised and efficient than a private contractor?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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