31 August 2012

Is the One Barnet Parking Contract robust?

Giving stuff away for nothing

Dear Cllr Cornelius

The One Barnet Parking Contract with NSL.

As you know I promised to write to you on the subject of Contract negotiations, savings and foreseeable consequences.

I discovered last year that May Gurney receive 50% of the income from the sale of recyclables above £702,894 which strikes me as ridiculously over-generous. Now I find a similar deal with Parking Enforcement.

I have now received a well redacted copy of the Parking Enforcement contract which removes the figures that I would need in order to properly armchair audit the invoices. I do know the following from the contract, from other FOI requests or from the published Accounts of NSL Ltd.

There was a transition period from 1 January to 30 April 2012

During the transition period, the Service Provider (NSL) shall liaise with the Council to ensure an effective and timely handover of the Services...

The contract started on 1 May 2012 ( it was only signed on 30 April which rather implies a bit of a last minute rush)

The cost schedule totals £2,553,067 p.a. and includes the following categories of cost:

·                     Staff;  from on-street wardens up to the Contract manager.
·                     Premises.
·                     Equipment; e.g. handheld devices, radios, office equipment etc
·                     Uniforms.
·                     Vehicles.
·                     IT system.

The NSL Ltd Accounts to December 11 disclose staff costs of £90,353,000 (excluding pension cost) out of turnover of £140,668,000 (to the nearest £1,000) which is 64.23%
Thus we can estimate that on the Barnet contract staff cost will be in the area of £1,640,000

If all Key Performance Indicators are met NSL can get additional payment in a year of £290,853

The items which qualify for a 50% share of savings are all costs in the cost schedule i.e. any & everything.

In the local Times newspaper on 9 August you said "The key is that the contract needs to be written robustly".

In your column in the Press at about the same time you said "am now convinced that One Barnet is the only way to go" and "It is interesting that those who complain about One Barnet and set up websites have no suggestions as to what they would cut..."

One of the first actions that NSL did after taking over the contract was to get rid of the entire back office team. Their work was then moved out of Barnet, to Worthing I believe.

This will have boosted the economy of Worthing at the expense of Barnet's. This was an entirely foreseeable event. The supplier will move the work to wherever they can carry it out most cheaply. The only reason that the traffic wardens didn't get moved somewhere else is because they are street based.

I have seen adverts for traffic wardens (Civil Enforcement Officers in modern parlance)  to work in Barnet at the princely sum of £8.20 per hour (see NSL jobs) which for a 36 hour week is an annual rate of £15,350. When traffic wardens were employed by Barnet Council they were paid from £20,205 to £21,951 p.a. (a not excessive rate of pay for being out in all weathers at risk of being the subject of aggressive behaviour) and the mid-point is £21,078

NSL are therefore paying 72.8% of what, at the mid-point, the council paid to traffic wardens. Office staff were generally paid more and it is conceivable that even higher percentage savings can be made on their salaries. The post of traffic warden is unsurprisingly one in which there is a high turnover of staff and so at some point all of the original wardens will doubtless be gone. Thus, at least a 27.2% saving will be made on staff cost and of that NSL will be paid half giving them an annual bonus profit on the assumed annual staff cost of £1,640,000 * 13.6% = £223,040 which taken with the profit to be made from hitting every KPI gives them a theoretical annual profit of £500,000 on a turnover of about £2.5m.

Now what was it you were saying about robustly written contracts? The wording may be robust but the content is ridiculously rotten.

Another problem with the Contract is that it is based upon the model of the British Parking Association (honorary treasurer John McArdle - you do know don't you that our ex Parking Manager, formerly an employee of NCP which spun NSL out of its business is now a Strategic Development Consultant at NSL - another one of those conflict of interest questions that Mrs Angry is always quite correctly banging on about) on whose Executive Council sit two NSL executives. Using the contract of the supplier is the wrong way to go about contract negotiations because it will have been written with the interests of BPA members as a foundation and not those of potential clients.

Might I just hazard a guess that your own successful business, Cornelius & Davies Ltd, established in 1943, does not have any generous contracts with suppliers in which they get a 50% share of a saving which you yourself could quite easily make? If you don't sign that sort of deal with your own money what makes it acceptable with mine and that of other Barnet residents?

So if you think that a traffic warden is only worth £8.20 per hour then that is what you should have decided to change the wages to in Barnet Council. Result: 100% of the savings to Barnet Council. Why didn't you do that instead of offering over a £1m on a plate to NSL over the next 5 years? That is my suggestion for making savings, do it yourself.

Mind you, the KPI are not being hit probably due to the wholesale removal of the back office team at the start of the contract. Take KPI9, Processing Services, which includes the requirement to process correspondence within the required timescales. This must include providing information packs to PATAS, the Parking & Traffic Appeals Service. I attach a pdf file showing that only yesterday 6 appeals by motorists were allowed, not because they were in the right but because the Adjudicator ordered it in all 6 cases. Why was this? Almost certainly because the necessary documentation had not been provided so that a reasoned decision could be made. A fee has to be paid to PATAS of £46 for every appeal. We aren't getting any value for that if paperwork to support the council's case is not being put forward.

You might say that these are teething troubles because it is a new contract. Well it is now the end of August and the contract has been in place for nearly 4 months and before that there was a 4 month transition period provided to prevent this sort of muddle. I am not convinced it will all be NSL's fault but whoever is to blame, as partnerships go, this one is in rocky seas.

Now, think about all the elements of the DRS contract, which have never before been packaged up by any council in the way that Barnet are rather ambitiously and unwisely trying to do. If the sausage machine type process which is issuing parking tickets and collecting the money can go so hideously wrong (I haven't seen many signs and lines being fixed either by the way and did I hear the ticket numbers are not measuring up to the levels the In-House team were delivering?) what are reasonable expectations of performance on DRS?

Parking is a shambles, DRS or NSCSO going wrong would be a disaster.

So, in summary:

50% of savings to the supplier is a gift, not a commercial arrangement.
Whoever negotiated this deal is not fit to negotiate any others.
Savings are made not by having bright ideas but simply by cutting wages.
Jobs are exported out of the borough, staff are just a commodity.
Contract performance is poor.
The council is wasteful with the money of residents.

One Barnet is just a simple wage slashing policy in a fancy wrapper.

Best regards

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Footnote: John McArdle was helpful to Mr Mustard who would occasionally send him details of parking tickets that were obviously issued completely in error (none for Mr Mustard who hasn't had one in Barnet for years) and if John agreed he would immediately squash them without further formality.

30 August 2012

Who runs the council?

Who runs Barnet Council?
A question for Barnet leader Richard Cornelius from the Barnet bloggers.

Dear Councillor Cornelius

We wrote to you last week in regard to the announcement by Pam Wharfe, Barnet Council’s ‘interim’ Director of Environment, Planning and Regeneration, that a decision has been made to abandon the One Barnet Strategic Partnership proposals for the outsourcing of £275 million worth of our local services in favour of a ‘Joint Venture’.

You have since contradicted her statement, saying:

“No decision has been made. No case for a jv has been made beyond the suggestion that there might be such as case. The decisions will be made by elected members in due course.”

In a subsequent message to staff Ms Wharfe has informed staff that:

“...the project Board recommended to Corporate Directors Group that this be formally advanced in discussion with bidders and indeed is currently our preferred option.”

Neither the DRS project board nor the Corporate Directors Group includes any elected members of the council. Membership of the DRS project board, we understand, is restricted to a small number of senior council officers and two consultants from Agilisys/iMPOWER, the company working as ‘implementation partner’ to One Barnet, at an average cost to local tax payers of £250,000 per month.

It would appear that Barnet Council is preparing to commit the financial security of this borough to a new model of outsourcing – one that its own consultants’ advice identified as more risky and costly than the one originally chosen, and that this decision has been made by senior officers before any consideration or approval by the elected members of the council.

Ms Wharfe’s own comments about the new Joint Venture seem to suggest that senior management are not at all concerned by the increased risk of failure that this new commitment will entail, or the increased responsibilities for the authority that this option would involve, as a result of guaranteeing more favourable terms for the successful bidder at the conclusion of the dialogue process.

As residents, however, we are concerned: and we believe that you should be too.

We would ask you and your colleagues to consider the real possibility that in the event of the new Joint Venture failing, the council will still be left with the duty to provide the affected services, whilst the successful bidder may simply walk away with no obligation.

We believe that councillors have clearly not been fully informed as to the details of the Joint Venture, and that the scale of risk that the One Barnet programme presents is simply not fully understood by members. It seems that the need for members to be fully informed of developments and involved in the formation of policy at all stages of the dialogue process has been deliberately overlooked.

Perhaps as well as a decision to pursue a new model of outsourcing, the council is committing itself to a new form of local government, in which the democratic process is set aside for a bureaucratic dictatorship, entirely controlled by the senior management team.

If Barnet is indeed determined to bypass the democratic process, and to give the role of policy and decision making to senior officers, rather than to the political leadership of the Conservative group and the Cabinet, we would suggest this makes the role of the elected members completely redundant, although of course it may well offer a new opportunity for cost cutting exercises in the withdrawal of members’ allowances.

Failing that, may we ask you to assert your authority as leader of the council, recognise that the outsourcing programme has been totally discredited, and instruct your own officers to follow a course of action which is the result of proper consultation and policy formation rather than one shaped by the motivations of their own agenda.

Yours sincerely

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

A personal footnote by Mr Mustard:

When reviewing the agreed draft of their communiqué Mr Mustard noted that the bloggers were using the phrase "Corporate Directors Group" as used by Pam Wharfe. The word corporate suddenly spoke volumes to him. Indeed the Directors are aiming to have the most corporate council in history with their ambition to be a commissioning council and pass the maximum amount of services out to the private sector to be run for profit (Mr Mustard is a company Director and will celebrate 25 years of trading next month so he must know something about profit himself).

The other thing was that he thought that it was called the Council Directors Group (there can't be two damn groups of Directors sitting around doing blue sky thinking can there?) and this is supported by the council's shiny new rusty website, here,and if you search on google for "Barnet Council Directors Group" you find Craig Cooper the unCommercial Director using the term. Needless to say the website page about One Barnet is itself already out of date (this website really was a waste of £700,000) and doesn't yet mention the JV. Or is it up to date because it isn't going to happen. Who knows?

Mr Mustard

29 August 2012

Relief or reliefs

for Relief maps

If you don't already read the disclosure log you should as you will learn more about Barnet Council.

Here is a recent question and answer.

Thank you for your request received on 4 July 2012, for the following information:

1. Please confirm the exact criteria used to assess whether an organisation is awarded business rate relief.
2. What additional factors do you take into consideration when exercising your discretion to award business rate relief?
3. Please provide copies of any policies relating to the procedure and assessment criteria of awarding business rate relief.

We have processed this request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Under the Act you should have received a response within 20 working days. I apologise on behalf of the council for not meeting this deadline (there must be a huge stock of this sentence which gets used often)


Small business rate relief

You will be eligible for a discount under the small business rate relief scheme in England if you only occupy one property and it has a rateable value below £12,000.

The Government has temporarily doubled the level of relief available. Between 1 October 2010 and 31 March 2013, eligible ratepayers will receive small business rate relief at 100 per cent on properties up to £6,000 (rather than 50 per cent), and a tapering relief from 100 per cent to 0 per cent for properties up to £12,000 in rateable value for that period.

The temporary Small Business Rate Relief increase will therefore apply throughout the whole of the 2012-13 billing year (until 31 March 2013). The relief was originally doubled by the government until September 2011, but this was extended by the Budget in March 2011, and then extended again in the 2011 Autumn Statement to take account of economic conditions.

If you have more than one business property, the discount is only available if the rateable value of each of the other properties is below £2,600. If this is the case, the rateable values of all the properties will be combined and the relief is applied to the main property based on the total rateable value.

However, if you occupy a property with a rateable value below £18,000 (£25,500 in London) and you are not receiving a different mandatory relief, you will be eligible to have your bill calculated using the small business multiplier, regardless of the number of properties you occupy.

The Government has also simplified the process for claiming the relief by removing the legal requirement for an application form in order to claim the relief. However, if you are not receiving the relief and you think that you are eligible, you should contact your local billing authority.

There is no discretion when determining if a business is eligible to receive small business rate relief.
Now that is odd. Mr Mustard thought the question was, by chance, also about the S49 relief that he had asked about but the council didn't mention it. Maybe it doesn't exist any longer? No, that can't be right otherwise the answer to the question about S49 relief would have been "it no longer exists", not that Barnet Council haven't granted any recently. Hopefully some expert on the rating system will put him right. 
Feel free in FOI (you know the email address) to tell Mr Mustard that the question was refined and that refinement was not disclosed or that you have gone back over the question and updated the answer.
Anyway, at least there is a useful explanation about Small Business Rate Relief. Claim that if you can.
Yours frugally
Mr Mustard 

28 August 2012

Bye bye black box, will we ever meet again?

Now this is a really boring post. A video of a black box being taken away and not returned; will this become a youtube sensation? No!

For some reason the cttv at Mustard Mansions replays at double speed and then when uploading to youtube it got doubled again. You can guess that the May Gurney operatives don't move faster than Usain Bolt but they have bolted with the Mr Mustard black box which is, he thinks, numbered and so it might yet return.

Why has Mr Mustard posted this boring blog? To show Cllr Richard Cornelius that those words he spouted about their being no problems with the outsourced recycling contract are poppycock. The bins are always going for a walk although they usually turn up again at some point.

You will note that Mr Mustard didn't put out his blue box and he will put everything in that box now. Why? May Gurney often tip one box into the other one when they are not full so he is saving them the task. At some point in the next year or so we are getting a new wheeled bin to replace the boxes so until then Mr Mustard will make do with one.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

S49 Relief - Businesses, listen up

Do you fancy one of these for relief? and the pillow!
as well as the book obviously.

As little known as this huge pillow is S49 Local Government Finance Act 1988 which says:

A billing authority (e.g. Barnet Council) may....

reduce any amount a person may be liable to pay...........

remit (write-off) payment of the whole of any amount a person would otherwise be liable to pay.......

an authority may not act under this section unless it is satisfied that

the ratepayer would sustain hardship if the authority did not do so, and

is reasonable for the authority to do so, having regard to the interests of persons liable to pay council tax set by it (not quite sure why the act says "council tax" as it is really referring to NNDR - national non domestic rates or business rates as they are often known, details details) 

So this is discretionary relief and you are entirely at the mercy of Barnet Council. Has Barnet Council shown much mercy in the last 5 years? No, none at all as thanks to Freedom of Information Mr Mustard has established that in the last 5 years Barnet Council has granted absolutely no relief under S49 to any business whatsoever.

Now it beggars belief that there wasn't a single business in the last 5 years that wasn't finding trade hard due to the recession and competition from the world wide web.

Of course one reason may be that Barnet Council don't advertise this relief is  perhaps because central government only reimburse 75% of it so that any relief they grant would partly come out of their coffers which they have got nailed up tight.

Perish the thought that businesses within the borough of Barnet have seen their trade go down by a third and been unable for the first time since they opened their shop many moons ago to pay their business rates and thus be a hardship case but strange as it may seen you can apply to Barnet Council for some of your losses back, such poignancy if they agree, wouldn't you say?

Now sadly as Mr Mustard can't find an application form on the website (it being harder to navigate than a rudderless ship, actually there are similarities with the council there) then you will either have to telephone 020 8359 2735  or send an email to: businessrates@barnet.gov.uk and ask how you should apply. Hopefully there will be an old form sitting in the back of a filing cabinet somewhere and it can be dusted off and turned into a pdf and sent to you (do please forward it to mrmustard@zoho.com so that others may benefit) and then you can demonstrate what a parlous state your finances are in and plead for financial relief (don't mention the parking problem as it will annoy the council and you don't want to do that, you want their sympathy about this mysterious loss in trade). Do please let Mr Mustard know how you get on. Please also tell any other shopkeepers in your High St who might be struggling about this opportunity. If the council refuse, complain to your local councillor and your MP.

Whilst you are about it there are some other reliefs mentioned on the business rates section of the council website to do with unoccupied property, charities and very small business which may be of interest to you.

If you don't ask you don't get.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

26 August 2012

When black holes collide

Currently in the skies of Barnet
In the last fortnightly issue of Private Eye, which Pam Wharfe, the interim Director of who knows what, purchased only a week after the previous issue (note to employees in EPR, if you want a fortnight's holiday, just book one week and come back after two as Pam Wharfe's latest email about the JV shows she doesn't know a week from a fortnight) Mr Mustard turned straight to the Rotten Boroughs page as Barnet Council appear so often. Sadly, there are so many rotten councils that you need a top drawer story to get on the page (it says a lot for democracy and the abuse of power that Private Eye don't ever struggle to find enough stories to fill an entire page) and Barnet Council avoided further ignominy this week and were rather busy with the JV or not to JV issue. 

Anyway, opposite Rotten Boroughs in issue 1321 is Medicine Balls which are also a good read and not just for the medically qualified. You doubtless have your own copy (and if not, why not?, it is only £1.50) but just in case you have put it down somewhere or lent it to a friend here is the Medicine Balls article, sub-titled "Imbalance sheets" which includes a reference to Barnet:

Nowhere is ropey NHS financial management more in evidence than at the Croydon Primary Care Trust.

All looked well when the trust's 2010/11 accounts were signed off with a healthy £5.5m surplus. Except it wasn't, as whistleblowers pointed out. In fact the trust's books were a shambles representing a particularly poorly run Christmas club. A recent review from accountants Ernst & Young listed errors such as "invoices being held off-ledger and credit notes being posted without being matched to invoices" - big no-nos for any bookkeeping, never mind public finances.

The result was that "the true underlying financial performance of NHS Croydon...was not accurately reported to the Department of Health". The trust is now thought to be facing a £45m shortfall.

The dodgy accounting continued undetected for reasons including a lack of "scrutiny and challenge by the board" and "significant deficiencies in the financial management arrangements and operational control environment". Which might be thought bad news for the chief executive who had been in charge for eight years, Caroline Taylor.

Not a bit of it though. She has moved on to better things across the Thames and is now chief executive of NHS North Central London, in charge of healthcare across Haringey, Enfield, Barnet, Camden and Islington.

Barnet Council, in line with all others, now have a greater role in healthcare so at some point she will come across our Chief Financial Officer, Andrew "black hole" Travers. It looks like the two of them will get along fabulously.

Update for ruling Barnet Councillors - " a lack of scrutiny and challenge" could well describe your level of interestand/or involvement in the One Barnet programme. What if those figures are also £50m out?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard  

24 August 2012

Parking - a balanced approach needed

Councillors Dean Cohen and Richard Cornelius have got an easier job than the car balancer, John Evans.

All they have to do is to balance the needs of motorists to be able to stop in the High St against the available space and to provide fast and convenient payment methods. Just 2 years ago the only complaints that Mr Mustard can recall were occasional ones about traffic wardens being over-zealous which comes with the territory. There were hardly any complaints about parking meters, being out-of-order would be the only ones (compounded by the council's failure to fix them - engineers posts were vacant for a long time) but really before April 2011 there wasn't a problem with parking. Then in April 2011 along came massive parking charge increases and the destruction of parking meters (of which there are still 10 hiding on the streets somewhere) and the outcry started and hasn't yet abated and at the rate we are going will be a major local election issue in May 2014. 

Let us look at the charges in, say, North Finchley a High St that Mr Mustard used to visit when you could park outside the bookshop for free for 30 minutes and now only visits to go to Cafe Buzz, of all places, and then he parks on the edge of the zone (where the blogger bus gets spotted by twitter friends) and walks in.

Lodge Lane car park High Rd, N12

up to Apr-09 Apr-11 Sep-12 Aug-12
minutes £.p £.p £.p £.p
15 0.30 1.00 0.75 1.00
30 0.50 1.00 0.75 1.00
45 0.80 2.00 1.70 2.00
60 1.50 2.00 1.70 2.00
90 2.50 3.00 2.70 4.00
120 3.00 5.00 3.60 4.00
all day 3.00 5.00 5.00 max 2 hours

So imagine Mr Mustard had been passing through N Finchley in 2010 and wanted a cup of tea (and he loves a good cuppa; blogging is thirsty work) he could have pulled up, slipped 20p & 10p pieces into the meter and popped into Cafe Buzz and paid £1 to sit down with a cup of tea or £1.10 to take out (these are current day prices). Mr Mustard would not have chatted to Helen Michael because neither of them were infamous at that time (now things are very different).

Move forward to 2012 and now the minimum charge to park is £1 which is the same price as a cup of tea. It will soon be 75p which is two and a half times what is was three years ago. Inflation is bad in the minds of Barnet Council. 

The new parking prices are a bit odd. In Cafe Buzz 1 cup of tea is £1 and 2 are £2. In the Lodge Lane car park to park for 1 hour will be £1.70 and for 2 hours £3.60 which is twice as much plus an extra 20p. The message this sends, "please don't stay long". The same applies for 30mins and 60mins parking where an hour is more than double half an hour.

In addition, the usual idea is to have short stay on the High St and try to nudge longer stay motorists to car parks but a saving of 25p or 30p is not sufficient to change behaviour especially as you lose 5 or 10 minutes getting to and from the car park.

These anomalies are because the council are simply tinkering with the current broken system instead of going back to the start and deciding from a clean sheet what sort of parking strategy they should implement in order to save the High Streets which everyone wants to keep.

In the meantime the council should simply roll back the prices to 2009/10 rates and install parking meters that take coins and cards i.e. back to when things worked. Barnet Council are fond of prototyping. Why not prototype for 3 months putting the (coin) parking meters back in one town centre, and vocal N. Finchley is the obvious choice, and choose more sensible pricing. If at the same time some shop-keepers (those like cafes and newsagents that accumulate lots of change) put up "we give change" and "we sell parking vouchers" signs then we might really start to get somewhere. Leave pay-by-phone as a choice, not as the only choice, and it will naturally increase in popularity over time.

Remember Barnet Council that you make more money out of issuing parking tickets than you do out of parking charges so you can afford this experiment because it won't cost that much.

It is a pity that Cllr Brian Coleman had such a mad strategy in 2011 as it is his type of brook no opposition plan that we now need (of course, the plan has to be the correct one!). We need strong action, not pussy footing about. Brian, of course, had completely the wrong plan but if Richard and Dean, you could become decisive in favour of Town Centres for a little while, it would be appreciated.

Thank you gentlemen.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Are Barnet Council going to out-source or JV?

Have a lovely Bank Holiday weekend - definitely.

And after playing "perhaps perhaps perhaps" I was offered "Que sera sera" which translates to "What will be will be!".

This might last all day, "blue moon" next, the time it will take Barnet Council to sort out parking charges. 

Mr Mustard

Showing a green light to blue badge fraud

Buy your wallpaper here

Barnet Council want to raise money from the sale of blue badges. What do they do about blue badge fraud? Very little anything at all.

FOI question:

How many blue badges have been taken away by Barnet Council and how many people prosecuted in each of the last 5 years?

I am writing to inform you that we have searched our records and some of the information you requested is not held by London Borough of Barnet. In respect of the removal of blue badges, the Council holds no information before November 2011. (why ever not? perhaps that answer is less embarrassing than the actual statistics which probably show no removals for misuse)

Blue badges can be confiscated by other Local Authorities but the decision to return the badge is up to the issuing authority. The London Borough of Barnet has 1 record of an instance where a badge has been confiscated and not returned to the applicant.

In respect of the number of prosecutions, the London Borough of Barnet has undertaken no prosecutions in connection with blue badge misuse in the last 5 years.
If no-one sees prosecutions occurring for blue badge abuse in Barnet the word will spread amongst cheats and more will try Barnet for a badge.
Nearby Enfield can do it and Harrow. There are 19,500 badges in issue in Barnet. A conservative 1% abuse level would mean 195 badges returned, 195 lots of parking income, 195 less applications to process every 3 years etc.
Yours frugally
Mr Mustard

23 August 2012

3 shades of grey (budget cutbacks you know)

JV or not to JV

Sorry no sexual innuendo in this posting but plenty of intrigue.

JV =  Joint Venture (have they all been on the spliffs?)

Shade 1 : Pam Wharfe - interim Assistant Director of something or other

we have decided to form a Joint Venture organisation
The Joint Venture approach does not change the approach to TUPE of staff
We shall provide further information on the Joint Venture in the next week
and re "new commercial opportunities" in the JV
They are under negotiation as part of the competitive dialogue process and therefore I cannot give examples as they are obviously commercially sensitive matters.
Pam Wharfe Interim Director EPR
Shade 2 : Cllr Richard Cornelius, the council "leader" (officially but actually?)

No decision has been made. No case for a jv has been made beyond the suggestion that there might be such a case.
The decisions will be made by elected members in due course
Shade 3 : Cllr Daniel Thomas, chair of Cabinet Resources Committee (he should have a handle on the numbers then?)
full marks to Dan O'Brien of the Barnet Press
The other 47 shades of grey (and Barnet are normally so black and white) will doubtless arrive over the next few days.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Westminster wheel wobble

Is this a car or a motorbike? in Westminster they are all the same
Mr Mustard has some friends, yes he really does, who live in the Home Counties, who occasionally go up to London, either the man on his own, often on his high-powered motorcycle or together as a family in the family car. Mr Mustard has known these friends for coming up to 30 years when he met the man who worked for some big city lawyers and Mr Mustard was a credit manager for an equally large firm. A common interest in motorcycles was the initial bond.

The man uses Westminster's pay-by-phone system and has registered both the family car and the motorbike.

Back in March 2012 there was a family visit to town and it being late afternoon it was fairly easy to find a parking space, pay £12, go off for the evening's entertainment and come back to the car to find a parking ticket affixed to the windscreen. Very odd, the £12 has been paid as the credit card statement shows (you can often see your most recent payments on-line) and there is a text message confirming payment. 

Telephone calls ensued to Westmister City Council and/or NSL who issued the ticket, and/or Vertex who deal with back office ticket processing (Westminster Council themselves are legally obliged to deal with formal representations) and/or Verrus who provide the pay-by-phone system and it turns out that £12 was paid and the motorcycle registration number was the one entered into the system as being what the payment was for. Now whereas here in Barnet it is free to park your motorcyle in Westminster, because lots of people now commute in, to park on the road costs £1 for all day (in Westminster's car parks in marked out bike bays it is free and you are in the dry to get out of your kit). It is blindingly obvious therefore that a simple administrative error has been made. The driver knew he had the family with him and was in a car, he must have told the pay-by-phone operative this because £12 was taken, and so someone somewhere made a mistake. Will anybody deal with this problem and quash the ticket? No.

Many local authorities bleat on that charging for parking isn't to make money, honest guv, it is purely to ration the space, to keep the traffic moving, to make sure the emergency services can get through etc etc although they don't complain about the side effect of making millions which helps to keep council tax down, oh no.  

Barnet Council aims to keep the borough’s roads and pavements safe for pedestrians and drivers. and make a few £million at the same time.

After all the arguing a deadline for an appeal got missed and so a decision was taken. To pay the ticket under protest and then sue in the County Court for a refund. This has now taken place and Westminster have agreed to refund the £130 and the £35 court fee.

Here is the message from Mr Mustard's friend:

"What a lot of bother over nothing in particular. They said it should have been sorted out a long time ago!!! Hey ho."
A number of interesting questions are raised.
Why did commonsense not prevail?
Why wasn't it sorted out a long time ago?
Did outsourcing to 3 different companies cause a problem?
If Westminster ran everything in-house would communications be better?
Is the Verrus pay-by-phone system fit for purpose?
Has it happened to you? (If so, issue in the County Court, it is easy)
Mr Mustard thinks that the problem is that as soon as a ticket is issued the mindset in every council is that they are right and the cancellation of any ticket is a let-off and they put the revenue loss before the motorist. In fact, Mr Mustard has obtained some exclusive footage of a small section of a video that is played at all parking enforcement training courses at Westminster Council to condition new appeal officers in the proper behaviour to adopt when hitting the cancel button.

Councils everywhere, stop being juvenile and start using some commonsense when appeals are received. Grow up and take the adult decisions.

Update of interest to people with more than one registered vehicle.

The only thing I have learnt is that even when you speak to a real person and give them the reg. number you want to use the system then goes back to the first one registered, so you have to listen closely and change the reg. before you confirm payment. That was never explained to us, and where the error occurred.

If the above happened to you, take your appeal all the way to PATAS.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

22 August 2012

Milton Keynesian economics

cows and contracts set in stone (well concrete anyway)

original full text here
Lessons for Barnet Council from Milton Keynes. 

It is a waste of time entering into long contracts because you want to change them before they expire (just like Greenwich Leisure)

Flexibility becomes more important over time as unexpected needs arise.

Both sides have to agree to any changes. A private company will protect its financial interests whilst doing that and can refuse to change the contract.

An upfront payment = more money out of the pot. Even though this is presented as a money-saving exercise no figures are provided to supported that assertion.

If you want flexibility & control you have to manage the service yourself in-house.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Bay watch

Mr Mustard doesn't understand the sort of people who park in bays reserved for blue badge holders. The excuse that there are many fraudulent holders (which there are) does not condone parking in a bay as the next person to need it might be someone with crutches who has extreme mobility problems. Mr Mustard notes that someone else was interested in this subject as they asked questions about it and the answers were in the Barnet Council disclosure log.

The questions were how many people were charged for parking in disabled bays and how much money did that raise in the years 2007 to 2011. The council know how many tickets they issued for offence code 40 "Parked in a disabled bay without clearly displaying a valid disabled person's badge" but amazingly they don't record income by contravention code. Mr Mustard has no idea why not as every payment has to be allocated to a parking ticket.

So here are the figures


Taking 300 days as the likely annual number on which borough wide enforcement takes place we see that the number of tickets issued each day varies from about 4 to 7 which doesn't seem like many. A number of these will actually have been to blue badge holders who made an administrative error, forgot to put the time wheel out or put the badge the wrong way up and not every transgressor gets caught, of course.

Anyway, the number is interestingly low but let's see if we can get it down near zero.

Please keep out of disabled bays unless you have a valid blue badge.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard