15 October 2012

NSL - Not a Satisfactory Letter

click to enlarge, back to return
Do you suppose that councillors jump for joy when they get one of Mr Mustard's regular emails because then, at least, they find out what is going on, and going wrong, in their own authority. It would please Mr Mustard if he knew that some of them had got there before him but he never gets an email back saying thank you and that the matter is already in hand. Hey ho.

On Friday Mr Mustard sent councillors something to think about over the weekend. He writes to all 63 councillors so that they are equally informed although it is only the "select" bunch in the Cabinet who have any real power and the senior officers and faceless consultants are the real power behind the throne (sorry if you are now picturing the cabinet sat on the toilet, as the throne is otherwise known) and keep councillors well supplied with paper. If you haven't ever been to Committee Room 4, here is a picture of it, fortunately not in use.

Committee Room 4
Will meetings of the Cabinet ever be the same again in your mind's eye?

Anyway, having digressed, here is Mr Mustard's missive.

Dear Cllr Cornelius and team

Out-sourcing = Drop in service standard

You are the public face of Barnet Council. You are responsible for policy and for ensuring that officers carry out your chosen One Barnet policies. Officers have suggested that the council out-source parking enforcement to NSL; the cabinet voted on it and agreed. Look at the attached actual letter (in two formats, scans 44 & 45) written by an NSL employee in Croydon (Barnet parking back office staff were all dispensed with by NSL in May 2012 and Worthing only do the scanning) and tell me if you are happy with how this portrays Barnet Council because I certainly am not; the letter is comprised of hideous nonsense. The letter was not addressed to me, let us pretend it is to Bill Smith.

This letter was issued in response to a second stage appeal, the formal representation stage, following the issue of a parking ticket (PCN) for parking across a dropped kerb which was only one kerb stone wide and hard to see.

I have redacted the name but the address was headed with Mr BILL SMITH. The whole of the name & address was in capitals except for the abbreviation "Mr"; why? Call me old fashioned but I find it overly familiar to put the person's first name in the address, or indeed at all from a public servant to a member of the public, I think it is more proper to write to Mr B Smith.

Then the salutation was "Dear Mr BILL SMITH" (capitals are the equivalent of shouting) and in addition I think that this should be "Dear Mr Smith".

The date of issue shows a date and a time to the milli-second not just a date. The merge field needs to be properly formatted.

Now to the actual content. I have added numbers for ease of reference to each sentence.

1.    The word "the" is missing from in front of Notice. It would be simpler to write "Thank you for your letter of xx/08/2012."

2.    The main snag is that the location of the "special enforcement area" is not specified. Do you know what parts of the borough are a "special enforcement area"? Did you know that you can't park across a dropped kerb in a special enforcement area and no road markings are technically required although they are desirable. The crossover concerned was not marked with any lines on the road. To answer the question I posed to you: the whole of the borough is a "special enforcement area". If you didn't know that are you happy to penalise motorists who break this rule or do you perhaps think that yellow lines should go across all crossovers?

3.    What absolute garbage. Have you ever parked "a special enforcement" whether on a carriageway (one word not two) or anywhere else. Attempting to summarise S86 of the Traffic Management Act is a tall order (it is attached).

4.    True, he/she took a photograph so why not mention the actual evidence, viz "The photograph taken by the Civil Enforcement Officer at the time shows your car parked across a crossover which is a parking contravention."

5.    So this sentence effectively says "By parking the vehicle in Barnet...". The pathway was not blocked. One partially lowered kerbstone was parked across. I am not sure that it can be "inaccessible" to cross something, only to enter it. Footpath is one word not two.

6.    What would it be inaccessible to enter or leave? presumably the footpath.

7.    So the whole of Barnet "(the special enforcement area) has been lowered to meet the carriageway"... "to assist vehicles entering or leaving". Entering or leaving what?, I hear you ask. There are bollards at this location to stop cars driving along the wide cycle path to Glenthorne Rd.

8.    "By parking in this area" which refers to the special enforcement area i.e. Barnet, "a contravention has occurred". Not exactly clear.

9.    This will be the subject of another email very soon when I have an authority letter from the motorist. There is a litany of errors with the processing.

10.    I would add the words "and is" after the £110. Nice to see it without the .00 pennies for a change.

11.    Oh dear this is too vague and wrong. A penalty charge is not a "fine" and the amount of £165 should be mentioned as the amount of the next stage penalty.

Not a resounding justification of the outsourcing decision I would suggest.

Less money? Yes.
Better service? Most definitely not.

Have a nice weekend.

The people who write letters rejecting parking ticket appeals are called Notice Processing Officers and an NSL job advertisement that Mr Mustard found from 2010 disclosed a salary of £16,167 p.a. and it probably hasn't increased much since. When the task was carried out by Barnet Council the post was called Information Officer, somewhat of a misleading job title Mr Mustard always thought, Appeals Clerk would have been much better but the in-house days are gone, at least until they come back. Information Officers, there were 16 of them, were paid on the SCP 24-27 scale, which is from £22,608 to £24,711 and Mr Mustard would suggest that given the complexity of parking law, that was not an unreasonable amount to pay. The salary mid-point is £23,660

NSL are given 50% of any cost savings that they make. They got rid of all 16 Information Officers when they took over and moved the jobs to Croydon and employed new cheaper people. Thus they get a bonus of 

16 * (23660 - 16167 ) *50% = £59,944 each year for 5 years, or £300,000 of our money.

What do we get. Cr*p letters. This is what One Barnet is all about, grubby money-saving by slashing staff wages and not caring about the consequent service level.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

p.s. If you have had a worse letter than the one above please send it to mrmustard@zoho.com

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