6 November 2012

Kiss me Quick - then Squeeze me slow

Mr Mustard talks to traffic wardens when he sees them out and about. Some run a mile and others shake his hand. He remarked on the new woolly hat that one of them was wearing for his winter duties and then, whilst thinking about the changes to parking charges over the 25 years during which Mr Mustard has had his office in Barnet, and his home for 19, he realised that Barnet Council have been slowly squeezing the life out of high streets and so a summer uniform hat sprang to his mind.

Do take a photo if you see a traffic warden wearing one next summer.

It is the role of a council to support its High Streets. The council manage many of the factors which dictate the success or failure of high streets chief among which is parking (both cost and method of payment). A shopkeeper could have fabulous bargains and an immaculately presented shop but if no-one is walking along the pavement then they are not going to step inside. The internet has taken some of the trade but not the cup of tea trade and for that people need to be easily able to park at reasonable rates (or even for nothing). 

Whilst he was searching for something else (on crossovers it was, he is still looking for that!) Mr Mustard came across the figures for the Special Parking Account for the year ended 31 March 2002. Great he thought, what a wonderful comparison that will make with 2012. Now Mr Mustard always tries to be objective, in which case any comparison has to take account of inflation and population growth. On to the Office for National Statistics he went and found indices of 174.5 from 2002 and 240.8 from 2012. That gives an inflation factor in the decade of 1.38. Mr Mustard took an educated guess at population growth and went for 10% although it was probably a point or two lower than that. Add .1 to 1.38 and you should have increased income of 48% if the council have kept a level playing field (one they haven't sold off of course). Here are the figures.

Parking income



Actual Adjusted Actual Increase
Item March 02 March 02 March 12 %
Parking tickets 2,584,507 3,825,070 7,090,785 85%

Permits 211,290 312,709 1,228,592 293%

Paid for parking 1,021,678 1,512,083 3,793,484 151%

Costs 2,020,075 2,989,711 6,050,320 102%

Surplus 1,797,400 2,660,152 6,062,541 128%

Bus Lanes 0 estimated 1,200,000

Just to make sure you follow the numbers. If Barnet Council had been even-handed they would "only" collect £3.8 million this year from penalty charge notices (parking tickets to you and me). Instead they will rake in £7 million. This is what is squeezing the life out of the High Street. The council have upped the ticket issue rate, probably by employing more traffic wardens (to use their old familiar name) who are also more eager to dish out tickets due to the pressure they are placed under (Mr Mustard does not blame the wardens although he would rather they didn't cheat). Barnet Council are taking an extra £3.2 million out of the pockets of motorists which could go into the tills of local traders and make our High Streets more vibrant. 

The solution is to decrease the number of traffic wardens from the current 50 or so (does North Finchley really need 5 who seem to station themselves outside Cafe Buzz? - and Mr Mustard is often inside watching!) and reduce their number pro-rata down to 27 and then the same level of parking ticket income would be achieved.

Now it is when we get to permits that the real steal has occurred and it was one of the reasons why Mr Mustard started blogging. Prices have almost been trebled in real terms. This is a consequence of Mr Mustard's annual permit increasing steadily in price from £20 to £40 to £100 and also due to the cost of business permits being hiked. We are being right royally ripped off. 

The solution is easy. Go back to £40 for the first permit. There is no administrative justification for it to cost more. The CPZ was sold to us in about 1998 on the basis that it would only cover its costs. Poppycock. (Mr Mustard remembers an A4 card covered glossy brochure with a fold-out map being produced for the Chipping Barnet zone. If you are a hoarder please hunt it out as Mr Mustard would like to have a copy for proof of the basis of the introduction of the CPZ.)

Paid for parking has seen another increase of 151% above inflation. I do hope that Cllr Dean Cohen is not going to have another little tinker with pricing like Cllr Richard Cornelius did before him. It is not enough, it is not equitable and Mr Mustard is sending his findings to Uncle Eric (really The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP and not Mr Mustard's real uncle). To get back to parity the hourly rate should be 80p. Then once you have done that Mr Mustard will ask you what you have done Dean to actually help the High St because at 80p an hour the answer will be nothing, you will neither have helped nor hindered. Being a Cabinet member is going to get very pressurised for you.

Costs have doubled above the rate of inflation. They have increased faster than the parking tickets can be issued which simply shows that as the number of tickets increases the willingness to pay them diminishes. The administrative cost of issuing permits are unrelated to permit face values so the costs must all be to do with parking tickets. If the number of parking tickets was decreased then the number of back office staff could also be decreased; they might even have time to read your letters, the ones where you advance perfectly valid reasons that any compassionate person would accept.

As to the surplus which in any other situation would be called profit that has more than doubled, if you want any proof then it is here, from the surplus that you can see, that over the last decade the motorist has simply been used as a cash cow. Profit has gone from less than £3 million to over £6 million.

Bus lane income didn't exist in 2002 but it has been shown as part of the cost relates to that new revenue stream. Over a £1 million from one little stretch of road. Just stay out of the bus lane and stay out of trouble.


Now here, whilst Mr Mustard is writing, is a funny thing.

On 1 October he asked for a breakdown of the income streams and costs of the Special Parking Account (SPA). His request was rejected on 16 October 20102 as being vexatious. Mr Mustard now has a score (that's 20 to you) of emails which say that his last 20 questions are vexatious.

By coincidence another person asked on 1 October for details of the Special Parking Account, and other information.

On 29 October they received their reply about the SPA without any mention of their request being vexatious.

Mr Mustard is starting to think that it is him who is considered as vexatious and not the question as otherwise why was his question refused and the other one answered. Not because he is a blogger surely, as that would be contrary to the FOI Act.


The conclusion that Mr Mustard draws is that we don't need income from car parking. If all pay by phone bays (except car parks where it makes sense) were converted into 30, 60, 120 and 240 minutes free bays there would be no need to install parking meters and motorists would be easily able to come and go from town centres and they would thrive. As the majority of the income comes from parking contraventions they would continue as before and more people in town centres = more scope for tickets to be issued.

So forget the £2 per hour, make all on-street parking free and then only those guilty of an offence will have to pay and shoppers will return in their hordes to the High St.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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