30 October 2013

Sign of the times - but which one?

Often when a motorist gets a PCN he/she is told it is his or her fault because they didn't read the sign properly but it isn't always as black and white as that and here is an example of why (Mr Mustard had to sit and study this one for a quarter of an hour before he worked it all out).

So you are a blue badge holder and you fancy a visit to Sadler's Wells or the Lilian Baylis studio. It is just gone 4pm on a Sunday afternoon and you have tickets for the matinee. Naturally, as a blue badge holder, you have limited walking ability and so you want to get as near as possible to the theatre. You pull up in this space:

Lovely, a disabled space right outside, it must have been put there to meet the needs of disabled visitors to the adjacent theatre building?

What are the times? Here they are:

the sign juxtaposed with the theatre

the sign itself: what used to be on the top portion? (pre June 12)

Now here is the first problem. The sign is contradictory. A disabled person cannot use their blue badge where loading is not allowed. See the leaflet available on this link. What does it say about parking where loading is not allowed? this:

How are you going to find out on a Sunday afternoon, as a blue badge holder who doesn't have or can't use a telephone if Islington Council is a "particular" council (inset own joke here). As guidance goes this is poor work. It does make clear though that you can't park at this spot as a blue badge holder, at any time, according to the uppermost part of the sign, which is held to be the most important, and yet according to the lower portion you can during certain times and outside of those times you aren't loading so you can again (a logical and illogical interpretation at the same moment).

Mr Mustard checked the Islington Council website and it said this about disabled parking and unloading

which suggests to Mr Mustard that Islington Council is run of the mill and not "particular".

What else does the guidance say? this:

Mr Mustard says this is bad advice as there might be a single yellow line on a Sunday without a restriction of any kind on which you could park for 24 hours.

Now we aren't home and dry yet. Look at this next photo of the bay

yes, you are correct, that is a single yellow line. Are we inside a CPZ you ask yourself? Yes, so the times that apply are the ones on the CPZ entry sign unless the yellow line is subject to a different restriction which will be indicated at the location by a time plate. Despite not being in the first flush of youth our elderly driver, whilst quitting the busy junction that is Angel, saw this sign (Mr Mustard took the photo on foot and got some funny looks which Mrs Angry would say he deserved)

It is only now that he looks at it that Mr Mustard has realised what a nonsense this sign is. The 20mph sign has been added onto the pole recently and it isn't only 20mph at certain times except for permit holders, it is some unknown matter that is restricted to those times. Anyway, you did spot the CPZ sign in the background, didn't you?

So having memorised the previous sign about nothing at all you then have to clear your brain just 1 second later and take this one in. Luckily you spot it is Sunday so the CPZ is off. Therefore the single yellow line is free to park on. Except, it isn't.

Now I know you can't cross the road very easily being disabled but come with Mr Mustard and take another photo, you'll be safe, those shirts he wears are enough to stop the traffic.

What are you looking at? Well you can see the disabled bay with its own sign, then a gap to the left with a little yellow line about a foot long and then some other sort of a bay (actually it is a loading bay except that the mandatory words "loading only" are missing - if you have had a parking ticket there, you should appeal) and there is a sign just to the left of the telephone box. What do you mean you couldn't see it from the disabled bay, here is a photo taken from there:

Now if you look carefully, and provided a bus isn't just coming up the road you can see the slim edge of the sign. Does it apply to your space? Mr Mustard thinks it does as the single yellow line is continuous from that sign through your disabled bay. Here are the times:

Now you won't be able to make it out but the no parking times are 8.30am - 10am and 4pm to 6.30pm which when read together with the disabled bay times, means that all 24 hours are covered so this time plate is meant to cover the single yellow line in the disabled bay, even though it is hidden behind 2 telephone boxes.

All this means that the bays for the disabled, apart form being completely unusable 100% of the time because of the no loading at any time instruction, are unusable for part of the morning and part of the afternoon on a Sunday and this is a complete waste of road space. Sundays in Rosebery Avenue are not busy.

Ironically if you drive behind the theatre there is a single yellow line for which a separate time plate doesn't seem to exist so a blue badge holder would have been better off, in parking terms, by parking there.

Mr Mustard has found this to be incredibly complex (he would have sent it to the Transport Select Committee as part of his evidence if he had seen it in time) and he will send it Islington Council to check that he has got it right.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

27 October 2013

Come on, push, I've only got an hour.

Baby Mustard
Here is a decision from the adjudicator at PATAS about the use of a Health Emergency Badge which are issued on demand to health professionals who need to visit large numbers of locations in a hurry and can't be looking for change or making phone calls as they are attending an emergency or life threatening situation. Barnet Council have signed up to the HEB scheme.

Having heard the Appellant I person there is no reason at all to doubt her evidence that she is a midwife and was attending a woman in labour having correctly displayed a Health Emergency Badge in accordance with its conditions. Those conditions make no mention of a one hour time limit.

Although the concession afforded by the display of the HEB is just that, a concession not an exemption, nevertheless it seems to me that a holder relying on it is entitled to expect that a concession offered by London Councils will be offered by every one of those Councils unless clear notice is given to the contrary. To issue a PCN and/or to enforce a penalty in the absence of such notice in my judgement amounts to the equivalent of an abuse of process; and in these circumstances no contravention occurs - see the dicta in Camden v The Parking Adjudicator and BHS t/a First for Food Service Ltd [2011] EWHC 295 Admin [2011]EWCA Civ 905.

The Appeal is therefore allowed.

Mr Mustard would be the first to admit that he doesn't know an awful lot about childbirth, his own, the last one he attended, was a long time ago but he does know that labour can go on for many hours and that it isn't without its medical complications so to expect a midwife to be able to deal with whatever emergency situation she faced within 60 minutes wasn't at all reasonable or realistic and simply doesn't make Barnet a better place to live, or be born into. 

Isn't that why the council are there, to make our lives better? Come on Barnet council, get that £7.5m parking surplus out of the budgeted accounts (as half of the income is from PCN) so that you can stop taking these terrible decisions.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

For any health care professional who is reading, or maybe one is a friend of yours so tell them about this, who has to attend emergencies across London and doesn't have a blue light ambulance (although they occasionally get ticketed) the HEB is still worth having as it will drastically reduce your PCN, except possibly in Barnet. Here is a link. There is a modest fee to pay.

26 October 2013

Mr Mustard is a scratch player at PCN (his golf is rubbish)

A few months ago Mr Mustard and one of Barnet's parking managers (there are 4 with the word manager in their title and only 5 staff in the client side; too many chiefs? possibly not as their main function is to decide on policy and monitor NSL, who also have at least one manager on the team) had a difference of opinion (and this is not a euphemism for a row - it was a polite exchange of emails with our respective points of view; Mr Mustard is always polite to the parking managers, albeit robust in his views) about a Visitor Voucher which had been scratched with a pen rather than a coin.

Mr Mustard's view was simple (what, because he is? lol). Scratch in the dictionary refers as much to the method of doing so as to the implement used and included scratching with a pencil so Mr Mustard felt he was on firm ground. The pen scratching clearly displayed the correct voucher details and the voucher had been altered in such a way that it could not be sued again.

The parking manager's view was that the coating should be scratched off, preferably using a coin.

Anyway, the parking manager could see that Mr Mustard would take this appeal all the way to PATAS and it would cost the council £40 (Mr Mustard didn't mention a problem with signs and lines in the road concerned, he was keeping his ammunition dry) and both sides felt they would win so the parking manager cancelled the PCN. Now an independent adjudicator has stepped in to settle the difference of opinion on an appeal that Mr Mustard was not involved in.

Here is the decision of the adjudicator.

I heard from Miss Y. at a personal hearing. I found her a credible witness.

In any event, the documentary evidence tells a clear story.

Miss Y. produced the original visitor voucher which was on display in her vehicle at the time in question. Clearly visible are the blue ballpoint scratches which have been made across the relevant day, date and year to show that it was valid for the day in question. I conclude that a valid visitor voucher was displayed.

The officer appears to have issued the Penalty Charge Notice on the basis that the voucher had not been scratched out properly. This seems to me to be utterly without foundation. It is clear from the marks on the voucher that in scratching across the relevant items with the pen Miss Y. had put the voucher well beyond a second use. In the circumstances there is no doubt at all that she had complied with requirements.

The authority has pursued this PCN on the entirely separate ground that this permit was not valid for use in this car park. This allegation, similarly, is without foundation and the authority withdrew it in its appeal summary, but not before Miss Y. had been forced to make the appeal.

The evidence shows that the use of this permit is expressly allowed in this car park, and indeed Miss Y. confirms that she and other residents have been permitted to do so for years.

Mr Mustard finds the fact that NSL and/or the council could advance an argument that a voucher is not valid in order to persuade a motorist to pay, very unattractive. let us suppose that the motorist gave in when their appeal was rejected a second time, and paid up. Subsequently the authority realised they had erred. Would an automatic refund be issued? Is that a pink pig flying past the window? The answer to both is no.

We are entitled to an honest service from NSL and the council. There is doubt as to whether we get it 100% of the time.

A final note for any parking managers who are reading this. Please instruct all Civil Enforcement Officers (traffic wardens) and Notice Processing Officers (appeal clerks) that as long as a voucher is put beyond a second usage, a PCN should not be issued and an appeal should be allowed. If any similar cases land on Mr Mustard's desk there will be an application for costs for wholly unreasonable behaviour.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

25 October 2013

New mobile comes with a car - thanks Verrus!

a car phone
Just in case you are getting a shiny new phone with a shiny new number or a shiny used car, you need to read the below decision from an adjudicator at PATAS so you can clean up any record of a car linked to your phone, or vice versa, of which you are unaware.

There is no dispute as to the whereabouts of vehicle xxxxxxx, at the time, on the material date; namely at a location requiring the purchase of time to park. The Enforcement Authority  assert the absence of payment/display in respect of the said vehicle.
The Appellant denies liability for the ensuing Penalty Charge Notice on the basis of the prevailing circumstances as clearly stated in her written representations (supported by copy corroborating screen-shots of her mobile telephone), which she reiterated and comprehensively detailed at the Hearing.
The Enforcement Authority who assert that the said vehicle was so parked contrary to, and during the operative period of, a restriction are obliged to adduce evidence to the requisite standard to substantiate that assertion.
The evidence upon which the Enforcement Authority rely substantiate the assertion comprises the certified copy Penalty Charge Notice, copy provisions of governing Traffic Management Orders, and computer-generated made by the Civil Enforcement Officer together with photographic evidence: still frames revealing the said vehicle in situ, and the applicable signage notifying motorists of the restriction.

Upon examination of the contemporaneous evidence I note that the civil enforcement officer records the abbreviation 'VC' at 10.24 a.m. on the date in question: I interpret this to mean that a check was made with the Verrus system at that time, yet the Penalty Charge Notice was issued at 10.22.a.m. and indicates that the said vehicle was viewed from 10.17 a.m.

The Enforcement Authority also adduce a copy of a 55 page 'PaybyPhone' user guide
and computer-screen images of the Verrus Parking History in relation to the said vehicle. Why the council (NSL on their behalf) insist on adding to their evidence a 55 page use guide which is not available to the person standing in a High Street or a car park and waste 55 pages of copier paper which add nothing to the argument
is beyond Mr Mustard.

The Appellant described the sequence of events, stating the time at which she positioned the said vehicle, her immediate attempts to comply, from within the said vehicle, with the instructions on the nearby sign. The Appellant also detailed the difficulties encountered with the system which caused the Appellant to be delayed for an appointment, so she vacated the said vehicle and made her way to the venue of the appointment, whilst continually trying to execute the parking payment transaction. The mobile device screen-shots corroborate this continuous activity and I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the same.

The sign at the location does not instruct motorists to remain with vehicles to make payment.
The Appellant, who was eventually put through to a customer services operative, repeated the information given to her: that a different mobile telephone number, registered in 2006, was linked to the vehicle registration mark and prevented the transaction going through. The Appellant had been below the driving age in 2006, and had never registered her own or any other mobile device to any vehicle registration mark. There is an obvious flaw in the system.

Where an enforcement authority implement a particular parking regime, a motorist must be afforded sufficient reasonable time to comply with the requirements of such regime, whether that be attending at a voucher-dispensing machine or obtaining and completing a visitor's permit, or effecting a transaction to purchase parking time by telephone or text methods. A motorist should not be prejudiced by an inability to effect such a transaction through the fault of the scheme.
I found the Appellant's oral evidence to be cogent and credible and I accepted it in its entirety, making a finding hat the Appellant was in the process of effecting compliance with the parking regime at the time of issue of the Penalty Charge Notice.
Evidentially therefore I am not satisfied that this contravention occurred, accordingly I allow this Appeal.

The question that Mr Mustard asks, given that the council had the same information, is why they wasted the time of the lady by refusing her appeal and making her travel to PATAS (nr Angel tube) and back again.

Is the council so desperate for money that they have to refuse blindingly obvious bona fide appeals in order to try and snatch a few quid from an innocent party.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

24 October 2013

Unconscionable delay but a conscious decision to pursue

Unconscionable - definition: not right or reasonable. 
(and if wholly unreasonable a good ground for claiming costs)

Yet another old PCN given the kiss of life but simply a waste of the motorist's time and the £40 fee that Barnet Council have to pay to PATAS at which the adjudicator wasted no further time:
The allegation in this case is that the vehicle was parked without payment of the parking charge. In her Notice of Appeal submitted in September 2013 and subsequent correspondence Miss T. does not dispute this but says that she has only recently been asked for payment, despite the allegation dating back to 21.05.11. She says that the matter has been considered by Northampton County Court which ordered that the penalty charge be cancelled. The PCN had the serial number 'AG630038621'.

The correct serial number for the PCN in this case is 'AG63003862'. I do not know why the order of Northampton County Court refers to AG63003862 1' but I am not satisfied this is of any significance (Mr Mustard has seen this on another case, perhaps a 1 is put on the end of all references). As the order itself made clear it 'does NOT cancel the original Penalty Charge Notice'. (Indeed, filing a witness statement TE9 puts the PCN back to the beginning).

However, I am concerned at the delay in prosecuting this matter. The Enforcement Authority have provided a chronology which shows that a Charge Certificate was requested by the Enforcement Authority's system on 06.09.11 but that no further step was taken until 16.01.13. The Enforcement Authority have not explained the delay which I am satisfied is unconscionable and accordingly I allow the appeal.
The 2011 PCN still being pursued are the subject of an objection by Mr Mustard to the signing off of the Annual Accounts of Barnet Council by the external auditor. With a continuing number of decisions like this one let's hope that the auditor comes to a sensible decision or the Ombudsman will have to also consider the matter.
Yours frugally
Mr Mustard 

23 October 2013

Vexatious to vexing - the end (hopefully)

not Colonel Mustard with the revolver in the library
Mr Mustard has been somewhat busy in the parking ticket department (another win at PATAS yesterday for a visitor who was pounced on whilst collecting a visitor voucher) and so not had time to write up the third and final instalment of his journey to Freedom of Information.

Regular readers, and those who have read the Information Commissioners decision, will have generally got the impression that employees in the parking department and HR at Barnet Council would break down in tears at the sight of an FOI request from Mr Mustard or be signed off on sick leave due to stress. How they manage to be such complete and utter heartless b'stards when dealing with some poor soul who stayed 2 minutes too long in a parking space and due to events ended up with the bailiffs clamping their car will just have to be one of those unanswerable questions. Most staff ("officers" - bloody stupid name for them) are fine with Mr Mustard and three of them have asked him to help appeal their Barnet Council PCN - how ironic is that?

Now once Mr Mustard had the adverse decision that his questions (not him, thankfully) were vexatious he had to do something about it as no sane person would want the matter to rest like that. Now as it happens there was some lucky timing. Mr Mustard had attended the council's offices several times in June to look at their annual Accounts and see supporting information. With Black Hole Travers having climbed up to the top rung of the ladder, becoming the Chief Executive and we don't hear anything like as much about him as we used to about Nick Walkley (remember him? saddled yourself with some very difficult problems in Haringey, Nick - the bloggers of Barnet must look like light relief compared to every Fleet Street paper looking for blood) we needed a new S151 Officer (legally responsible for finance) and we got one with the rather fancy title of Chief Operating Officer and the name of Chris Naylor in January 13. Chris joined us from Tower Hamlets who have their own problems with transparency. Is there a boringly well run council anywhere in London? that is all Mr Mustard seeks from Barnet.

Now last year 3 bloggers attended together along with a well known parking expert who is the scourge of councils all over London. This year Mr Mustard attended alone as he knew the score and to help the council he gave them a list months in advance of what he wanted to see. Was it ready on his arrival? No, of course it wasn't. The council should not be surprised that they take a bashing when they are so unhelpful and stupid. One thing he asked for was the bailiff contracts for parking for the year. Mr Mustard had the suspicion that there weren't any and rather than tell him that they gave him an out of date contract 300 pages long. What a waste of paper. It didn't detain Mr Mustard for a minute. 

Now the council have to deal with his objection to the Accounts, one of 5 he has made, on which he anticipates that a verbal report will be made by Grant Thornton to the Audit Committee tomorrow evening. There is no scheduled agenda item to sign off the Accounts, which would be normal in October so it looks like at least one of the objections has been found to have merit. Chris, to his credit, says that the Audit Commission Act is there to be used.

Now one topic of enquiry was the invoices raised by Agilisys/iMpower for the year, all £3.7million of them. They were so heavily redacted that they told him nothing more than was on the over £500 spending list.

Anyway the one thing they did lead to was Chris Naylor offering Mr Mustard a meeting to have a chat about them. This was a novel idea. No-one else had dared put their head over the parapet previously and this initiative should be applauded. It doesn't mean that Mr Mustard is going to turn into a blogging version of the Tooting Twister as we don't want to do him out of a job, now do we? (oh what's that Mrs Angry, "yes of course we do", correct again of course) but he will, and already has, add in some balance to his posts when it adds to the story. So Mr Mustard agreed to a meeting but asked to change the agenda to his FOI question status. The meeting was going to be in Cafe Buzz but had to be moved to the North London Business Park as it was going to be followed by another meeting for Chris (one thing Mr Mustard mentioned was that there are probably staff who do nothing but sit in meetings and they are surplus to requirements if so).

So this meeting took place in the first week of September (Chris bought the teas) in the staff restaurant (see how open and transparent we are) and Mr Mustard offered the following compromise:

Ask up to 60 FOI questions p.a. and not write about junior staff. Most people would think that staff earning up to £56,000 a year weren't junior but that is the accepted definition. Mr Mustard hadn't asked a question since 12 July 2013 and had realised that he had so much information coming from other sources, and other pan-London questions to deal with, that 60 would be more than adequate for a year. He can still ask questions at committee meetings that won't be refused although answers can be obfuscatory and he has the annual audit visit and technically his tweets are FOI if they ask for facts like "who owns the blue bins"; answer "the council".

The counter-offer was a bit longer and here is a summary.

Chris wants 

- a "stronger working relationship" (very sensible)
- he wants the council to publish information regularly that is of use to interested members of the public and the default setting will be to publish (he has Mr Mustard's list to think about)
- he wants the council to be as receptive as possible to the insight and experiences of residents and service users (great but you should have been at this week's Constitution Committee, Chris, to see what councillors think of this. The very sensible idea to allow comments from residents to precede the business item rather than all be heard at the start of the meeting, was voted down on party lines. You may want to hear from residents but clearly some councillors don't. Cllr Thomas, for example, has never allowed any member of the public to have their 5 minutes to speak at Cabinet Resources Committee - unfixable problem? )
- a reasonable number of FOIs may be in the order of 60 p.a. (Mr Mustard having received this level will now show he doesn't need them and save his FOI for the really big issues or questions which he is asking of every London borough)
- he would welcome a monthly digest of service issues or complaints that Mr Mustard has learned about that month, both his and those of other residents (Mr Mustard isn't keen on having a monthly to do list for the council, who can read his blog and see the issues for themselves as many staff and councillors already do, and he has never been reticent about writing to senior officers, all councillors or relevant Cabinet members and the Leader but given that this proposal includes a response back he will inform the COO of the big issues. He has already asked him to find a way to take the £7m generated by parking tickets out of the budget but that is of course a political decision. Officer time may be helpful in finding savings elsewhere. The council will never be well regarded whilst it is issuing 165,000 PCN p.a. so it may be a sensible political decision to move gently away from parking income and make Barnet a nicer place to live).

So having agreed to the above arrangement the blog has gone on as per usual, more or less, and Mr Mustard has avoided having to spend days of his time reviewing 800 blog postings and removing anything that would have counted against him when reviewed by lawyers sitting in the Upper Tribunal and producing a huge bundle of documents and his arguments to the Tribunal. The council didn't think they were greatly at risk of having the ICO's decision overturned but then I didn't mention the smoking gun (not a real gun of course, but something that would have blown a huge hole in the main plank of the council's argument) that I had and which has now been put back in the drawer.

What can others who ask many FOI questions learn from this episode? The FOI legislation does not set out any limits on the number of questions one person can ask of an organisation which is where Mr Mustard went wrong by overdoing it. You would think that an organisation of 3,000 people could cope with a fairly high level of questions. 200 questions per annum, not all on parking but on varied topics, and it doesn't look very vexatious when compared to 165,000 parking tickets issued in a year. How can they cope with those? surely not because that leads to a huge income rather than a compliance cost? 

So what is an acceptable number of questions for others is not going to be either 200 p.a. or 60 p.a. because it will depend on who is asking, what they do with the information, the size of the organisation and so on, all the factors set out in the recent guidance. It would have been interesting to challenge the decision but really Mr Mustard couldn't be fagged to do so, he would have been unable to do other things that he currently wants to do.

Not asking many FOI won't stop the blog.

Our Mr Naylor got himself and the council some column inches yesterday in the Guardian, here. You'll see from the comments that three interested residents don't agree with him but at least we can talk about it like sensible adults. It may be Chris's default setting but it isn't Barnet Council's and he is going to have a heck of a battle on his hands getting everyone to see his point of view.

Now Mr Mustard being Mr Mustard and judging on actions not deeds he has set Chris a test. Last year the council developed Parking Recovery Plans when income from parking was below expectations. There was more chance of seeing a fish riding a bicycle than getting a copy of the documentation which was treated with the highest security clearance. Mr Mustard has asked Chris for a copy of those plans. 

Let us see, will he pass or fail? Watch this space.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Update  19 November 13

I met with Chris Naylor and two of his colleagues this morning. CN handed over the Parking Recovery plans for the last two years. Mr Mustard can't see why the council went to such lengths to hide them as they are deadly dull and didn't show him the sort of information he expected to see. There is some unfortunate thinking within them, like introducing more CPZ simply to generate more revenue (ah, so they are profitable)  but everyone knew that anyway. Anyway, I am pleased he passed the test. the next one will just have to be a little harder.

19 October 2013

Verify Verrus

Mr Mustard receives the Barnet Times through his letterbox each Friday morning (but sadly not the Barnet Press). He finds the letters page a source of amusement, joy and information (an excellent letter from Green Party Poppy about recycling is worth your attention) and this one on parking charges

So what did Mr Mustard do next? He looked on google streetview to find a PayByPhone sign and came up with a location adjacent to the park of 5895. He then started to make a payment for a 90 minute stay at that location and here is the screenshot from his phone

Let's put aside for the moment that £3 (and 10p for a reminder that your time is running out, a service which probably costs Verrus less than 1p) to feed the ducks and have a little stroll is a bit rich and note the absence of any opportunity to pay for more than 1 session of parking (it isn't on the options tab either)

Mr Mustard didn't confirm but went back to the start and tried to pay for 10,080 minutes. The system wouldn't let him pay for more than the maximum daily chargeable amount of 630 minutes so how the letter writer managed to pay for seven days is a complete mystery, he certainly wasn't using the app (unless it has since been fixed), perhaps there is a hole in the text system?

Mr Mustard then tried at 6.06pm to pay for 120 minutes and the system correctly refused payment and would only charge for 30 minutes and told him the expiry time was 8am the next morning so at least that is correct.

The point of this blog posting is for you to go away now and check your charges. You can do it online here and if you have been overcharged you can sort that out by phoning or emailing based upon these contact details.

Do put a comment at the bottom if you too have been overcharged and how, if you can work that out.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

18 October 2013

North Finchley cafe invites seniors to "Supper and Songs"

North Finchley's Cafe Buzz has launched a musical supper club for seniors - Supper and Songs. A special discounted menu will be accompanied by a selection of classic songs in a bid to create a friendly place for older residents to eat healthy food and meet new people

Supper and Songs is a joint project created by Age UK Barnet and Cafe Buzz. It is a new initiative to bring people together around delicious, affordable food in a friendly atmosphere where they can eat to the music they loved in their younger days.

The first Supper and Songs is at 5 pm on Monday October 28 - traditional meal and coffee will cost £6 


for a full dinner with soup and pudding, Supper and Songs will cost £9.

Cafe Buzz owner Helen Michael said: "I was delighted when approached about this. It's hard to prepare real nutritious food when you're older and I'm excited about turning the cafe into a place where older people can feel at home."

Managing the scheme at Age UK Barnet is Karen Williamson: "We find that older people can fall into poor eating habits at home. This is a perfect way to both improve their diet and offer a chance to make new friends."

For more information call Cafe Buzz on 020 8446 9906.

So if you have £6 or £9 to spare and know an old person who would enjoy an evening out then why not book them a place and pay for it and/or give them a lift there and back. 

Yours frugally (and dinner for £6 with entertainment is pretty frugal) 

Mr Mustard

Diary dates - 19 & 26 October

17 October 2013

A high risk occupation

New signs soon to be installed at all entrances to Barnet
Some occupations are dangerous, here are the top 5:

1. Fisherman
2. Bomb disposal expert
3. Oil rigger
4. Construction worker.
5. Lorry driver

and now to be added to the list, at least in so far as the danger of getting a parking ticket is concerned, we need to add, NHS worker.

Here is a report from a recent adjudication case at PATAS:

The allegation in this case is that the vehicle was parked in a residents or shared-use parking place or zone without clearly displaying either a permit or voucher or pay and display ticket issued for that place. Miss N. does not in fact dispute this but she says that she was relying on her Health Emergency Badge which she clearly displayed. She does not dispute that she had failed to enter the address she was visiting but says that even when she does this she still regularly receives PCNs. She has now provided the address she was visiting and supporting evidence to establish that this was an emergency.

The Enforcement Authority have provided copies of photographs taken by the Enforcement Officer which support the assertion that there was no address entered on the Health Emergency Badge displayed.

The rear of the Health Emergency Badge contains a description of the scheme and conditions of use for the Badge, one of which states
"The house number (or flat number or house name) and the street name must be written on the white area''.

Although the use of a valid Health Emergency Badge does not establish a formal exemption, I would not expect any Enforcement Authority to seek enforcement of a PCN where a Health Emergency Badge was being used in accordance with the rules of the scheme. The failure to enter the patient's address means that on this occasion Miss N. was not using the Badge in accordance with the rules.
Miss N's account amounts only to mitigation. The Enforcement Authority may cancel a PCN as a matter of their discretion. The Law does not give Adjudicators the power to allow an appeal which establishes mitigating circumstances only.
Having considered all the evidence, I am satisfied that the contravention occurred and that the PCN was properly issued and served. I am not satisfied that any exemption applies.

The adjudicator cannot be faulted for applying the law, as that is what they are there to do. They could have recommended this case for compelling mitigation but they have chosen not to. 
To Mr Mustard's mind this is rough justice. A badge given to qualifying medical staff to make their job easier is used as a stick to beat them with and as a profit centre.
Faced with the choice of a job in a nice warm hospital or one on the road at the mercy of traffic wardens and pedantic council officers, which one starts to look more attractive?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

16 October 2013

Informal representations still count

the informal representations repository?
Mr Mustard has long suspected that informal representations, the first stage appeal (of three, see guide to the left) get largely ignored or overtaken by a Notice to Owner. Now, if that happens to you, you have a ready made appeal in the form of this decision by an adjudicator at PATAS 

case 213043539A

One of the points made by the Appellant was that her father in law made informal representations on her behalf but she was not then offered the discount again.

The Authority accepted that the representations were received but failed to find their way to the file due to an administrative error (Mr Mustard has personal experience of this happening especially for emailed representations). It said that this had no consequence as the Authority was not bound to consider informal representations.
The Authority's response is incorrect at several levels. First and foremost, the Authority is under a duty to consider informal representations. In R (on the application of the Hackney Drivers' Association Limited) v the Parking Adjudicator and Lancashire County Council, [2012] EWHC 3394 (admin), the High Court considered Regulation 3 (2)(b)(i) of the Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) Representations and Appeals Regulations 2007 and held that it means that if representations against a Regulation 9 Penalty Charge Notice are received at such address as may be specified by the Authority before a Notice to Owner is served, those representations will be considered.

Secondly, the Notice to Rejection did not address the point despite it being raised in the formal representations.  It did not even offer to settle at the reduced rate when fairness would say that this was the least that the Authority should do bearing in mind that its "administrative error" caused the problem. I should also point out that the Notice of Rejection had not even properly considered the circumstances raised by the Appellant. The Appellant said that she was notified by the hospice that her mother was dying. The Authority rejected her claim on the basis that there was no evidence of an emergency admission to hospital.

The matter has been handled poorly from beginning to end. The issues surrounding the Appellant's personal circumstances are not directly linked to the legal issues in this appeal, but the legality of the Authority's actions has a legal consequences. I find that there had been at least two instances of procedural impropriety. I am allowing the appeal.

This isn't the first time that Mr Mustard has criticised the council's attitude to people who have relatives in a hospice and he wonders if the Notice Processing Officers know that you go to a hospice because you are going to die sooner rather than later. Are you reading NPOs? here is a link to our wonderful local hospice, the North London Hospice. They always need funds, please send them some.

Please try and remember when you reject an appeal that you are writing to a human being, one who might have made a small mistake when under stress. People's lives are more important than some grubby parking ticket.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

15 October 2013

Where did the NSL contract savings go to?

Parking contract savings - as safe as houses?
Calculator and cup of tea at the ready? then armchair audit time it is.

Back on 23 September Mr Mustard attended the Cabinet Resources Committee. It was receiving a report from Finance about the financial performance for the first quarter of the council tax year i.e. for April to June 13. For the first time in Mr Mustard's short but eventful life (since 10 March 2011 - ha, he is in his terrible twos phase) there was an overspend, of £2,384,000 (to nearest £thousand) and the biggest culprit was "Streetscene" (hard to tell exactly from the name what that encompasses but it will become clearer later) which was £2,163,000 overspent on a budget of £15,212,000 a spectacularly awful result which is 14% over budget.

Now Mr Mustard hastens to add that these were the projected outturns for the end of the year so there was still 9 months remaining in which to get back on track (or go further off the rails!) but clawing 14% back, or 7 weeks of expenses to put it another way, looks like a mighty ask.

The way in which the figures were presented was insufficiently precise at the Directorate level for Mr Mustard and this is how the streetscene budget problem was presented in the written report:

The Street Scene Directorate is forecasting an overspend of £2.163m which includes:
   An overspend of £1.081m in  the Special  Parking  Account. This  is  due to cost pressure on the NSL contract of £0.800m plus shortfalls in income of £0.378m.
  The Parking service is forecasting an overspend of £0.434m, due to shortfalls in off street parking. (this is a different overspend to the one above)
  An overspend of £0.380m in the Waste service is a result of domestic refuse staff cost pressures, however it is anticipated that the May Gurney contract negotiation should bring this back in line.
  An overspend of £0.170m in  Street Lighting  is  as a result  of budgeted savings that will now not be achieved during the year.
  A Highway Maintenance overspend of £0.246m is a result of winter maintenance pressures.

That was all far to vague for Mr Mustard (who had failed to notice Appendix 2 where the answer to his question was to be found) so he asked for a breakdown of the £2.163m and he was helpfully sent a copy of the table although he could have been pointed at it. Here it is:

Description Budget V1 Q1 forecast Variation

£'000 £'000 £'000
Street Scene Management Team 647 631 -16
Business Improvement 333 332 -1
Mortuary 136 134 -2
Street Lighting 6,339 6,509 170
Transport -6 -131 -125
Highways Inspection/Maintenance 508 754 246
Parking -747 -313 434
Parks, Street Cleaning & Grounds Maintenance 5,052 5,084 32
Street Cleansing 4,236 4,240 4
Waste 2,911 3,291 380
Recycling 3,278 3,238 -40
Streetscene 22,687 23,769 1,082
Special Parking Account -7,475 -6,394 1,081
Total 15,212 17,375 2,163

Variations in red are underspends so no need to worry about those.

The street lighting overspend is last year's budget failure carried forward. Surely we can just buy fewer lamp posts? It's not as if anything appears to be wrong with the ones that are being taken out.

There is winter pressure on highways maintenance. Mr Mustard seems to think that much greater sums have been spent in previous years and this lack of spend will shortly show up as potholes.

Parking refers to the anticipated spend in off street car parks. Mr Mustard thinks that this would magically come back to what it was if the system and charges are put back to what they were when he started blogging i.e. install cash parking meters (and card) and make prices those of 2010 or lower until there is 90% occupancy of car parks most of the time.

The waste overspend of £380k is expected to be salvaged from changing to in-house and away from May Gurney (except that they are going to continue to run the Summers Lane recycling depot - shiny new signs everywhere and a most useful facility). When the dust settles, we'll see.

So everything except for on-street parking, permits and PCNs is £1,082,000 behind budget and the Special Parking Account (on-street parking, permits and PCNs) is very nearly the same at £1,081,000 behind budget. The annual increase in the SPA budget was always going to be hard to maintain and Mr Mustard has told the relevant councillors to wean themselves off this income stream which just shouldn't be there. So instead of ripping almost £7.5m out of the pockets of the motorist (the majority of whom are also residents) a mere £6.4m will be filched instead; both surpluses are obscene.

The SPA budget problem was explained as "Cost pressure on NSL contract plus shortfall on income". The shortfall is easily fixed with cash parking meters but the NSL overspend had Mr Mustard foxed as it is a fixed price contract. So he asked for a breakdown, the one that should have supplied to councillors in the report (which to be fair Cllr Alan Schneiderman did pick up on in the pre-scrutiny meeting) and here it is:

Reason £,000
Vacant Managers Post -41
Agency Costs (parking manager back fill) and Pension strain 107
Signs and Lines 100
NSL Parking deployed Hours and bit payments. 821
Software license and support -7
On street parking/parking suspension fees/Parking permits 378
DLO charges for suspensions 143
Reduced SLA with Parking Design team -421
Total 1,080

So we have had an interim parking manager since the NSL contract started on 1 May 12. Why? is the startlingly obvious question. Why we employ someone who has to travel miles when there must be perfectly good candidates available locally is hard to fathom. Has the council even advertised or is it that the reputation of parking at Barnet is so bad (as has been reported to Mr Mustard by another council parking department less than 20 miles away) that there are no takers? It's not as if parking is a temporary thing, there will be a need for a parking manager into the next decade at least. Anyway that is £66,000 to the bad.

Nice to see real money being spent on signs and lines. Only another £900,000 needed.

We'll come to the £821,000 in a minute in yet another table.

Is it any wonder that the income from on-street parking and permits is down. Prices were increased markedly and that caused behavioural changes and suppressed the income. Making it harder to pay also had an effect; cash is universal and the meter removal policy has hit the council hard. Permit income will slowly recover now that they are £40 again.

Then we have the usual inter department budgeting which seems to be such a waste of time, moving money from the left pocket to the right. An extra £143,000 paid to the DLO (Direct Labour Organisation) for suspensions. How many suspensions are going on and what does one suspension cost? This figure seems high.

Now Mr Mustard was concerned about cost pressures of £800,000 on the NSL Ltd parking enforcement contract, you know the one which was advertised as saving us £600,000 and here is a screen print from the council's website which is looking rather out of date

Then Mr Mustard asked for a breakdown of the figure of £821,000 as he likes everything to be clear. Here it is.

£’000 £’000
2012.13 budget (NSL Contract) 3,020
Savings 13.14 -349
13.14 budget 2,671
13.14 Spend
Deployed hours 541
BIT Payments (Contract management KPIs) 291
Basic Contract Payment 2,635
NSL Non-Scheduled Items 25
13.14 projection
Difference 821

Now the standard monthly payment to NSL this year is £212,755.64 giving a base annual payment of £2,553,067 and on top of this about £25,000 a month (yes, a month) is paid through NSL to Verrus for the largely unloved PayByPhone system giving another £300,000 per year (2012/13 payments came to £290,559). This seems an extraordinary amount for processing payments willingly made of £2,945,682 from Pay & Display (as it was quaintly described in the SPA) and another £300,000 or so of car park income. A fee equivalent to 9% just for holding your hand out and taking money seems like remarkably poor value.

So last year £3,020,000 was budgeted for NSL and base fees & charges amounted to £2,843,626 and the rest was swallowed up an extra hours payment of £104,000 and by one-off transition costs such as redundancy payments. In version 2.5 of the Business Plan, which went through a dozen iterations, are the projected annual costs of parking enforcement for the 5 year term, viz:

Projected costs of Options 2012/13 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 Total

£'000s £'000s £'000s £'000s £'000s £'000s
NSL – Cost of Contract 3,246 3,220 3,328 3,328 3,328 16,451

which leaves no scope for a saving of £349,000 in this financial year 2013/14 and ignores inflation. Mr Mustard asked under Freedom of Information legislation for the NSL contract and he did receive most of it although the financial information was, of course, redacted. Thus Mr Mustard can't tie the actual payments to the budgeted figures but a budget of £2,671,000 against an annual payment of £2,850,000 is utterly unrealistic.

What the budget also shows is that there is no budget for the KPI (Key performance indicator) performance payments which might amount to another £291,000 in 2013/14 except they can't as the performance was stuck at minus 6 at the start of the year so it should be 6 months before a KPI payment is due assuming performance improves every single month. Mr Mustard will be checking the actual KPI measurements at the year end.

Now the really shocking figure is the one of £541,000 for deployed hours which should have said "extra deployed hours". Now why are the council trying to save £600,000 p.a. and then negate 90% of the proposed savings by  spending on extra enforcement hours.

Now call Mr Mustard suspicious if you like but an extra £541,000 spent on enforcement is likely to lead to a net PCN income of at least £1million. That wouldn't be the motivation, would it?

We know that the contract was failing all the way through 2012/13 and so the solution looks like rather than termination is to throw money at the contract to make it work in 2013/14 and it is one of the few contracts that the council enters which works this way,i.e. the more you spend the more you gain, always assuming that all the extra marginal parking tickets don't just lead to extra appeals to PATAS.

One final point is that NSL are entitled to 50% of the savings they generate on the contract. No "options proposals" were suggested in the first year of the contract. The 50% saving is meant to encourage and reward innovation. 

There hasn't been any.

This is an early One Barnet contract. It hasn't made the anticipated savings. Let's hope that NSCSO and DRS are better (don't hold your breath).

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard