27 February 2014

Parking charges consultations

what parking in Barnet is all about - follow the money
Before you read this blog post, you should read Dr Julia Hines's blog on the question of consultation in Barnet as it was reading her post on Barnet's somewhat dilatory approach to consultation (Mr Mustard's description, not Julia's) that prompted Mr Mustard to get on with his response, which is as follows:

Update friday: Mr Mustard lost his marbles for a short while and forgot to tell you that the below letter is in response to the following council consultation

Council website consultation

Dear Mr Sunderland

Streetscene fees & charges 2014/15

Consultation response

Events - private functions

Scrap the idea and all charges. Parks are communal and should remain so.

Parking permits

Call back to process card payment for services. £21.

The charge is excessive. It is 5 minutes work at most to accept a card payment. No business that charged this sum would survive for long. This charge discriminates against the poor, the elderly and the disabled who may not have access to computers. The charge is a penalty. It cannot possibly achieve its stated aim to encourage the use of other methods by those people who do not have access to other methods.

One Hour Parking Voucher - £2 per voucher

This is another excessive level of charge which discriminates against the same members of society as above. Car parking in Chipping Barnet costs a different amount per hour depending upon where you are.

If you wanted to park for the maximum 4 hours in the Moxon St car park it would cost you £8 in vouchers but only £2.50 using PayByPhone.

If you wanted to park all day in the Fitzjohn Avenue car park it would cost you £21 in vouchers but only £3.95 using PayByPhone.

If you wanted to park for 4 hours in the Stapylton Rd car park it would cost you £8 in vouchers but only £2.50 using PayByPhone.

If you wanted to park for an hour in the High St it would cost you a £2 voucher but only £1.30 using PayByPhone.

The same goes for 1/2 hour vouchers.

Residents permits

Pricing has returned to the pre judicial review level as the council was held to be revenue raising. What the council should do is calculate the cost of providing residents permits which were sold to us on the basis of them only covering their costs when the C zone CPZ was introduced in about 1988. The initial annual cost was £5. The council should establish the cost of the permit team, and the stationery cost, and then divide by the number of permits issued per annum and that should be the permit price. The answer will be much less than £40.

There is no basis for charging more for a second or third car as that would be to raise extra revenue which is not allowed. I also see no proper basis for limiting the number of vehicles per property. A family house containing 2 adults and 2 grown up children, all of whom need a car for their work, should not be discriminated against when they are making such economic use of housing stock.

Amendments to permits £21 and permit refunds £21

These charges are far higher than the cost of the action being taken. They should be drastically reduced, if not removed altogether

Three month temporary permit £252

This outrageous amount is absurd being 6 times the cost of a permit that lasts 4 times as long. Surely no-one actually pays it?

Housing permits £nil, £42, £73

I see no basis for housing permits being a different price to residents permits as they are essentially the same providing a permit to park in a certain zone.

Doctors permit £200

This provides a permit to park in a designated space adjacent to a surgery. These will almost certainly be inside a CPZ. It might be better and fairer, and make better use of road space, if Doctors were instead included as if they were residents and given the permit of the zone that they work within at the same cost as a resident as most of their house calls are also likely to be within that zone and this would allow more flexible use of available space.

Community permits

There is no mention of these on the council website.

Business permits £256/£73.50/£525/£840

I can see no justification for these excessive amount as the benefit obtained is one car space for each permit the same as for a residents permit and there are far fewer business bays than there are residents bay within  the same CPZ. These charges are simply profiteering from businesses.

Feel free to cut and paste any of the above response and send it to cory.sunderland@barnet.gov.uk Be gentle with him, he works very hard.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

25 February 2014

Double council twitter fest

Now first of all Mr Mustard, as a member of the Royal Forestry Society, would like to say that he is all in favour of trees, especially in woods and forests. He also likes them in High Streets provided they are the correctly chosen tree for the job and not a thumping great conker tree or eucalyptus which will cause disruption to the foundations of buildings in future years.

What he doesn't like to see is councillors making political capital, or so they think, by pretending to plant a tree when it clearly needs a digger or a proper groundworker to do the job because a tree pit is required to make sure the roots are contained and that water gets delivered down to the roots.

So here, borrowed from the council instagram account, are two photographs. Mr Mustard has no problem with the first one that was published of a local businessperson in Edgware waving a spade somewhere near a tree as if he is planting it, which he clearly isn't as he has his best shiny shoes on (whatever happened to elf and safety?) a suit (oh dear, is it brown?), stripey tie (quite fetching) and no gloves

and then shortly afterwards one of a councillor, Dean Cohen, planting a tree or so it was alleged on twitter.

how many worthies does it take to pretend to plant a tree?
is that the same tree? well it is the same postbox in the background, the same shop sign on the left, the same spade, which you would use for digging and not for shovelling earth, the operation supposedly in progress which warrants the use of a shovel, another suit, more shiny shoes (excellent to see such pride in inappropriate appearance) great tie but still no boots with toe caps, no gloves and no cars parked there as hardly anyone can master the pay-by-phone system.

If councillors are going to go in for the tree-hugging vote, at least get your own tree. There are 120 being planted at a total cost of £150,000 or a mere 14% of councillor allowances in a full year (which were £1,078,945 and 95p in the year to 31 March 2013).

Measured on that basis, the 120 trees are good value.

If councillors are going to go in for stupid photo opportunities, at least look the part please and don't insult the electorate.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

24 February 2014

Doubly appealing

It is always interesting to compare Barnet to other London boroughs and it isn't the worst borough when it comes to parking as it doesn't tow cars away to a pound which costs the owner many a pound to get them back out of.

Parking tickets are an emotive subject and so it is hard to make an informed view based upon just the stories one hears about parking tickets. When looking at the daily register of new cases coming through to PATAS a thought struck Mr Mustard which was that a greater proportion of new cases seemed to relate to Barnet so he took a look at the figures (for parking and bus lane contraventions only - he ignored moving traffic offences as Barnet have not yet started to ticket for those - but they are getting there).

Here are the figures for the week which started on Monday 17th February 2014

PATAS Barnet Londonwide

Appeals Appeals %
Mon 7 98 7
Tues 30 425 7
Weds 27 317 9
Thurs 24 345 7
Fri 33 351 9
Sat 2 38 5
Total 123 1,574 8

PCN issued Barnet London %
Year to March 13 165,569 4,283,964 4

So Barnet account for one in every 12 Appeals to PATAS (8%), when they are one of 35 authorities whose Appeals are heard there, so straightaway that looks wrong. Then if you look at last year's figures (to March 13) we see that Barnet "only" issued 4% of all PCN in London, or 1 out of every 25 which looks rather keen (or venal and rapacious as one blog reader would say).

So what we see from this is that there are twice as many cases which get to PATAS as one would expect (at least in the random sample week). The reasons for this are impossible to know for sure but may include some or all of the following:

1 - Our NSL back office team being new to Barnet and based in Croydon simply aren't as good as NSL back office teams for other boroughs as they haven't yet built up any location history.

2 - The number of Barnet's motorists who have had enough of this disguised council tax have decided to stand and fight more often.

3 - Sites like this one, Pepipoo and Miss Feezance and others have helped to arm people with the information they need to mount an Appeal to PATAS.

4 - Once an Appeal at PATAS is successful motorists realise there is nothing to be frightened of and so appeal their next PCN.

5 - More borderline PCN are being issued which natural injustice drives people to Appeal.

6 - NSL aren't good at decision making when it comes to formal representations; they are blinkered by the money.

7 - The recession makes people more likely to fight.

8 - The Saracens zone is seen as unfair and has a greater proportion of appeals (nearly always successfully as well).

Remember that there is a quick guide to the process that you can download for free at the top left of the blog.

Keep those Appeals flowing. 

Mr Mustard will put up an example soon of how to complete a PATAS form. It is a 5 minute job.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

21 February 2014

Maybe PATAS will fix the broken NSL parking enforcement contract

being hit in the pocket changes behaviour
Mr Mustard has just read all of yesterday's PATAS appeals for Barnet. Here is one of the decisions:

Mr. Young, the director of the Appellant company, appeared before me this morning in person. He had previously attended on 6 January 2014 when I made the following direction to the Council:

" The Council are to respond to the Appellant's submissions in his Notice of Appeal in writing and in particular address how and when they decided to start enforcing the contravention again and how they communicated this to the Appellant and other residents. Further, they are to attend the adjourned hearing."

The Council has not responded and has not attended this hearing as directed. Mr Young has submitted three sets of further correspondence and submissions - including as to the issue of costs - since the hearing in January and has clearly spent considerable time and effort in making his detailed arguments. I am unimpressed with the Council's failure to respond or to attend today as directed.

Given the abject failure by the Council, I assume that they no longer seek to contest this appeal and it is allowed.

In respect of Mr C's application costs, I note that, again, the Council has failed to respond.

Paragraph 13(1) in Part 2 of the Schedule to the Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) Representations and Appeals Regulations 2007 provides that the Adjudicator shall not normally make an order awarding costs and expenses, but may make such an order-

(a) against a party (including an appellant who has withdrawn his appeal or an enforcement authority which has consented to an appeal being allowed) if he is of the opinion that that party has acted frivolously or vexatiously or that his conduct in making, pursuing or resisting an appeal was wholly unreasonable; or

(b) against an enforcement authority where he considers that the disputed decision was wholly unreasonable.

I consider the conduct of the Enforcement Authority to have been wholly unreasonable and therefore, I do exercise my power to award costs in this appeal.

The Regulation cited above does not contain any provisions as to the rate to be awarded when an order for costs is made. There is no provision for loss of earnings. However, Adjudicators take as their guidance the Civil Procedure Rules as applied to Small Claims in the County Court. These allow for an award of £18 per hour for a litigant in person (i.e. one not represented by a lawyer) in respect of preparation for and attendance at any hearing, together with reasonable expenses actually incurred.

Mr. Young has limited his claim to £11.06 per hour and I therefore apply that rate to Mr. Young's claim. The Regulation limits any award to "the costs and expenses incurred by that other party in connection with the proceedings".

I consider the hours claimed by Mr. Young in his "Table of Expenses" served with his correspondence of 3 February 2013 (2014?) to be reasonable.

Accordingly I make the following award:

Travel costs: £12.80
Postage etc costs: £24.47
Travel and Preparation Time: 18 hours @ £11.06 = £199.08

Total: £236.35

I therefore direct the Local Authority to pay Mr. Young the above sum of £236.35 forthwith.

It is very hard to get PATAS to make an award for costs. Mr Mustard has only ever made two applications, because he only does so on obviously egregious cases, of which one was granted. For context, in the year to March 13 there were 6 costs applications against Barnet Council of which only 2 were granted in the total sum of £170.89

Last week the sum of £63 was granted to a motorist who won her Saracens zone appeal and so last year's total payout has been passed as we are now on £299.35 (there may be other cases which Mr Mustard has missed and which will be in the annual report from PATAS in due course)

Mr Mustard can't be sure that it was only NSL at fault, and that the client side parking department were not involved but his experience of the department is that they are always polite and he thinks they would have responded in some way to PATAS if the papers had been brought to their attention in time. Mr Mustard is inclined to lay most of the blame at the door of NSL as it is they who receive the PATAS documentation in the first place.

If motorists fail to respond to documents about a PCN they end up with the bailiff. The council, probably acting (or not in this case) by their contractor NSL have made repeated failures and hence the costs order partly to teach them a lesson. The motorist hasn't profited, he lost his leisure time and claimed a modest hourly rate although an awful lot of hours. Claims for costs are measured from the point at which you start preparing the PATAS form, by the way.

The reason for the PCN in the first place was for having a wheel on the pavement. Evidently at this location, Victoria Rd in Hendon, there has been an agreement of some sort by the council not to issue PCN for this offence for some reason. Mr Mustard has asked the council to publish a list of such locations so that everyone knows where they stand and all of this palaver can be avoided.

Maybe being hit in the pocket like this will lead to improved behaviour and contract compliance by NSL?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

19 February 2014

Why traffic wardens might not be popular

If Barnet Council ever wondered why the traffic wardens that they allow NSL to foist on us, at lower rates of pay then the council used to give them, are unpopular then maybe this decision by an independent adjudicator at PATAS, could be one reason. The traffic wardens are quite simply out of sight of their masters and out of control.

The Appellant attended this hearing.

The Appellant parked his vehicle outside his house in a permit bay and displayed his disabled badge, but the wrong way up. The Enforcement Authority accept that he can park there with his disabled badge, but say that as it was displayed incorrectly this Penalty Charge Notice was properly issued.

The Appellant produced a letter from his neighbour, Mr L, who was there at the time and states that he saw the civil enforcement officer around the vehicle. He told the officer that the Appellant was allowed to park there with a disabled badge and the officer replied that the badge was not correctly displayed. Another neighbour came out and said she would get the Appellant to show his disabled badge. She went to get him, but as she did so the officer issued the Penalty Charge Notice. It was on the vehicle when the Appellant came out. The officer would not let the Appellant open the vehicle door and show him the badge. An argument followed. The officer's notes do not mention any contact with the Appellant or his neighbours.

I found the Appellant to be a credible witness & believed what he told me & the evidence of Mr L.

Whilst the badge must be displayed so that all the correct details can be seen, if before the Penalty Charge Notice is issued there is an opportunity for a badge in the vehicle to be shown to the officer so that he can check it is valid and then be correctly displayed, it is inequitable and unreasonable for the officer to proceed to issue a Penalty Charge Notice.

The appeal was allowed.

This isn't funny but traffic wardens are now known as Civil Enforcement Officers. A misnomer if ever there was one.

What Mr Mustard likes about this story is that the neighbours rally round and help each other just as they do in Mustard Avenue. The bad behaviour of council representatives leads to big society behaviour. Ironic really.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

18 February 2014

Commissioning already starting to crash and burn

Cast your mind back to 2009 when the idea was born to do away with silos and have a structure which cut across council departments, a very difficult management task in Mr Mustard's humble opinion. Look, here are some pretty pictures so it must be a great idea?

The next picture brings back to Mr Mustard's mind what a lovely elderly patient said about a blonde nurse at the hospital where he was a finance manager early on in his career

"Delightful to look at but not an earthly of use"

Mr Mustard does take a different view. It is that silos are useful as they are easily understood and there is responsibility and accountability. Whose fault will something be in a commissioning council? no-one knows, not "me" obviously, you can blame commissioning and they can blame someone in a department or a contractor.

The next report shows you that even the council are finding the non-silo approach hard work.

So those first two paragraphs really do set the tone. There are "various departments", two 3rd party contractors NSL and Capita (hey, you missed out Civica, they issue permits for the Saracens zone and are doing the Judicial Review overcharge refund exercise) (CSG is the new name for NSCSO in case you didn't know).

The there is a reference to "these complexities" and then we have "various" computer systems and one more, for enforcement and other functions, is currently being purchased and NSL are apparently leading on that.

What all this shows is that everything parking related would work much better if parking, and all the related activities, signs, line, permits, traffic management orders, were all under one competent manager, in one building, in Barnet, and not parcelled up into tasty morsels for an outside contractor to feast on (there is a statutory bar to certain functions being outsourced so why outsource half of the job and create the current dog's breakfast).

Even the report agrees "most importantly that responsibility for delivery sits within one single project board".

Interesting to see that customer satisfaction was the worst rated council service. This was found to be the case at the end of 2012. NSL took over on 1 May 12. Could the two events be related? An extra 30,000 parking tickets a year have shown up in the lack of satisfaction rating because many are undeserved.

Other points of the project report that Mr Mustard notes are that despite being probably the most interested and experienced citizen when it comes to parking tickets and that he had a meeting 4 days after the report was drafted with two of the people named in the report, that it wasn't sent to him at the time and he found it in an FOI response to another person. This is why he can publish it in full as it is already in the public domain.

Note this phrase

"there are also financial pressures on the Medium Term Financial Plan"

Has the council learnt nothing from the Judicial Review. Parking is not about revenue raising. You budget £7m from parking into the MTFP and if it looks shaky you try to get it back on track. You can put in a predictive figure but you shouldn't see it as a target. Please stop.

and this phrase

"whilst reducing the current risk to the MTFP and subsequently ensure parking income and expenditure is at least cost neutral going forward".

This whilst acceptable if the council are aiming for a no profit no loss result (which Mr Mustard doubts is the case) should not be a concern. There is no requirement to not make a loss on keeping traffic moving. It is a service that the council should provide, it should not be seen as a profit centre,

and here we go again

"the financial pressures cannot be ignored"

Yes they can. It isn't all about the money, is it?
It is in Barnet.
Until this mindset goes away there will always be negative feedback about parking.

The project sponsor is the Commercial & Customer Services Director. In the context of parking she cannot comfortably wear both hats which are mutually exclusive. If parking hits budget customers will be unhappy and if customers are happy the budget will be missed.  Difficult.

Whilst mentioning management have you seen how many people it takes to get anything done at the council? Commerce does not work this way.

On page two Objective 4 is screaming off the page like a Harry Potter Howler. Parking is not there to protect the general fund. This is wrong, both legally and morally.

Objective 8 would be funny if it wasn't such rollocks. Mr Mustard made an objection to the Accounts of Barnet Council to 31 March 13 that NSL owed the council (i.e. us) £137,343 for failure to meet Key Performance Indicators. These are apparently still being discussed. Don't talk about them, the rebate is due, it is a reward for failure and should simply be deducted off the next invoice.

Could somebody please go to the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 25th February 14 as Mr Mustard is double booked. Hopefully the Barnet Bugle will be there filming as ever (I'll buy you a pint of shandy some time Dan).

On page 11 there is more of that miserable channel shifting which Mr Mustard is dead against. Channel shift is an attempt to make residents use the communication medium that the council find to be the cheapest so they want to get you off the phone. Where to isn't stated, probably to a ghastly webform or self serve your answer on the Internet. If residents want to phone the council they should be allowed to and not forced towards the Internet especially as there are still lots of elderly people who drive but don't use a computer.

What happens when boroughs try to channel shift Mr Mustard from doing a parking ticket challenge by email (as Haringey and Camden have both found out to their cost), onto doing it by webform, is that he writes a letter. It costs Mr Mustard 50p or 60p but he doesn't care about that as he wants the information in a form that he can file where he likes on his computer and that stamp is good value to Mr Mustard. The council end up moving him from a fairly cheap method to the most expensive one. Barnet don't put it on the back of the PCN, which would be useful, but they do accept challenges to barnet@nslservices.co.uk and auto-acknowledge them.

If commissioning is causing this much trouble in parking what is it doing in all the other myriad services that have been contracted out to Capita?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard