31 January 2013

NSL traffic warden - incompetent or a cheat?

Dear xxxx (name redacted by Mr Mustard)

Oh dear, a rotten case for you to read about this morning and one which, if you cancel the ticket quickly, will reflect well on you and remedy some of the bad publicity that Barnet Council is about to get.

In the good old coins (days!), when we had cash parking meters, if a meter was out of order the motorist was expected to find the next nearest one and get a ticket from there and there was no question of a parking ticket being issued. When we changed to pay-by-phone the rules were deviously changed and this has given the council more opportunity to issue Penalty Charge Notices which are the mainstay of the special parking account. If you now pay using the wrong bay number you get ticketed as not having paid (for the correct location which may be as small as a 1 car space, 2 in this particular instance) and people take their cases to PATAS and usually lose on this point (although they may still get their ticket cancelled for some other reason). All errors (this word should have been "appeals")  to Barnet Council for innocent error are pretty much automatically construed against the motorist. The most extreme example of this was seen in the PATAS case 2120534362 when a motorist lost his appeal to the independent adjudicator, the first digit of the bay code being wrongly entered and the motorist ending up paying for parking somewhere in Canada, an obvious injustice, the system having been negligently designed in not stopping such an eventuality.

Now what if the traffic warden makes an error, or deliberately photographs the wrong bay in order to issue a PCN for non-payment. I think that compensation of the equivalent amount (£60 in this case, £30 if you pay within 14 days) should be made to the motorist who has been subjected to stress, inconvenience & time-wasting or is the subject of an attempted fraud.

Here are the two photographs from the council website. The first one clearly shows the vehicle parked on the south side of Percy Rd

and this next one shows the north side of Percy Rd.

As soon as I saw these photos I knew that the warden had used the wrong bay sign (whether accidentally in which case they aren't fit to do the job, or deliberately in which case they should be sacked as we don't want a cheat working on our behalf in Barnet) and here is the proof in the form of two more photographs that I took yesterday.

This photo clearly shows Cafe Buzz and the adjacent hairdressers which you can match to the council's photo with the car in it.

and here from the other side of the road, is the bay sign with the yellow computer sign on the wall behind it.

There has been an epidemic of missing PCN cases at PATAS and in this case the PCN went missing from the car. I have heard stories of traffic wardens issuing PCN, taking photos and then removing the tickets and walking off. I ask myself if that happened in this case?

It is clear though from the blacked out sign that the traffic warden was desperate to issue a ticket and so crossed the road and deliberately photographed the wrong sign. Now before you say that the sign has been blacked out since the parking ticket was issued (which wouldn't in any event explain why the traffic warden crossed the road) I will tell you that I go to Cafe Buzz most weeks (the breakfasts are excellent, I'll buy you one at Cafe Buzz some time if you would like to meet and discuss parking enforcement, gifts below £25 do not need to be published on the council website but should go in your directorate's local record). When I go there I try and use any blacked out bays and I photograph my vehicle and the sign every time that I do so. I therefore have a collection of photographs of that sign and here is one from 15 November 2012

which is the identical paint splodge to now, so the sign has been like that for months.

Now the unfortunate thing about this particular parking ticket is that it is for the car of Helen Michael, the owner of Cafe Buzz, and given that she has led the North Finchley traders' vocal opposition to the removal of parking meters and the massive hike in charges, this ticket could look like an act of retaliation as the over-zealous wardens that operate in North Finchley will have frequently seen her unloading, parking or driving her distinctive car.

The question is why traffic wardens would feel any need to cheat? There is huge pressure on parking income, it is viewed as a revenue stream (no matter what fine words are issued to the contrary) as otherwise when income dropped there would have been no need for a Parking Recovery Plan to be devised. The question is whether any such pressure comes from the Cabinet member, the Director of EPR, the Assistant Director of Highways, the parking client side contract manager, the NSL contract manager, or parking supervisor?

Mr Mustard will be blogging about this later on today. The sooner you squash the ticket the better you will look. In the unlikely event that you don't cancel an obviously unjust ticket it will be pursued all the way to PATAS and costs will be claimed for wholly unreasonable behaviour by the council. This PCN has the old invalid wording as well, just for good measure.

Best regards

Mr Mustard

since writing this blog the sign has been changed.

Update Thursday 31 January 2013

The response from the parking section at Barnet Council

Dear Mr Mustard

I have raised this with the appropriate manager at NSL Services and they have since confirmed that the Penalty Charge Notice was issued in error. This was due to an oversight on the part of the Civil Enforcement Officer and NSL have confirmed that the appropriate action will be taken. I confirm that the Penalty Charge Notice has been cancelled.

I have noted the request for compensation, and I would advise that an appropriate remedy has been applied in that the Penalty Charge Notice has now been cancelled as in line with our statutory obligation.

With regards to the Penalty Charge Notice wording, I can confirm that the matter is currently under review and therefore I am not in a position to make any comments at this time.

Kind regards
Redacted by Mr Mustard
Full marks to the council employee who saw that the proverbial was going to hit the fan and leapt into action. 6 hours 25 minutes to stop the rot.

What a laugh (except that attempted fraud is serious)  the parking ticket was "issued in error".
If you make an error it costs you £60 or £110. If the council make one they just walk away and think that the "remedy" of giving you nothing except to cancel the parking ticket that you shouldn't have been given is compensation enough! This was maladministration at the very least, a bunch of flowers wouldn't have gone amiss or a personal letter of apology signed by the traffic warden.

Mr Mustard has no idea what the review of parking ticket wording is concerned with so he will find out. He does know that every parking ticket issued from April 08 to early December 12 was non-compliant and would be cancelled if it got as far as PATAS. You have appealed haven't you?

Issuing 160,000 parking tickets a year is not making Barnet a better place, they are only issued because the council is addicted to the near £7m a year that is the profit from parking and parking tickets contribute most of it. The goose that lays the golden egg is well and truly in danger of being shot. We want our High Streets to survive, they need help not this sort of hindrance.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

18 January 2013

The foibles of the FOI system

The over exposure disclosure log

Two related blog posts to read this weekend with Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard ploughing the same furrow having both come across personal details of other residents that we shouldn't have whilst casually surfing the council website. So decide what you want to read first, serious and funny with Mrs Angry, or just plain serious with Mr Mustard, get yourself a cup of tea, ignore the snow and read. Enjoy your weekend. Barnet Council won't, they have work to do correcting their blunders.

Based on the above, council employees could be forgiven for thinking that the overall performance of the council is wonderful when to comes to FOI. Whilst pleased to see that more focus has been placed on this area, as Mr Mustard was, until what amounts to a ban came into force, the best customer of the FOI department and so he knows that the council didn't have a 100% record in September 2012.

How does he know? Well for a start he has 2 questions which were outstanding from September and are still not yet answered. His references are 1370 & 1371 and the council ones are 181337 and 180978. Mr Mustard has sent gentle reminders in that he would still like his questions to be answered. (Since the draft of this blog was written last week there has been some movement from the council but the further information provided doesn't make any sense and has been queried).

What is more, the council website tells you that they failed to answer one on time. Here it is.

You will have noticed an entire paragraph of apology showing that basically the FOI department lost control of the answering process and that it took 90 days to answer rather than the targeted 20.

These three omissions reduce the compliance rate down to 97% at best.

Mr Mustard has just noticed something else about this internal trumpeting. It was written on 17 October. The council is allowed up to 20 working days to respond to FOI. If a question is asked on, say, 28 September about traffic calming in front of Moss Hall school, as it was, then the council have until 26 October to answer. The council answered on that very day and yet the "aren't we wonderful" intranet message was issued on 17 October and is in the past tense. Tut tut, announcing results before they have come to pass. We don't just need salt to grit the roads with in Barnet, we need a hefty pinch of it to have to hand when we read council documents.

Two things helped September to be a good month.

The first is that the number of requests was historically low in that month at 93. Both July and August of that same financial quarter saw 117 requests so the lowest & easiest month was reported on by the internal communications wallah. Numbers are also lower than in early 2011 which saw the following numbers

Jan 11 - 119
Feb 11 - 122
March 11 - 145 (Mr Mustard was born!)
April 11 - 125

average - 128

so it was much easier to hit target in September 2012. It is interesting to note this fall from 2011 to 2012 as usually requests just keep rising with time. Come on people, you must be more inquisitive, it isn't as if loads of useful information is freely available on the council website.

The second reason is that it was in September 12 that FOI got the hump with Mr Mustard and starting deeming his requests to be vexatious. They didn't stop until they had made 23 requests vexatious and Mr Mustard stopped making requests in his own name because there wasn't any point any longer - that is effectively a ban. He has a battery of individuals who are happy to ask his questions and they can't be linked to Mr Mustard so miraculously the questions get answered and aren't deemed to be vexatious, funny that.

FOI rules are clear. It is the question and not the person that has to be vexatious. How does Mr Mustard know it is him who is being viewed as vexatious? Well because he took the first question that was deemed to be vexatious and asked a pillar of the local community to ask it again in the identical terms. Did the question then get deemed vexatious a second time? No, because it came from another person it miraculously became an acceptable question and was answered in the usual way. The complaint has just gone in to the Information Commissioner and the outcome will be known in 3 - 6 months time.

Just in case you were wondering what sort of questions Mr Mustard has been asking, here is a sample question that was deemed to be vexatious:

Please provide a list of all parking locations reported as defective by NSL CEOs during September 2012.

What on earth can be the problem with asking that?

Mr Mustard happens to know that there are other problems with FOI. There are problems with responses sent in RTF (Rich Text Format rather than in .doc or .docx) which open up as gobbledegook. The council could save us all the time of converting, or having to ask again for the answer in a readable format by not using their apparently non-standard version of rtf. When the question has been sent in by email and the answer is largely composed of text then the most effective way in which to answer is to reply within the body of an email and not to add an extra document that is not necessary and then the .rtf problem goes away. To add a spreadsheet is fine if the information is largely tabular in nature.

When you look at the answers which are published on-line there are other problems. There are answers which refer to attached documents but they are not available to download and that is where the meat of the answer lies so it is useless to publish an empty response.

There are other interesting problems. The published answers which are headed with the phrase "Do not publish" are always particularly interesting. The Tooting Twister is responsible for the website. Do you ever look at it Mr Palmer?

Sometimes the name, address and telephone number of the requester is visible in the question. That is a breach of Data Protection law.

The council managed to publish Mr Mustard's real name in one answer and then his address in another. The council were given the opportunity to investigate several months ago and if they did so they certainly didn't tell Mr Mustard the outcome. He has now complained to the Information Commissioner as he has found other much worse breaches of data protection in the disclosure log including the entire question from one person which discloses not only their name & home address but their email address and telephone numbers to boot.

There are other data breaches about someone in a care home and about toilets in a public park. Yet more about empty commercial properties and for all of these the published information contains the names, addresses, telephone numbers and/or email addresses of private individuals which should not have been put into the public domain by the council.

Mr Mustard wrote in June 12 about the need for more resource in FOI and none seems to have been added. The resulting mess is the outcome of a small number of staff doing their best with a new system and getting it wrong in an area where there just isn't room for error.

What needs to be done? The disclosure log needs to be taken off-line until every single one of the almost 700 published answers has been checked and shown to be compliant with the Data Protection Act. A review needs to be carried out of the staff resource in FOI to see if it is adequate.

There is a very useful website, Finchlinks, which brings together all of the Barnet related questions that have been asked through the Whatdotheyknow website for various public bodies. You can find it here.

The next paragraph was written before the date and then the blog post was held back and now we have even more snow so a good job that Mr Mustard didn't postpone just for one week.
Due to the anticipated snowfall on Monday it has been decided not to hold the usual second Monday FOI Club meeting in January. Please put the second Monday evening in February in your diary now. The 11 February at 7pm. A change of venue to be more central in the borough to the Bohemia public house, details here, and a slightly extended agenda to the Mr Mustard FOI, Social and Parking Ticket Club (yes, a catchy name, a Mr Mustard t-shirt to whoever comes up with the best alternative name)

bang opposite Cafe Buzz

near Tally Ho corner in North Finchley.

Still some room for improvement in FOI. You get 9/10 for improving the response time but 0/10 for your silliness in deeming 23 requests as vexatious.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Festive refunds - thank you Mr Reasonable

Barnet Council once again excelled themselves in December when the awfully mean 2 hour free parking that was offered during the weekend of 22/23 December (and the 23rd was a Sunday when parking charges are rarely due) was not sufficiently advertised and motorists stumped up £9,000 in error.

This problem was picked up by the ever vigilante Mr Reasonable who cleverly asked a Freedom of Information question ( the same question would have been deemed vexatious if Mr Mustard had asked it ) to find out the extent of the fiasco which you can read about here.

In the local Barnet Times newspaper today, on page 2, you can read an article headed "Refunds over festive parking confusion" where confusion means "complete and utter shambles" and we are asked to believe that the council spotted this problem on the day and ordered immediate refunds. What they didn't order was Verrus, who run the hated pay-by-phone system, to stop taking money in and so now we have the council making 5,200 refunds when they could have stopped the payments coming in at all.

If you paid for parking on 22 or 23 December and have not been automatically refunded for the first 2 hours which were free, send an email to parking.clientteam@barnet.gov.uk and get your money back. 

If you received a parking ticket and had parked for less than 2 hours (which the council can't prove one way or the other as they only observe for a minute or two) then you are equally due a refund if you have paid. Apply for one, or for unpaid parking tickets send in an appeal, at barnet@nslservices.co.uk and send a copy to parking.clientteam@barnet.gov.uk to make sure the message gets through. Give them the parking ticket number (usually starts with AG) your vehicle registration and your name and address and the amount you would like to be refunded.

Have fun.

Please let Mr Mustard know (mrmustard@zoho.com ) if you hadn't been automatically refunded or if you encounter any problems with the council.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard 

17 January 2013

Monstrous carbuncle

Mr Mustard is a fan of Waitrose, he is delighted that they are at the end of his road, rather than one of the monster supermarket chains.

Mr Mustard is not though a fan of over-development and ugly rectangular blocks being plonked on buildings in a way that is completely out of keeping with aesthetic feeling.

You can make your view known by emailing Ms Josleen Chug (this application isn't her fault, she just has to process it) quoting reference B/04779/12. You might find it useful to take a look beforehand at all the papers lodged on the planning portal, here. You can also add your comments on-line if you prefer.

Mr Mustard's neighbour recalls a previous attempt to build on this open space and demolish the bandstand, which isn't just used for bands but also for children's talent competition, Peppa Pig, a free cycle repair surgery, sale of Xmas trees and so on. That application was seen off, let's stop this one. Waitrose already stocks all the food you can eat and the store is fine as it is.

Mr Mustard would like to add that the planning application is actually being made by UBS as they currently own the Spires which is up for sale and would be worth more with a larger supermarket paying a greater rent which will doubtless all have been arranged with Waitrose in advance.

update 18 January 2012

Mr Mustard is the new boy in all things Barnet (despite working here for 25+ years) and is closely read by many residents who are passionate about their area and if they disagree with somethign they tell him, which he likes. So here goes with another resident's view of Waitrose, not a fluffy view at all -

Just read your blog about Waitrose. You say you like Waitrose. I boycott it and here's why

They pretend to be holier than thou, ethically minded.....

Several years ago they proposed to build a huge store opposite East Finchley Tube Station. Oh, you might say, but there's a park and a row of shops and a street of houses there so they can't build a store. Ah!
WRONG! Waitrose wanted to knock down the row of shops and a street of houses and GLH taxis and Park House (which was an empty building previously used by Barnet Social Services). but no-one wanted to move and Waitrose needed a compulsory purchase order to get them nice and cheap and bulldoze them to make way for their store. To get a CPO you have to be providing a community asset. So they declared that they would put a library on the First Floor of their new store. East Finchley has a lovely library. It is a listed building.There it is, in the heart of the community, next to Martins Primary School, (a community school). It was built there so as to be next to the school. Holy Trinity School and Oak Lodge Special School nearby. All these schools have trips to the library every week. No-one wanted a library on top of a supermarket, down by the tube station. By the time they had crossed 30 children over 8 roads to reach the library it would be time to set off back.
A campaign group formed WOW (War on Waitrose). A meeting was held in All Saints Church. It was standing room only.

Letters of protest to Waitrose came back with a cowardly, standard letter, basically saying, oh no, it's not us doing this, it's a developer, take it up with them!!! As if the developer wasn't working under orders from Waitrose. Hiding behind the developer just got people's backs up even more.

So we marched,hundreds of us, from the library to the park. We got ourselves on the tele. The Chair of Governors of Martins School was interviewed by the BBC. Waitrose backed off. I have never shopped in a Waitrose since.

They wanted the store there to attract Highgate and Hampstead customers.

They didn't give a monkeys about the fact that it would have destroyed our lovely High Road. The local shops we all love so much would not have survived. The park would have become a polluted, noisy hell hole. And they had shown that they had no morals, no social conscience. Their glossy cuddly "aren't we ethical" image is a facade.
So don't believe for one minute that it is the owner of The Spires idea to expand your Waitrose. Waitrose will be behind it, trust me.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

15 January 2013

Dark forces at work

the clear rectangle contained the number plate so has been redacted

Dark forces are at work within Barnet Council.

In order to meet parking ticket number expectations, (targets by any other name) NSL's traffic wardens roam the streets at night on their scooters looking for people who have parked on the pavement or across a dropped kerb.

The above is a sample of a parking ticket photograph taken after 9pm.

There is a prize if you can tell me the make of the car or the road this photograph was taken in.

Do you suppose that the independent adjudicator will regard this evidence as adequate as Mr Mustard somehow doubts it.

It is all very well for naughty motorists to get tickets but roaming the borough at night looking for minor or non-existent transgressions will slowly but surely drive motorists against the traffic wardens, the council and NSL and no good will come of it. Every unfair parking ticket loses the goodwill of the motorist.

How desperate the council must be for cash.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

11 January 2013

Promise me that you'll...

The judicial review omnibus

These Judicial Reviews are coming thick and fast. Surely if you were a council that kept on receiving them you would stop to reflect on whether or not you were making the best decisions; oh, this is Barnet, so probably not.

click to enlarge, back to return

10 January 2013

Wanted - parking meters please.

Part of the rather thin justification for getting rid of parking meters was the cost of dealing with vandalism and repairing machines. Nowhere did Mr Mustard see any document from the council setting out what steps they had taken to prevent vandalism (which wasn't quantified and probably not as bad as made out).

Whilst in Carcassone at New Year Mr Mustard noticed this machine in a public car park (he had himself parked the blogger bus on the other side of the car park, about 10m down a hill where it was free to park (why pay when you can walk the extra 10m?).

So here is a parking meter which is installed inside a solid metal cage. This both discourages casual vandalism as power tools will be needed for any attack and makes the cash box within much more secure. You can see the cctv camera on the right hand outside of the cage. There was another on the left hand side. It seems likely that vandalism of any of these machines in remote locations will have virtually ceased. Graffiti is common in France. There was none on this machine.

In addition the meter accepts cash in the form of notes or coins (the first hour was free) and credit cards.

What a pity that those in charge at Barnet Council didn't have sufficiently open minds to look at other options when they removed the meters. Maybe they will start to think for the future once they read this blog post.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

9 January 2013

A continental Christmas

Mr Mustard offers his abject apologies for having failed to write anything since before Christmas. He had produced a fair amount during the year and needed a rest so he popped over to the continent for some warmer air. There is an excellent 3 part review of the year 2012 on the Mrs Angry of Broken Barnet blog, starting here.

He stayed a night or two in Orléans, in central France, to the south-west of Paris and situated on the Loire.

Mr Mustard is never really on holiday though and in this town of 150,000 he noticed things that he would like to see in Barnet.

His hotel was close to the main railway station and only 5 minutes walk from the main square and on the edge of the shopping district. From the hotel window Mr Mustard could see this car park.

It has beautiful tarmac which must have cost quite a lot and yet the car park was free of charge. Think how that improves the quality of life of the motorist and trade for local businesses.

The Christmas of lights in Barnet were not plentiful or very attractive. This is how they are in one road in Orléans.

That is only half of that street. The other half is the same.

It isn't the only decorated street either. There were lots. Here is one more.

You will have noticed the tram in the earlier picture. Cars & buses, pedestrians, cyclists and trams all got on happily together thanks to well designed road layouts. Lots to learn there for Barnet.

The town square had a thriving food market well into the evening. Below the town square was the usual multi level car park. Barnet has few squares and none of them have parking below as far as Mr Mustard is aware (think Cavendish Sq just off Oxford St). We really do need to see more imagination and investment from the council when it comes to how we live. There is a lot to learn from on the continent.

Following these musings, normal service will resume.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard