13 August 2013

A wild Koos chase

The sniff test is handy, the 99% stat fails it

MOTORISTS who appeal against parking fines have a 72 per cent chance of getting their money back in Barnet, research has shown. This statistic relates only to final stage appeals to PATAS.

Figures released on Tuesday by London Councils, the lobbying organisation that promotes the interests of the capital’s local authorities, showed that 1,424 out of 1,965 appeals against parking tickets were successful, giving Barnet the second highest appeal success rate in London after the City, where the figure was 80 per cent. Correct. It is well known that the City of London don't bother contesting a PATAS appeal 50% of the time. They also only generated 702 PATAS appeals and issued 100,000 fewer PCN than Barnet. Not that many roads in a square mile though.

However, fewer than one per cent of parking tickets were challenged. Not the full picture. Only 1% of PCN were challenged at the office of the independent Adjudicator, PATAS. It was actually 1.23% and is rising and is more like 2% nowadays.

Over 2012/13, traffic wardens employed by NSL, the company which enforces on-street parking controls on behalf of the council as part of a £3.4million annual contract, wrote out 165,569 tickets in the borough. Oh dear me, payments declared in 2012/13 on the over £500 lists were £2.94m and £2.99m was in a report presented to the Contract Management Scrutiny Committee in June 13 so nowhere near £3.4m. No traffic warden (CEO) wrote out a single ticket, they were all printed and the 165,569 includes 15,358 for bus lane contraventions (which aren't parking) and a goodly number in car parks which are off-street not on-street.

The authority’s income from parking charge notices was £6.6m. Why then does the Special Parking Account say that PCN parking income was £5,003,385?  (+ £831,492 for Bus Lanes)?

The total number of penalty charge notices issued in London for illegal parking fell by more than 90,000 over the same period, from 4,131,738 in 2011/12 to 4,041,423. Hardly statistically significant and what is relevant for the local paper is Barnet's numbers which went up from 134,801 i.e a massive increase of 25% which happens to roughly coincide with the arrival of NSL traffic wardens on our streets.

Dean Cohen, cabinet member for environment, said: “The number of PCNs we issue in Barnet fluctuates year on year. An uninformative  statement of the bleeding obvious.

While the number of people appealing against their tickets has gone up, nearly 99 per cent of motorists receiving tickets accepted they were in the wrong and paid their fine. There are no fines. These are penalty charges. A fine is what you get from a Court for, say, assaulting a woman in the street.This little table tells you what Mr Mustard thinks the paid rate is (and many people pay not because they are in the wrong but because they have better things to do with their time - unlike Mr Mustard!)

PCN # £ Total 50%
105,819 110 11,640,090 5,820,045
44,392 60 2,663,520 1,331,760
15,358 130 1,996,540 998,270
165,569 98 16,300,150 8,150,075

99% 8,068,574

So this table shows the number of PCN issued at the lower rate, higher rate and for bus lanes. The £penalty per PCN type is shown and then in the third column the revenue if no-one took advantage of the discount. If people are paying they usually do so pretty quickly and thus get the 50% discount and if everyone did that, being so compliant, the income would be as shown in the 50% column and then 99% of that would be the £8,068,574 figure shown. The actual revenue was either the £6m figure given to Mr Mustard when he did the Inspection of Barnet Council's accounts in June or the £6.6m which he has now seen in the report to committee the same month. Taking the larger revenue figure and the lower theoretical income figure would only give a 82% recovery and if no-one took advantage of the discount the recovery rate would be only 40%

Industry average income per issued PCN is £45 and in Barnet that would equate to 45/98 or a 46% recovery rate. Mr Mustard thinks that the actual recovery rate will be about 70% but what matters is that Cllr Dean Cohen's name appears next to a statement that 99% has been recovered which is, to put it mildly, codswallop. Mr Mustard emailed Dean a few days ago to see if he really said that, or if his name was added to a statement by a council mouthpiece, and has not yet had a response. If one doesn't arrive within a day it doesn't usually arrive at all. It would be worrying if the Cabinet Member in charge of parking knew so little about it.

Of course the reason the council want to say that 99% of PCN are paid is to nudge people into paying up without appealing. Mr Mustard thinks everyone should appeal through all 3 stages for the very reason that once an independent person looks at your parking ticket they agree with you that it is wrong 72% of the time (and 90%+ of the time if Mr Mustard's beady eye has looked at the PCN).

Key performance Indicator 11 includes that NSL must at least match the industry average PCN collection at £45 and then increase that value throughout the 5 year contract. In 2012/13 (which includes 1 month before the contract commenced) income was £6.6m and 165,569 PCN were issued, giving an average per PCN of £40 and yet the KPI was shown as Green i.e. met. Mr Mustard is never going to understand reports to committee, despite reading hundreds of them, anyone would think the answers were fudged.

I am keen to look into why we are seeing increasing numbers of appeals allowed. Mr Mustard hereby cordially invites Cllr Cohen to pop round to Mustard Mansions and he will politely show him 50 PCN that are wrong and this explains why appeals are increasing. He will also make him a nice cup of tea and fill up the biscuit barrel. In the alternative Dean could simply read the blog or respond to the emails that Mr Mustard has been copying him in on about parking tickets from 2011 that should have been cancelled because the council left them to rot for over a year.
I know I’ve inherited an issue with road markings in the borough and I am keen to do something about it. Dean became the Cabinet Member for Environment (shouldn't that be Place?) with responsibility for parking in May 2012. Mr Mustard has rewritten this response. 

"I have known for 15 months that I inherited a problem with road markings in the borough and I have yet to do anything concrete about it"

Barnet Council’s contract with NSL is not based on the number of penalties issued. True, but it is based upon achieving a certain level of income. If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck...

So, if you dear reader get a parking ticket (PCN) don't become one of the 99% that doesn't exist, or even the estimated 70% who meekly cough up, set your mind to having a 3 round argument and you can save most of your punching power for round 3 when there is an independent referee who won't let the council use their weighted gloves. There is a guide to the process on the left of this blog. Download yourself a copy, read it and ask Mr Mustard about anything you don't understand. He hosts a small social club on a Monday evening once a month so you are always welcome to pop to that with your paperwork or you can have a private consultation at Mustard Mansions in EN5 if yours is a difficult problem.

A parking ticket isn't personal so stay calm if you get one, Barnet Council simply want your money for revenue raising. You can stop them.

Mr Mustard has just suggested the following to Richard Cornelius and Dean Cohen:

That leads me onto the whole question of education. Isn't it something that the council ought to offer for new drivers, old drivers, blue badge holders and regular offenders? Offer them the carrot of free education rather than the stick of a PCN. Wouldn't that make Barnet a better place to live?

Let's see what they say. If they really want to improve the compliance with parking rules then the best thing they can do is to educate the public.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

p.s. Sorry Koos to have to trash your article but it looks like a regurgitation of something the council press office will have given out and that should always make you slightly uneasy to print it unverified as there will have been a slant put on the information. Mr M.

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