28 June 2014

MOT time?

Need an MOT? Download this leaflet and you get another 10% off.

Mr Mustard has been in this garage. It is one of the cleanest and tidiest he has ever seen and that is a sign of a well run garage where people know what they are doing.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

27 June 2014

Talk isn't cheap

Yesterday at the Local Government Strategic Leaders Forum (no apostrophe even though there should be) there was a lot of tweeting from WeLoveLocalGov and Mr Mustard was on the tube and responding to a number of their observational tweets. Mr Mustard would love local government to be invisible, effective, cost efficient and really boring and in Barnet it isn't. Anyway, here is one tweet to which he responded something like this - if council tax hadn't been frozen for 4 years and then there was a 1% cut as an electoral gimmick (leading to 32 Conservative seats against 30 for Labour so that was a bargain then?) the amount of income available would have avoided the need for many of the dreadful cuts to provision for disabled children etc. (but in 140 characters so much briefer)

Now Mr Mustard visits the council offices at this time every year to have a rummage through the accounts during the 4 weeks when they are publicly available by law. He obtained the following invoice (Mr Mustard is a detail person but he didn't get much to chew on with this invoice - luckily he was only given the one page as 300+ blacked out pages would have been wasteful) 

So what you can see is that the council has 1,678 mobile phones and a bill for the month of £23,145

Mr Mustard thought that might be rather a lot of phones and he remembered that when he was at Policy & Resources committee on 10 June 2014 there was a report presented by Andrew "Black Hole" Travers (he spoke at the conference mentioned above so the tweet above may stem from his presentation), he is the Chief Executive if you didn't know and Chris Naylor, the Chief Operating Officer (sharpen your scalpel Chris as you need to cut the mobile phone bill and which others? management pay and numbers perhaps?) which disclosed that the number of Full Time Equivalent posts is 1,726 so there is a 97% chance of an employee having a mobile phone. Mr Mustard knows it makes sense for mobile staff but posits that the vast bulk of council employees are likely to be desk based. Mr Mustard wonders what the mobile phone issue protocol is?

Before moaning about the shortage of funds it is probably best to go through every single item of spending and ask the question; is this spending really necessary?

Mr Reasonable, a respected management consultant who before he went self-employed  worked for one of the largest worldwide firms of consultants so knows his stuff, offered to give the council a day a month of his valuable time about 2 years ago (he is currently run off his feet with work he is in such demand by sports stadia all over the world, but bloggers regularly out perform the average mortal) in order to review the cost base (he was using the 80/20 rule and was going to look at all invoices above £10,000 so would have looked at 20% of them and captured 80% of the spend - this is also known as the Pareto principle) but his offer was not taken up. The council should have snatched his hand off to obtain a free expert like that.

So WeLoveLocalGov there is a longer answer than can be tweeted in 140 characters. One reason we bloggers are up in arms about our local council and are critical is because we have evidence from many areas of spend that suggests Barnet Council really isn't very well run, despite the £6.67 million spent on Central Management (source, Council tax leaflet 2014/15).

You can comment below if you wish, unedited.

Yours frugally (unlike the council)

Mr Mustard

26 June 2014

An idyllic spot - for a PCN

What a lovely scene on the Ridgeway in Mill Hill with its chocolate box cottages. Sadly though the chocolate you get might turn out to be more unpalatable than one of Bertie Bott's Any Flavour beans and you may well leave this location with a nasty taste in the mouth. Why?

The reason is that despite most of The Ridgeway, NW7 being completely unrestricted there is an almost invisible CPZ zone. It extends to two short bays, the one outside this short row of cottages and another outside of the building to the left of picture (it would be one bay but for the dropped kerb).

Normally you would expect to see a pair of CPZ entry signs at each end of the zone but that would mean four large intrusive signs being placed on 50m of road in this delightful setting and they are optional as single yellow lines can be locally signed instead (it is only single yellow lines that a CPZ sign controls if you recall) A CPZ can be just these two bays and the restrictions are communicated by bay sign alone, like this (the yellow sign applies only to lorries weighing more than 5 tonnes and buses/coaches and stops them parking from 6.30pm to 8am)

are you scratching your head?
Mr Mustard has just had a PCN cancelled at this location due to a technical error which he found most amusing. The Notice to Owner was sent to Mr Mustard in respect of his client's car, in the name of Mr Mustard (in his real name that is) and of course Mr Mustard had never owned the car so he defended on that basis. What was also amusing was that the lady car owner got her PCN when she was dancing the tango at a local village hall (if you fancy learning there are lessons every Wednesday from 8.30 to 10.30pm - see this link. The first move that the teachers, Ann & David have to show you, is to move your car so you don't get a PCN) but it was NSL who put a foot wrong. Mr Mustard decided to let the parking manager know about yet another blunder by NSL and now the PCN has been cancelled and an apology has been received.

Mr Mustard wonders who lives, or used to live, at this location as to give them a CPZ to limit parking when there is loads of space, looks to be over-generous and unnecessary. You might think that the chances of getting a PCN in this remote spot are slim at 8.30 of an evening but that overlooks two points

1 - traffic wardens are roaming the borough in cars & on scooters looking for victims until 11 at night, and
2 - a resident of one of these cottages phones the council and asks for enforcement if you park there when you shouldn't (the road needs to be renamed The Snitchway?)

Why do people get caught at this location? It is because the sign is not set out in a logical manner. It should be like this:

Resident permit holders only
Mon - Fri 
8 - 9.30 am
2.45 - 4.15 pm
6.30 - 8.45 pm
Sat - Sun
10 am - 4 pm
6.30 - 8.45 pm

and then fewer people would go wrong. 

Mr Mustard quite fancies challenging a PCN for this location all the way to the end of the process and seeing what happens, so if you have one, do send it to mrmustard@zoho.com

Some good did come out of the cancelled PCN. A £60 donation was made to the North London Hospice in thanks for the help of Mr Mustard.

Why does this zone exist at all as it really shouldn't. The weekday times seen designed to limit the possibilities for school dropping off, the afternoon ones for pickup and the evening ones are targeted at users of the church hall. The weekend times are just aimed at church hall users. It seems a completely petty zone to Mr Mustard. If you live there though, and church hall parkers are ruining your life, do please comment.

All clear now?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

20 June 2014

Big Brother Blue Bin Bugs in Barnet

Bug, bug, bug, bug, bug, bug...................
Credit for this story has to go to a former and a serving councillor, both of whom have or had reservations about the recently introduced blue bin system. Mr Mustard is sure that, like him, they understand the need for recycling but they also value openness and transparency.

The first mentioned, the former councillor, is Brian Coleman who mentioned the bins were bugged some months ago. Mr Mustard seems to think that it was in a tweet but as Brian has disabled his account that tweet is history and old ones are hard to find. Mr Mustard's memory is that Brian thought the offending bug was behind the label, which it could have been as there are some like the one below which could be hidden there

but it wasn't. Mr Mustard then thought that the QR code must identify the property so he scanned it and got taken to the council web page on Recycling.

Mr Mustard then turned to the Internet and found the answer. The RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) bug is hidden under the lip of the bin, like so

the bug is the black circle with the 4 round holes
 and if you would like a closer look at the bug on its own, here it is

so that is a plastic cup containing a little electronic device and then it is filled with epoxy resin which sets, which contains your address (and goodness knows what else, Mr Mustard will ask) and which enables the council to track how much recycling you put out each week as the bin lorry can read the RFID when it is within 10cm of it and the new bin lorries weigh the bins as they go.

These little devices screw out if you have a suitable tool which Mr Mustard doesn't but you will find that with a strong screwdriver and a little leverage (wear gloves and safety specs please) the bug will be lifted out of its little hidey hole.

Some time back Mr Mustard tweeted the council as to who owns the blue bins i.e. is it the council or the resident but he doesn't recall getting a reply. Almost certainly if you have to pay for a replacement it must be you. If replacements are free then the council can argue that the bins are theirs thus the bug also belongs to them (even though they buy everything with the money that tax payers give them) and so you shouldn't destroy the bug. Make a little home for it somewhere safe in the house.

The Internet warned Mr Mustard that bin lorries could be programmed to not lift a bin which doesn't contain a bug. A clever but devious extra check on residents. He had to wait until blue bin day to find that his bugless blue bin was lifted into the air and emptied as per usual.

Readers may well recall that we had to have new bin lorries when recycling was brought back in house (and now there is talk of moving it out again; change is expensive so Mr Mustard hopes that idea comes to nothing). This must have been so that ones enabled to read RFID chips were obtained. The specification for the bins included that they would have RFID capacity and this may be the extra technical feature that won the contract for SSI Schaefer.

Now to the second councillor, the serving one, Cllr Khatri. Mr Mustard went to the first meeting of the Performance and Contract Monitoring Committee on 11 June. Here is the video. You can see Lyn Bishop the Director of Streetscene on goodness knows how much a year (when in 2011 she was an Assistant Director she was paid £88,986 p.a.) at about 21m 45s into the film talking about a possible reward/recognition scheme in a year or so when there is enough data and at 29m 30s up to 35m Cllr Khatri giving the secret nature of the scheme a good kicking, the sound could be better so he says

"the council........being very underhand"

Performance and Contract Management Committee Wednesday 11th June Item 5- from The Barnet Bugle Ltd on Vimeo.

Thanks as ever to Dan Hope of the Barnet Bugle for filming which gives us bloggers a backup resource to check that we haven't scribbled something down wrongly. There is a plan to change the layout of this committee so that the officers do not have to disrespectfully turn their backs on the public in future.

So when asked why the bugs were fitted to the bins the answer was to start collecting data, to enable a process of education and to bring in a reward / recognition scheme in a year's time. Later on Mrs Bishop says data isn't being collected at the moment but Mr Mustard is not convinced of that as otherwise how can an incentive scheme (we are to get points apparently) be worked out. Mr Mustard also thinks it is wrong headed. He already recycles all he can. So let's measure it. He generates say 10kg of materials each week. He will get points to turn into,say, Argos vouchers (just like the traffic wardens aren't incentivised?) if he generates 15kg of recycled materials a week. The only way to do that is to consume more (hic) or when he is looking after the neighbours' cats to tip their blue bin into his! Neighbours already share bins to save on clutter so who will get rewarded? and more likely, will the person who appears not to recycle at all get a letter and threatened with prosecution. The stick has been much more common than the carrot in Barnet hitherto. Will the cost of administration work out more than the value of the data collected or the extra recycling that has been generated?

As you will see from the video, Cllr Khatri was unhappy that the public generally didn't know about the bugs being in the bins, that they can be weighed and recorded to their address (this won't work at all in flats who have communal bins nor for the people who have asked for bags instead as they have no front garden, and the bags won't be bugged) and he thinks that the council have been very underhand.

Mr Mustard agrees with you Cllr Khatri.

This is typical behaviour of a council and especially of Barnet Council. Let us remind ourselves what the Chief Operating Officer claimed in the Guardian on 22 October 2013 

"The default setting is open government"

When did the new recycling system with undisclosed bugs start?
14 October 2013.

Has Barnet Council been open on bin bugs?

Has it hell as like.

You know what to do if you don't want big brother in your bin, simply remove and keep the bug safe. You are only obliged to recycle, not to submit to intrusive and undisclosed monitoring. 

Please do recycle though.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

19 June 2014

Local autocracy

Mr Mustard wasn't going to go to last night's Residents Forum but as he had been doing a little in the background to help the residents of Sellwood Drive with their hokey cokey pavement parking problem he thought he had better show willing for once. The reason he doesn't go is that he thinks the forums are simply hot air (the room in Barnet House was sweltering before the chair Lisa Rutter got speaking) and have no powers so what is the point.

He planned to sit at the back quietly and read his copy of Reclaiming Local Democracy, but not the 2 pages in which the famous four Barnet Bloggers get a mention (ignore the incorrect statement in the book that Mr Mustard is a lawyer, he isn't, he just knows a tedious amount about parking law) but the meeting was such a shambles and such annoying plans were being made that Mr Mustard found himself on his feet three times giving out an ear-bashing. Mr Reasonable had steam coming out of his ears and Mr Mustard had to ask him if he had brought his blood pressure pills along.

The meeting started badly. The format was not fully explained to people and that caused frustration. The visitors from Pollard Road, a notorious rat run (Mr Mustard has only used in once in 20 years but will now have to drive down it to see what the problem is) were frustrated about the time they had been told to come along at (6.30pm) when they really need to be at the next meeting, the area sub-committee, although only one of them could speak at it which annoyed them even more, which starts at either 7pm or when the forum finishes.

The printed meeting notice doesn't help.

What time is it?
If the forum finishes between 6.30 and 7pm, the area sub-committee starts at 7pm but if the forum finishes between 7 and 8.30pm that is the time that the area sub-committee starts. Clear? The notice says that it starts at the earlier of 7 or, in the event as the forum was a busy one, 8.30 so the official answer is 7pm which is impossible as some councillors are in both meetings. Governance don't seem to be able to get the simplest of things right. The word "earlier" should of course be "later".

The forum would have been a whole lot shorter if the attempt by Governance to refuse three lots of questions hadn't caused all three residents to complain separately and force their questions onto the agenda. There isn't of course enough time set aside for this forum when there are emotive issues like parking and rat runs to discuss. Everyone leaves unhappy.

There was a presentation by a very good governance officer, who understands what it means to be a public servant, on the £100,000 allocated to the Chipping Barnet constituency for local works of some sort. It isn't her fault that this scheme is a sop, you can buy sod all with £100,000 across an area that contains 100,000 residents which you can only spend on capital works with zero future maintenance requirement. Residents should be properly consulted on the whole billion £ spend of Barnet Council, not just an ickle bit of it.

The next presentation about the constituency and various statistics included a slide which contained the bullet point of Timebank. The presenter didn't know what it was! Please, don't make a presentation to an audience and then ask the audience, as you did, what Timebank is. Mr Mustard could have told you but Green Party Poppy gave a much clearer report. The employee should have looked this up on the council website before she left her desk.

After a lot of huffing and puffing Cllr Brian Salinger took all the Pollard Rd people away into another room to consult with them about what they wanted. This at least, was a good idea, although they didn't get to hear everything else in the forum. He, or one of the other ward councillors, should have done this before the situation reached fever pitch.

Cllr Rutter batted half of the points away that people should have seen their ward councillors first. If they are all opposition councillors they have no real power and haven't all been getting answers back from officers and the email for some of them is only just now working so contacting them was impossible. No-one seemed happy with her suggestion. There need to be clear rules about what sort of problems are handled where.

Cllr Rutter made a huge mistake in telling the no-nonsense Barbara Jacobson (of the Barnet Alliance for Public Services but asking in her capacity as a resident) that her question was not a question but a comment. It started with "Why" and finished with a "?". It looked like a question to everyone else in the room, or maybe it was an elephant as it was such a good question.

Mr Mustard comments

"Why did anyone vote for Lisa Rutter?"

The former St James the Great Church in Friern Barnet Lane has some parking problems caused by the congregation sometimes. The proposed solution of letting the church put their own cones out in the short stretch of road didn't find favour with officers who wanted to charge some unknown fee to provide cones (Mr Mustard may well have offered in the meeting to steal a few cones from elsewhere in the borough but wouldn't actually do such a thing) and wanted to slap down the heaviest possible restriction (copyright Bugle Dan) of yellow lines and no loading kerb marks in order to stop blue badge holders from parking there. Mr Mustard told the traffic officer that if he saw a Traffic Management Order (TMO) attempting to misuse loading restrictions in this way (there is no need for a loading restriction near the church as they aren't a shop having lots of deliveries) he would object to the TMO. It shows how power crazy some officers can get if they think they can bend legitimate rules in this way which would be an abuse of power. Blue badge holders should not be denied the opportunity to park near their chosen place of worship. Don't take problems to the council if you can sort them out locally would be Mr Mustard's advice.

Then we got to Sellwood Drive. Residents have long memories. one who had lived there for 37 years said there wasn't a parking problem until Barnet Council sold off some allotment land at the end of the road for a social housing scheme so it was the council that caused the problem as that increased parking demand. We discovered that a solution had already been identified by officers and was being implemented. hang on, said Mr Mustard, on his feet once again, whatever happened to consultation (remember what Judge Underhill said) and in the Hendon Forum issues list there is mention of a statutory consultation about changed proposals in Tenterden Grove, Garrick Way and Brinsdale Rd. If it is good enough for Hendon it's good enough for Chipping Barnet said Mr Mustard. So residents have been campaigning for weeks, local councillors and Teresa Villiers MP are involved and the solution is for officers to impose a scheme and start work without showing the plans to the residents. Idiotic and treating residents like children. A resident then mentioned that the workmen doing the work were themselves parked on the pavement. Uproar resulted.

By some stroke of terrible bad luck the council can't find the letter that they wrote to residents three years ago saying that PCN would not be issued for pavement parking. Filing must be in a right state at the council. A resident will probably give Mr Mustard a copy of the letter.

Barbara spoke up again. When the pavements were recently relaid in her road a line of brick paving was put at the edge. The workman told her that was so that all residents could put 2 wheels up on the pavement to make more room in the narrow road. Oh dear, this road had better be on the list of the ones that the council don't enforce in, at least until they lose the letter. Do not park on the pavement in your road unless you have a letter from the council saying you can. Please send any such letters to mrmustard@zoho.com

To sum up, the meeting was a shambolic, almost pointless, mess. If you want to see a Punch & Judy show the next meeting dates are 

22 October 14, 
15 January 15 and 
25 March 15 

so that will be 4 meetings in a year of 2 hours maximum duration each. The council so value your opinion that they allow 8 whole hours a year for 100,000 people to state it. That is what passes for democracy in Barnet. 

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

18 June 2014

The winds of change?

This could have prevented the current constitutional chaos
Last week Mrs Angry, Mr Reasonable and Mr Mustard submitted 17 questions between them to the Performance and Contract Management Committee. Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard were desperate for a sherbert by 10pm, the time by which a 7pm meeting usually has to end. We bloggers had used up our allotted time for public supplementary questions of 30 minutes (you too can ask questions, you don't have to write a blog, although the more the merrier). Far too many of the management earn in the £100,000 to £200,000 range and with a total bill for management in the Commissioning Council of £6,670,000 we still don't have anybody with the gumption to correctly allocate committee representation by party in proportion to the number of seats won at the 22 May 14 elections. This has made the decisions of the committee unsafe and we are going to have to do it all over again. Mr Reasonable luckily had to be elsewhere so 3 hours of his life weren't wasted.

The one piece of possible good news at the meeting was that in response to one of his questions the parking manager told the committee, and thus Mr Mustard who was seated right next to him at the committee table, that an extra employee was being taken on in the thin client Parking side of Barnet Council, increasing it from 5 to 6 people at an annual cost, including on-cost, of £45,000 which does of course wipe out 7.5% of the supposed annual contract savings. Mr Mustard has always said that the thin client isn't fat enough to properly manage the contract and here is some proof of that.

The extra person is going to review representations made against parking tickets and get involved with PATAS evidence packs. Let's hope that someone empathetic with common sense is appointed and then we won't keep seeing cases like this one in front of the independent adjudicator at PATAS.

The Appellant attended the hearing in person. The Authority was not represented.

The Appellant was taking his adult son to a care centre. He parked on a yellow line. He says, and I accept, that he displayed his blue badge but his son must have knocked it off the dashboard.

The Appellant's son has mental health learning issues and he is autistic. The Appellant takes him to a care centre regularly. The Appellant is not in good health himself. He is 75 and has a heart condition. He says that his son has to be escorted into the care centre. On this occasion, the Appellant also had to explain to the staff that his son was in a very agitated state.

I accept under the circumstances that the alighting exception applied. I am allowing the appeal.

Wasn't the citizen meant to be at the centre of everything the council does? Currently a cash till is.

Isn't it amazing that none of the management has the decency, having right royally cocked up a fundamental matter, to resign?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

17 June 2014

Treble chance

Faced with this car what would you think? a bit of opportunistic if somewhat adventurous parking, or a car that has broken down? This is at the junction of the 6 lane A1 and Hendon Lane.

It immediately struck Mr Mustard that the car had broken down and been pushed into a place out of the way. It is possible to park 50 yards away with no restriction, as he did, so it makes no logical sense for this car to be here in contravention. 

Naturally, traffic wardens have seen this as a feeding frenzy and given out 3 PCN for parking adjacent to a dropped foot way (normally only used for cars in the carriageway not those on the pavement for which a code 62 PCN would be more accurate, although both are higher level contraventions) on 9, 10 and 11 June 14 (there may be others which are not on the windscreen). Two of those PCN are by the same traffic warden.

What would have been better? A search of the DVLA database and a letter to the registered keeper.

Ticket targets in Barnet? No, of course not.

Common sense? no, none of that either.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

15 June 2014

Parking permits - forced channel shift

Forced channel shift is a terrible way to treat the public. The Government are now trying it but that doesn't make it right. In essence, what the council will do is to force everyone to apply for their parking permit on-line, whether or not you own a computer, not because it is the best method (although Mr Mustard uses it a lot and younger folk than him - see grey hairs in previous blog post - will be perfectly happy with it) but because it is the cheapest method for the council to process. We are letting the cost tail wag the service dog and it is high time we brought councils to heel.

What councils forget is that they are there to serve the public, who provide the funds, and so if the public prefer a more user friendly method that costs more, they should be allowed to use it. There are, of course, equalities issues with making older people and disabled drivers use a computer and a scanner (to upload a copy of, say, a car log book) or they have to lose some of their independence and get someone with the necessary computer skills to carry out the task for them.

Mr Mustard predicts that sometime in the future a charity will spring up which opens a shop, with plenty of free parking for blue badge holders, and provides a place where old folk can go and get this sort of thing done for them, computer lessons if they want and have a hot drink and a chat. This would help to get them out of the house and combat loneliness. The council might even be persuaded to make a grant to assist the charity as applications all made by the same person would go through more smoothly because they would know what is required.

Amendment  - 15 June
Don't ask Mr Mustard for winning lottery numbers as he will give you last week's ones. Age UK already do as much computer help as you could need. See here

Mr Mustard felt that with Capita taking over the issue of parking permits in their Coventry office, and coincidentally there being a backlog of applications, he would remind one of the parking managers of his opposition to forced channel shift and this was the response he received. Mr Mustard had become involved because a lady in her late 70's had trouble with obtaining a permit for a new car and didn't understand the PIN code system she was being forced to use.

Dear Mr Mustard

There is no forced channel shift. Residents are able to renew, purchase or transfer permits via post.

Mr Mustard is somewhat sceptical. He went on-line to see if he could download a form in order to apply manually. Every menu he clicked he ended up on the page that forces you to renew on-line, this one:

Mr Mustard tried again. He searched for "parking permit" and got this page

Great thought Mr Mustard, he had beaten the system. He clicked on "the attached form" and got this page:

Downloads do not accidentally fall off the council website, someone in power has taken an executive decision, a bad one in Mr Mustard's opinion. Despite what one of the parking managers says, forced channel shift is being well and truly foisted upon us. The manager reads this blog and so will doubtless now show Mr Mustard where the forms are to be found (in the council's libraries?) or it will quietly reappear for downloading.

Have you had a permit renewal since 1 May? Do let Mr Mustard know how it was for you?

Is your permit due, or even overdue for renewal? Don't think you can rely on council reminders as they can be less than reliable. Go and look at your permit in your car now and if your permit has expired phone 020 8359 7446 for a dispensation. Two things they probably won't tell you about the dispensation:

1. It only applies from the next day.
2. It usually only lasts for 14 days.

If in doubt move your car off the road or outside of the zone as little mercy is shown to those innocents whose permits have expired through no fault of their own.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

14 June 2014

Blogging away

Last week Mr Mustard had a holiday, he had a new motorbike and he needed to get some miles in and he went to Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and France (Vosges & Ardennes). Thus he missed the ceremonial inauguration of the mayor. He did however visit Vauquois where the enemy lines were very close in World War one.

Never think however, just because fewer blogs are being written that your bloggers are sleeping. They may be calm on the top but underneath there is an awful lot of paddling going on and a lot of juggling of work and family.

Between the three of them, Mr Reasonable, Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard independently submitted 17 questions to the Performance & Contract management Committee of 11 June 14 and here they are.

That entitled them to ask up to 17 supplementary questions which is where the fun comes in as the supplementary can be a bit of a curve ball. You can see the extra questions being asked here (thanks to Dan of the Barnet Bugle)

The public are, in this supposedly open and transparent council, only allowed 20 extra questions or 30 minutes, whichever runs out first. We ran out of time.

The answer to question 17 was wrong as the number of PATAS appeals exceeded the number of formal representations which is impossible. A correction is awaited. This should have been noticed before the public questions were published.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

13 June 2014

PCN - retain the discount & gain time to pay

So it is the 1st of the month and you have received a parking ticket or a bus lane contravention. You accept you were in the wrong and want to take advantage of the 50% discount but you are stony broke at the moment. If you pay the amount now you will be short of food or travel to work money. What do you do?

(First of all if the PCN is for parking and sent to you by post you either have to pay the 50% amount within 14 days or the full amount within 28 days. You can slow down the full amount but you lose the chance to pay at a discount.)

The 14 days starts from the date of the PCN and includes the first day, so for a PCN issued on 1 June the 14th day will be the 14 June (i.e. add 13 to the date). You can appeal using the council's computer which is a horrible straitjacket and doesn't give you a copy of your challenge, so Mr Mustard almost never uses it.

You can appeal by post but somehow they can "go missing" so Mr Mustard uses the signed for service to be sure.

Best of all is to use the email method. They don't directly advertise this on the council website or put it on the PCN but do accept representations by this method as that is how all of Mr Mustard's are done. 

The address, which shows on this link, is barnet@nslservices.co.uk

If writing Mr Mustard would wait only until day 10 and then send in your challenge.

If using the on-line system or email he would still only go as far as day 12 or 13 and then send in the challenge.

In theory this freezes the PCN from progressing until the council reply. They try to do this within 14 days but often don't manage to do so. Then they must re-offer the 14 days discount period again. If they don't they have committed a procedural impropriety (otherwise known as a blunder) and then you might as well appeal through the next two stages (in response to the Notice to Owner and after that if rejected to PATAS) which will take another 3 to 6 months and give you more time to pay up should you lose. Do ask Mr Mustard for advice if this happens to you.

If they do offer the discount again then you are most probably into the month of July and got past payday and achieved your objective.

There is always the chance that your challenge will be accepted and the PCN cancelled and then you won't have to pay anything at all. Some recent figures show, although Mr Mustard has asked for them to be looked at again as he thinks they are wrong, that of 1354 initial challenges to PCN in March 14, 252 of those PCN were subsequently cancelled (although not necessarily straight away) so that is about a 1 in 6 chance.

The more that PCN are challenged the less profitable it becomes for the council. Together we can make them behave more reasonably.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

4 June 2014

Pay-by-Phone - an obvious flaw - easily fixed

An evidently persistent lady, probably one of his readers, has kindly emailed Mr Mustard to tell of her success in recently obtaining a refund of £30 that she paid in April 2013 in respect of a PCN which was issued because she had paid £1.10 for the wrong car. She had spoken to an operator and added her new vehicle and logic dictates that 99% of the time most people will have sold the old one. Why then, when you are transferred back to the automated payment system to finish your transaction and it defaults to the last car you paid for which will of course be the one you just sold.

Wouldn't it be better if adding a new vehicle wiped the default option and if the operator also asked you if you had sold a car.

That way the available cars for you to pay for is kept to the minimum as is the possibility for error.

If the council are committed to truly helping residents they will ask Verrus PayByPhone to implement such a simple software change.

If however, they want to revenue raise from your unforced error, they won't.

Let's see whay they do? (the council do read this blog & my tweets @_MrMustard)

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

(Mr Mustard recommends going on-line if you have access and doing the change yourself. He has actually registered 3 vehicles himself but he hasn't paid any money ever; it's just in case one day he has no other choice; for now, he will continue to park on the edge of a CPZ and walk).

p.s. If you ahve paid for the wrong car in the past and  ended up paying the PCn you might as well ask for a refund of the parking charge. You haven't, after all, had any consideration for it. Send your request to barnet@nslservices.co.uk

2 June 2014

Have councillors cut their allowances by 9.5%? (No)

Barnet UNISON Press Release: 2 June 2013

Barnet UNISON organised a strike ballot which closed on Tuesday 27 May 2014 in response to a 9.5% cut in pay being imposed on our members.

Our members working for Your Choice Barnet have delivered a 100% vote for strike action.


In February 2012 Barnet Council transferred Learning Disability and Physical and Sensory Impairment services for adults to a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) called Your Choice Barnet (YCB). About 160 staff (145.6 Full Time Equivalents) in Adults services transferred to the LATC. Following a restructure and cuts to pay on shift allowances there are now only about 105 FTE working for YCB.

This is a resounding ballot result and vindication of why Barnet UNISON has always said the additional 9.5% cut was unacceptable both to our members and the future for these critical frontline services. It is not feasible to continually attack low paid workers and expect them to take it without a fight and our members are not prepared to put up with joining a race to the bottom that is now common practice in the social care industry. The business case for this outsourced service was flawed from the outset three years ago and to date we have yet to see any financial figures which demonstrate this service will be able to deliver new business.

Our members are taking a pay cut in order for YCB to repay Barnet Homes a loan borrowed at commercial rates of interest!

Last year Barnet Council brought back the recycling service because they felt they could do a better job, which is why we are asking them to bring this service back in house in order to ensure a safe and secure service for Adults with Disabilities in Barnet.

The last twelve months have seen a sharp increase in the numbers of agency staff and zero hours contracts being used to deliver these services. The attacks on staff have undermined morale and led to an exodus of experienced staff. For many of our members this is a last chance to save the service.

UNISON Branch Secretary John Burgess said: “Our members have always been clear they are fighting for their jobs and the future of the service. We are now seeking an urgent meeting with Your Choice Barnet to see if talks can avert having to take strike action.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis:

"Your Choice Care Workers are fighting to preserve a service to some of the most vulnerable people in society and I want express my admiration and solidarity for a brave and principled group of people."

"Many of our members have said that the 9.5% cut in pay will mean they simply will not be able to pay their bills and some would struggle to keep their homes. This outstanding strike ballot of 100% for strike action shows they have the courage and determination to fight for these critical frontline services.”

End of press release.

Care workers have no choice but to strike as otherwise where will these attacks on their terms and conditions end? If Tracey Lees, the £100,000+ a year head of Barnet Homes which runs Your Choice and the management team of both organisations are taking the same level of pay cut Mr Mustard will delete this post.