31 August 2014

Emmaüs - High Barnet

a bargain at £30.
Mr Mustard knew about Emmaüs as he had. as part of his language learning, translated an article about them from Le Figaro, many years ago. He had been years ago in the St Albans branch to look at their stock which was large, varied and jumbled.

Mr Mustard didn't mind, for once, that yet another charity shop was opening in the High St as to his mind the location is a difficult one for a retailer to make a profit in and because Emmaüs do such good work in helping people get their life back into shape.

So when a friend said she needed some more furniture for her daughter's bedroom Mr Mustard took her round to Emmaüs in the lower section of Barnet High St

picture credit: http://www.emmaus.org.uk/barnet
and we found a clean, well laid out shop with plenty of good quality traditional and modern furniture ranging from the home decorated (collage) £30 shelved cupboard above to a solid rosewood double extending table and 6 chairs at £795, an exquisite piece (which my friend doesn't want you to buy as she covets it - Mr Mustard is in trouble again for blogging). The staff were also friendly and helpful.

Now for the obligatory warning about parking. It was a Saturday and the single kerb marks / flashes / blips tell you that the no loading ban is part time and the rather worn markings alert you to the fact that there is a No loading sign nearby. On a Saturday you can park outside the front of the shop at any time to load a piece of furniture that you have already bought and paid for. You cannot park there for 20 minutes whilst you browse.

During the week you can load outside the shop between 9.30 am and 5pm. Don't be long as the road is quite busy and be careful as the path is much higher than the road.

For those who would like to see him in person the official opening by Terry Waite CBE is on Saturday, 20 September 2014.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

30 August 2014

Find your car stolen & get no help from Barnet Council / NSL / Capita

probably stolen, joy ridden & then dumped

Regular readers will know that Mr Mustard has an agony uncle column in the local Times newspaper group of papers and he gets requests for help from time to time. One that didn't get into the column but onto the front page was the case of Lili who was unfortunate enough to have her car stolen and then find she had 11 PCN to deal with (she hadn't quite realised the scale of the problem).

Lili had told NSL the car was stolen but they wouldn't take her word for it until the local paper got involved when suddenly she was telling the gospel truth (and she was on her way to Church when she found her car missing - if you can find something that is missing?)

Here are some extracts from the correspondence:
extract from the Met Police victim of crime letter
So, clearly a motor crime has been committed, quite possibly the crime of TWOC-ing - taking without the owner's consent.
Barnet Council / NSL's first response of 29 May
so this first response doesn't think of the victim of crime as an innocent citizen, a law abiding citizen deprived of her mode of transport worth £25,000, oh no, what is more important is that she might be trying to avoid a series of PCN worth £110 each. Very generously, the council offer the innocent pensioner the opportunity to pay £55 for a contravention that she did not commit and as there are 11 of these PCN presumably the council would be happy to relieve an honest citizen of £605 for not doing any wrong.
email of 1 June to Barnet Council / NSL
So, the crime reference is provided. It seems highly unlikely to Mr Mustard that people would go round making these up. You can tell from the tone of the correspondence that the case is genuine (27 years of debt collecting means that lies jump off the page for Mr Mustard)

letter of 11 June

A follow up as a 70 year old keeps up with her correspondence faster than NSL do.
Data Protection Act; the Police will not tell Barnet Council anything
This final letter, before the matter came to the attention of Mr Mustard and the local paper, at which time things suddenly changed, is the unhelpful product of a closed mind. Sadly, after a while, many parking people succumb to the philosophy that motorists are lying scum and any cancellation is a let off. That is misguided thinking which needs to be changed.

The funny thing is that as soon as a journalist asks about the PCN they are all magically cancelled (except they are currently live on the council computer so reams of paper will still arrive) without any further evidence being provided.

The system is wrong. It needs to be changed.

Firstly, the honesty question. A Notice to Owner contains the following declaration.

A person who knowingly or recklessly makes a false representation regarding an important fact is guilty of an offence and on summary conviction may be liable for a fine of up to £5,000.

Mr Mustard thinks that the whole way that parking PCN works is the wrong way round. If you do nothing, and don't engage with the process, you end up being automatically guilty of the misdemeanour of others and could end up with a bailiff seizing the car that was previously stolen and returned because you missed a deadline or didn't respond.

Even when you do respond the council expect you to jump through a load of hoops rather than believing you.

What should happen?

There should be a helpline (not with ruddy Capita who have nothing to bring to the party except a call centre which has to deal with a myriad of call types and don't have the ability to actually cancel a PCN - unless you know otherwise?) which you telephone and give the relevant car registration and your contact details.

Then when a PCN is about to be issued to the stolen car, the hand held equipment erupts in a cacophony of sound, notifies the office, and then NSL telephone the owner, on behalf of the council, to tell them that the vehicle has been found and where it is.

A PCN is not issued (hasn't the motorist got enough to worry about without stupid paperwork?). Any or all PCN which have been issued during the period of the theft are automatically cancelled without further ado.

Result: the motorist thinks the council are wonderful.

Mr Mustard has added this idea to his draft parking policy.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

29 August 2014

Secret free parking - so secret the traffic warden doesn't know.

Hadley Green, EN5
One of the supposed benefits of PayByPhone is that if you can see the sign from the comfort of your car then you don't need to leave it. Regular users of the system who stop at the same location quite often only need to check that the sign looks like the one that was there last time they parked and then make their payment.

Should there be a 2 hour free period, it should be on the face of this sign which is on Hadley Green in Chipping Barnet, just past the pond on the right as you head north.

There is a free 2 hour parking period at this location (and unlimited free parking after 2.30pm in the week until 8 the next morning but not on a Saturday) but you would only know if you got out of your car and walked around the other side of the post and found this second sign, which is set rather too high for easy reading:

So where shall we start?

The council have failed to properly sign the rules so people have paid and been given a PCN in error. They should all be automatically refunded.

Many people will have paid for parking that should have been free. You can ask for a refund of all up to 2 hour payments as they have been paid under mistake, going back to when the free 2 hour period started in December 2013.

A traffic warden issued a PCN there on 11 August 14 to a lady who knew the rules and stayed for less than 2 hours. Her initial representations have been rejected. Mr Mustard is about to take over and then they will be accepted, he thinks and if they aren't the council will waste a £40 fee going to PATAS where they will lose.

Don't the Notice Processing Officers who rejected the representations know there is 2 hours free at this location either?

If traffic wardens had regular beats they would get to know the area and the rules better. Mind you it would help if the signs which they have to enforce were correct.

Anyone would think that the council didn't want you to take advantage of the free parking.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Update 15:20

Mr Mustard now has a copy of the thoroughly amateur and non-compliant sign that the council did put up last year and which has gone west.

28 August 2014

PCN down, for now, in 2014-15

The council seem to have been quick to tell Mr Mustard that the number of parking PCN issued in the first 18 weeks of 2014-15 was down on the previous year, which is the truth, down from 55,055 to 45,802.

The truth as always is a movable feast and the decrease could well be related to the fact that the start of the year saw lots of changes in the parking department with new enforcement software and a change of permit processor from in-house to Capita. It could also be that lots of traffic wardens decided to move on and the replacements take time to get up to full churning out PCN capacity.

Anyway here is a little graph of the numbers

If Mr Mustard had been given only the first quarter he might have thought that there was genuine reduction in numbers but once we get to week 15 normality has more or less returned.

The Special Parking Account is £1.7million behind projection for the current year and this will be discussed at committee on Monday and at that point we will see if the reduction in income is being taken on the chin by the council or if there is a plan to make up the shortfall in other ways, such as ramping the number of PCN up even higher such that by the end of the year we will be back where we started.

Mr Mustard will keep an eye out for you.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

27 August 2014

PCN up in 2013/14

Type 2012/13 2013/14 Up/Down %
Parking 151,026 150,456 -0.38%
Bus Lane 15,358 16,577 7.94%
Total 166,384 167,033 0.39%

Although not statistically significant the number of PCN issued in 2013/14 by Barnet Council (NSL) was slightly up on 2012/13. This doesn't mean that you residents and other motorists parked more badly than previously, only that the number of traffic wardens on the beat was about the same (probably) and/or that the projected Special Parking Account income had been slightly raised from one year to the next.

Another post is coming which will tell you they are down in 2014/15 (for now).

Whether up or down there is a heck of a lot of them.

Mr Mustard doesn't quite get why any local would still drive in the A5 southbound (northbound is in Brent)  bus lanes as any regular driver on that road must know the times by now. Don't think you can take a chance and the operator won't see you as the operator is a computer by the name of Zenco which is more efficient than a human as it doesn't pop out for a tea break or look the wrong way.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Wake up NSL

In the contract between NSL and Barnet council it is the responsibility of NSL to use forms that are compliant with the law. Parking is supposed to be their area of expertise. You would think then, that the correct email address for the Traffic Enforcement Centre would be known to them and put on all forms. Here is a form TE3 that was issued on 1 August 14.

note that the email address provided for the TEC is customerservice.tec@hmcourts-service.gsi.gov.uk which was stupidly long in the first place and has now, sensibly, been changed to the one shown in this extract from an email which Mr Mustard received on 16 July 2014.

If you now send an email to the long wrong email address which is on the form that NSL sent you it is going to bounce and cause you to have to hunt for the new one, of tec@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk thus having your time wasted and causing you extra stress and inconvenience.

Luckily the motorist concerned knew Mr Mustard and he knew the correct address so the difficulty has been side-stepped but 99% of the people who get these Orders for Recovery will not know the TEC address has changed. Ironically if you don't update the address on your V5 (car log book) you will get some sanctimonious words in a rejection of your representations from NSL, on behalf of Barnet Council, telling you that you should by law have updated the address within 14 days of moving. Looks like someone needs to remove the plank from their own eye.

This really isn't good enough service.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

26 August 2014

The cat is out of the bag.

one track mind; traffic wardens ride the PCN Express.
Here are a couple of sentences from a Notice of Rejection of Representations that a Notice Processing Officer (Mr Mustard has spared your blushes and kept your name secret although you need a serious amount of retraining, or your managers do, or NSL need their contract terminating as they are clearly not doing what was contracted, this would be the best outcome) sent recently to a motorist who has opted against paying £110 and instead appealed to PATAS (which costs the council £40 - should NSL really be trusted to take decisions which have implications for the council coffers?). The bold and underlined type is by Mr Mustard.

I apologise if you were given incorrect advice from the CEO. Please note that the job of the CEO is to enforce parking regulations and not give advice to motorists.

Oh dear, Mr Mustard has a copy of the parking specification which forms part of the parking enforcement contract. This section is relevant.

comply with all laws includes traffic wardens parking legally themselves
Mr Mustard hasn't seen much fairness, courtesy or reasonableness in the over 100 Barnet Council PCN he has touched in 2014.

So the way that this NSL employee sees things is that traffic wardens are there purely to issue PCN and if someone asks where they can safely & legally park the traffic warden can ignore them as issuing PCN is paramount. There aren't any targets of course, oh no, but there is only one unofficial target, issue as many PCN as you can.

What an insight we have gained into the minds of the back office staff at NSL. Mr Mustard doubts that this employee is a rogue operator.

Have you got a terrible letter from the Parking Service (service, ha!) Do share it with Mr Mustard, and the world. Send it to mrmustard@zoho.com

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

(if the council parking manager wants to investigate & cancel this PCN the reference is AG04405218)

25 August 2014

Bank Holiday parking enforcement

Even Mr Mustard was confused by the guidance on the Barnet Council website about Bank Holiday enforcement and so he suggested a simple solution which was to put up a list of contravention types and whether they are enforced or not on Bank Holidays. The council have listened as they know that what Mr Mustard says often makes sense.

Should that be "Residents' bays" or to avoid the apostrophe problem, "Bays for residents".

Please don't block the dropped kerb of someone you don't know on a Bank Holiday or block a cycle lane or make it hard for the blind or people pushing a wheelchair or a pram to use the pavement.

Double parking is defined by the whole of your car being more than 50cm from the kerb.

You don't have to go to a shopping centre on Monday, you can go to one of our many High Streets and park for free. Yippee. Help keep trade local.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

24 August 2014

The post Holiday blues

So you travel the world to places like India and Egypt where you don't have to worry about parking tickets and can learn things and soak up the local atmosphere. You meet friendly locals, relax, enjoy the local cuisine and drinks, improve yourself by visiting the wonders of the world and you don't worry about your car thousands of miles away as it is outside the house in the residents bay - what could possibly go wrong?

What could go wrong is that the council didn't send you a permit reminder and it expired before or during your holiday. Mr Mustard has already sorted out one such problem for a teacher in his road and is now challenging two PCN for a second neighbour, a college Head of Department.

The more notable cases though did go abroad on holiday. The first one, a respected pillar of the community, came back and didn't use his car straight away and so didn't see the 3 PCN for a few days. Mr Mustard has sorted them out with the parking manager (you dear reader will have to take your chances with NSL through the usual process unless you care to ask Mr Mustard for help which will be freely given) and discovered that there were actually 4 PCN which had been issued.

The second multiple PCN case was for a businessperson who is very busy with their business in central London. They knew their permit had expired, renewed it and obtained a dispensation which had expired before the permit arrived; a complete mess. They also had 3 PCN and dealt with them themselves and bent the ear of the local councillor who they know reasonably well. Their 3 PCN were cancelled as were the other 4 that they didn't know about.

What Mr Mustard noticed from the 3 PCN he dealt with, once he had downloaded all the photos, was that the number of PCN envelopes in the photos as the days passed by did not go 1,2,3,4 as they should have done. Mr Mustard has noticed lots of individual PCN go missing and that means that the motorist misses out on the opportunity of a 50% reduction if they should choose to pay. What Mr Mustard suspects is that if a traffic warden comes along he might examine the previous PCN (or hunt through 4 or 5 plastic wallets for the most recent) which he/she is allowed to do but that they don't all put them back, they may pocket an earlier one or two. Of course if they open a plastic wallet and put the PCN back in it, it may be open to the weather and get ruined. Some PCN are not stuck to the screen but merely slipped under the wiper, a practice of which Mr Mustard does not approve.

Having examined an existing PCN another one should not be issued within 24 hours, as that is what the Traffic Management Order says, but frequently are. This should be programmed into the software so that a second PCN cannot be issued within 24 hours. Is it any surprise that the default is to issue rather than to not issue?

Mr Mustard's experience is that if the council (NSL) didn't cancel them all and that you ended up at PATAS an adjudicator would, at the worst, treat the car being parked for a week and getting 7 PCN, as having committed one continuous offence and cancel all PCN except the first one and properly argued with evidence of previous year's reminders from the council also cancel the first one on the grounds of reasonable expectation. A total penalty of £770, for going on holiday for a week, does not fit the crime (it isn't a crime but a decriminalised penalty). The parking manager does not agree but he doesn't spend as long reading PATAS reports as Mr Mustard does.

The council need a change of system. One phone call should set a dispensation, put an immediate electronic marker on the traffic warden's equipment, cancel all PCN since the permit expired and get the replacement permit emailed or posted to the resident. that would be putting the resident first.

It won't happen, of course.

This sort of nonsense with permits and PCN is one reason why the council scores so badly in the residents' perception survey when it comes to parking.

Just to check that Mr Mustard's street wasn't being picked on he went for a walk in Finchley and checked a road of 130 houses which had 80 cars parked in it. The very first car had a permit which expired on 3 July 14 and a dispensation number in the window.

A further one had a dispensation as the permit was awaited.

A third car had a PCN and a note saying a blue badge was awaited.

So 4% of cars had a problem that was permit related. If that is repeated across the borough there are hundreds of people with permit problems.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

23 August 2014

Pettifogging bureaucrats? oh yes

Here is an example of the sort of petty nonsense that parking tickets descend into.

As well as scratching off the permit this motorist also circles the relevant items in pen. Could you re-use this voucher? No, of course not as it has been put beyond a second use which is what the council worry about, losing a precious £1 from the coffers.

PATAS may or may not agree that this voucher has been properly scratched but even if they don't Mr Mustard will find other grounds that get the motorist the result they are looking for. The council have got £60 at stake for the PCN and they have had to pay £40 to PATAS for the hearing. NSL really need to think a little harder about representations that they reject as the number of PATAS appeals just keeps on climbing.

From now on this motorist will scrape/scratch the coating away even though for 10 years he has been OK doing what he did (which gives rise to the grounds of reasonable expectation). The joke is he did it to make the date clearer for the traffic warden.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

22 August 2014

The Friday Joke

Mr Mustard has been rather busy with a small mountain of PCN since he came back from attending a wedding in Sri Lanka and hasn't had much time to breathe, let alone for humour but then along comes an email that was sent to councillors by a motorist who was aggrieved at his PCN:

Dear Councillors / others

I write this email to express my utter dismay and disgust not only at the conduct of one of the traffic wardens (or Civil Enforcement Officer as you ridiculously insist on calling them and having us call them) that is employed by my local council, but also at the conduct of your parking enforcement department that is bizarrely situated in Sheffield (which is, errrm, let me see, yes several hundred miles away from this borough) and indeed the conduct of the London Borough of Barnet itself whose nefarious and unscrupulous parking regulations have already once been highlighted and shamed by the BarnetCPZ Action Group who dismantled your unfair policies with far more eloquence than I could ever hope to do.

The reason that I am writing to you 5 Councillors in particular is that some of you represent my ward (i.e. where I live) and some of you represent the ward where a supposed parking violation took place (in East Barnet). I don't for one second expect any of you to reply to this email or indeed to get a reply at all, I merely wanted to vent my anger and to let it be known that the underhand, sly and devious tactics of one of your traffic wardens (well many of them for all I know) was completely lacking in moral fibre and should not be tolerated.

I believe the warden who issued ticket PCN number: AG******** should be fired immediately and should be forced to send me an apology forthwith for tricking/conniving me into parking where I should not have been, details as below.

I also believe that the odious little pen-pusher who goes by the name of Redacted (as with the traffic warden no full name or direct contact details and hence totally unaccountable) and who sits up in Sheffield, hiding behind his Mr Byrite suit whilst tucking into his Boots meal-deal sandwich and casually dismissing the most logical of appeals so that he can send out his poisonous missives instead, either needs to get more sex whereupon he might stop acting like a frustrated little Hitler, or alternatively needs to have the rod, which is presumably wedged firmly up his anus, removed so that he might be slightly more flexible and indeed willing to show a little more milk of human kindness.

I parked on a road called Barons Gate in East Barnet and was assured by this warden that as I was aiding a very elderly lady who needed my help in walking and since I would only be no more than 2 minutes, he would turn a blind eye to my indiscretion of parking on a single yellow line if I was quick. I returned to my car very promptly and he was standing close to it but informed me he was NOT giving me a ticket but the car behind mine. It might interest you to know that I have photographic evidence of him holding a parking ticket as I was driving off which thereby proves he did not even place said ticket on my car. I will use this photographic evidence in court when I attend the PATAS hearing. It was thus a shock which sickened me to my core when I received a letter from the Council a number of weeks later informing me that this festering dog-turd of a man had in fact decided to go back on his promise and had issued a ticket to my vehicle without even having the gall to mention it to my face or to slap it on my windscreen. He had basically lied to me so that you as a borough could collect your stinking £65 (I'll send the pound of flesh on later) and he could collect his 5 quid commission or whatever the going rate is these days.

If Barnet Council wishes to employ appalling specimens such as this man, whilst having other equally appalling men in Sheffield condoning that behaviour and attempting to justify it, well, it reflects extremely negatively on Barnet as a Council. Not surprising then that every single person I know who lives in this borough is sick to the back teeth with you lot. There was I thinking you were supposed to work for your electorate and make their lives easier.

Shame on this egregious collection of fools sitting in Hendon Town Hall.

Some sort of response would be nice but as said, totally unexpected.

Mr Mustard is now acting as representative and if the representations that have been made are similar (Mr Mustard did buy clothes in My Byrite when he first came to London in 1975 and excellent value they were too) he will be moderating them into a more professional format. The point is valid though, the PCN was not properly issued.

Mr Mustard does not recommend that you call a Notice Processing Officer names as that is hardly likely to lean them towards cancelling your PCN.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Update : 1 September

On checking the PATAS results for today Mr Mustard saw that the council had decided to not contest this appeal which he describes as throwing in the towel. He has no idea if the council knew if he was acting and if this influenced their decision.

21 August 2014

Crash helmets - theory & practice

This is what the parking specification says about scooterised traffic wardens:

Now look at the traffic warden below. He has a PCN in his hand and did not take his crash helmet off for a moment. This is not an isolated event. Mr Mustard has rarely seen a traffic warden (CEO ) remove their helmet when ticketing.

face blanked out by Mr Mustard

The reason why the contract says that the crash helmets should be removed is probably to show a friendly approachable face to the public (you are allowed to roll around on the floor laughing at this notion) and, Mr Mustard thinks, they are probably less likely to be attacked if you can see and talk to them (although we appear to employ a number of mutes).

This is going to be added as a point of appeal to a PATAS case. If the contract says the helmet should be removed then clearly the traffic warden wasn't issuing a parking ticket at this moment (oh, he has a PCN in his hand).

How is it that the NSL supervisor hasn't noticed his traffic wardens not following the contract? Oh look, here is the council parking manager reading the blog and about to remind NSL what the rules are.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

20 August 2014

NSL charge Mr Mustard (again)

a trainee Notice Processing Officer
Mr Mustard seems to recall that NSL have previously tried to register him as a debtor with the TEC (Traffic Enforcement Centre - attached to Northampton County Court). Mr Mustard has a message for NSL, he does not get parking tickets (PCN) as he always parks properly, or, if he does get one, it will be an error and it will not reach the Charge Certificate stage as he will make representations. If NSL, you are thinking of putting Mr Mustard's name on a statutory document, stop and think as you are almost certainly about to drop a clanger. Here is the offending document:

The name isn't even correct. Initials are "D R" not "R D"
Mr Mustard does not have a Fiat and was not parked in Union St on 22 March 2014.

For the average motorist there isn't much you can officially do in this situation other than wait for the Order for Recovery (and then file a witness statement) but it would still be best if NSL make a similar blunder to tell them by email to barnet@nslservices.co.uk and copy the email to your ward councillors.

Mr Mustard took his usual direct approach, ignored NSL, and went straight to the parking manager who cancelled the PCN without further ado.

Doubtless a handsome written apology with flowers, chocolates or wine will arrive from NSL later on in the week.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

19 August 2014

30 minutes of "Free" parking would cost £3.2 million!

On 24 July the Environment Committee considered an item raised by Cllr Alan Schneiderman for 30 minutes of free parking in all Town Centres. Alan is clearly and properly worried that we will lose our High Streets which are valuable places of social cohesion.

The Lead Commissioner for Housing and Environment (Barnet Council delight in abstract titles for their staff) produced a report which left Alan dazed and confused, as it did Mr Mustard at first sight, as the cost for this eminently sensible idea was £3.2 million which was more than the entire parking income for the year (£3.0m).

At the meeting, quite wrongly, some pre-prepared information was handed out, but only to councillors. Mr Mustard wanted it and asked for a copy afterwards. This is the response he got:

I can confirm that all the papers circulated at committee last night will be appended to the committee minutes when they are published.

There is a question whether any decision taken would have been lawful as all papers should be published 5 days before the meeting. Mr Mustard doesn't personally mind too much if extra information is published a bit late as long as it goes on the website and copies are available at the meeting. Governance please take note.

Nearly a month later and the minutes have not yet been published which is rather tardy. It is a good job that a kindly soul pushed a copy through Mr Mustard's letterbox.

Mr Mustard turned on armchair audit mode and studied each figure closely.

He couldn't argue with the first 30 minutes representing 32% of all paid for parking, it seems to be in the right area and he hasn't got any data about income by time period. if you do, please let Mr Mustard know where to look.

The figure derived from reductions in PCN given out for codes 05 (Parked after the expiry of paid for time) and 82 (not 83) the same contravention in car parks, is utter tosh. In the year ended March 13 there were 3,054 PCN for code 05 and 389 for code 82. The value of those PCN at £45 each (average collection) is £154,935 and Mr Mustard ascribes half of those offence to short term parking periods.

The traffic warden (CEO) having to return to make sure you have not re-parked for another free 30 minutes (how many people could be bothered, really?) would not prevent the issue of 10% of PCN across the whole borough as for much of the time the traffic wardens are patrolling CPZs looking out for missing and expired permits and there are other roads outside CPZs where they are looking for dropped kerbs that are blocked, double yellow lines and parking on the pavement. 

Secondly traffic wardens issue 2 PCN an hour. They can issue a PCN in under a minute if they are so inclined and they frequently do, let us take 2 minutes as the average time. So 4 minutes per hour are spent issuing PCN and 56 minutes per hour spent observing & patrolling (imagine a vulture circling in the sky) popping into Barclays in High Barnet and then using the cash point (yes that was Mr Mustard watching you Mr Traffic Warden) popping into High Barnet post office leaving their scooter outside, chatting on their mobiles and hiding from the rain, so there is no shortage of free time for logging.

Signs do not cost £150 each as a freedom of information request 2 years ago showed the true figure to be about half of that.

Extra income generated by more transactions, presumably by more people visiting the town and then deciding to stay longer than 30 minutes is about £166,000 as PayByPhone charges are about 10% of income. Someone forgot to put the (inconvenient) extra income into the chart. Mr Mustard has redone the figures, as follows:

30 minutes free £
Cost of free parking – income foregone 976,000
Reduction in PCN income - 78,000
No return logging – slower PCN issue 0
New signs – 433 * 2 65,000
New car park signs 4,500
Reconfiguration of meters 20,000
Increased paybyphone fees 16,600
Total lost income / extra costs 1,160,100
less, extra income generated 166,000
Net cost 994,100

That is a much more palatable figure and split across the 20+ Town Centres is only £50,000 per town, which is chickenfeed compared to the potential benefits to Barnet society as a whole. Was the write of the report biased towards making the cost as high as possible? These are some snippets from the report which you can read on this link at item 6.

- There is an absence of data ... means that parking utilisation and turnover levels are not known (or, we have completely failed to properly track usage in the past so make decisions based on gut feel or revenue)

- free parking, would undoubtedly increase patronage (why not not just get on with it?)

- a free 30 minute parking period ....have a financial consequence (now we see the meat)

- Committee will... need to consider where funding for the other projects will come from (this is completely and absolutely the wrong way to look at things).

- for the financial year 2013/14, there is a surplus on the Special Parking Account of £7,543,640, and this money has been earmarked to pay for permitted projects. If 30 minutes free parking is introduced...this is expected to have an impact on the surplus by reducing it by £3.2million meaning that earmarked projects will not be viable or funding for these will have to come from the general fund.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

For a start the SPA for 20-13/14 has been made and cannot be changed. The SPA will only be reduced in the year that free parking were to be introduced. It is not permitted to rely on the SPA as a profit making centre in its own right. Any surplus generated can only be spent on certain transport related spending but that does not mean that those items, such as the Freedom Pass (which costs us about £10million in Barnet and wipes out the SPA surplus on its own) have to be funded entirely from the SPA. The SPA should not be relied on. Let us suppose, for a moment, that Barnet Council ran the SPA on a break even basis such that there was a zero surplus at the year-end. the Freedom pass would still have to be funded and it would have to come from the first line of payment, the general fund. that is what the general fund is for. Now Barnet can generate money from paid for parking and PCN and instead of accepting whatever amount happens to be generated each year an estimate is put into the budget and is then treated as a target to be achieved by hook or by crook; indeed,w hen the surplus was going to be lower than expected, a parking recovery plan was put in place mid-year.

So, if free parking were to be implement, we would be in a situation, based upon Mr mustard's figures of having a surplus of £6.5m rather than £7.5m, that is still £6.4m which could be used to subsidise the general fund. The £6.5m can then be earmarked, the "free parking" money which has been foregone never could be.

What was missing from the report? Any consideration of how much money might be generated for traders who pay a fortune in business rates and appear to get very little for them. Their business success is largely dependent upon the willingness of the council to invest in and properly manage the town centres. As business rates largely go to central government and as Barnet Council plead poverty all the time, they aren't rushing to make town centres fantastic places to visit. Free parking, rationed by time and not by money, would make a huge difference to the viability and popularity of town centres. What the report should have suggested was taking one town centre, one with low usage but half decent shops (Lodge Lane Car Park in North Finchley is at least half empty every time I look in it) asked some shop keepers for turnover figures for a 3 month period and then tried free parking for the same 3 month period this year to see if turnover went up and by how much. They could also have measured if the parking receipts & PCN went up or down overall. This would be by nature of a trial the results of which could then have been used to decide upon a borough-wide policy. The council don't seem to have the wit to try something so sensible. When our High Streets are in their death throes is probably when they will react and it will be much harder to revive them by then.

Officers need to turn their thinking around. The SPA is not a valid substitute for Council Tax. Did you learn nothing from the Residents Parking Judicial Review?

Please may we see more accurate and less biased reports to council committees in the future. If they relate to parking, be aware that they will be thoroughly dissected by Mr Mustard.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard