30 November 2014

Blue badge bother

Here is a decision from PATAS which Mr Mustard thinks will divide opinion.

Mrs Redacted states that she is aged 90 years and has Alzeimher's disease. She has a disabled badge but due to her illness she forgot to display the badge in her car. Mrs Redacted states that when she remembered that she had forgotten to put the badge in the car she returned to her car. By that time a Penalty Charge Notice had been issued. I have seen a copy of Mrs Redacted's badge.

The civil enforcement officer's photographs show the car parked in a resident's bay and a Penalty Charge Notice attached to the window of the car. There was no permit or disabled badge in the car. I find that the contravention occurred.

The onus is on a disabled badge holder to ensure that the disabled badge is displayed when it is required. Mrs Redacted forgot to put her badge in the car. I find that the contravention occurred. 

I have no jurisdiction to take into account the mitigating circumstances raised. I do not consider that the mitigation is sufficiently compelling to make any recommendation to the local authority to cancel the Penalty Charge Notice.

The job of the adjudicator at PATAS is to apply the law. The law says the badge must be on display. Other motorists please note that Mr Mustard recommends that you find additional grounds on which to take your case to PATAS.

One role of the local authority (Barnet in this case) is to exercise discretion. That usually leads them to allow one cancellation for this forgetfulness and after that the blue badge holder will find errors expensive at £110 a pop. If the blue badge holder lives within a CPZ Mr Mustard would recommend they also buy a residents permit at £40 and then they only need to use their blue badge when travelling and the blue badge will be at less risk of being stolen.

The question that none of us know the answer to is whether Mrs Redacted is fit to drive (help here). Mr Mustard dealt with a similar case where he found the driver to be forgetful as to his badge and sometimes had to search for the right word but was generally full of beans and healthy save for a problem with walking. Mr Mustard used a pretext to find the phone number of the driver's son and alert them to the possible problem. He did not feel able to intervene to any greater extent. He hasn't had a recent PCN to deal with but doubtless one will arrive now! He has to argue like crazy with this particular robust gentleman if Mr Mustard feels he should pay up (Mr Mustard likes this gentleman but must tell him the truth about his chances of success) and luckily paying up won't stop him from eating.

There is useful information on Alzeimher's here.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Update 10:50am

Looking back through his notes of earlier cases Mr Mustard has just noticed a second case for Mrs Redacted with the same facts in front of a different adjudicator who also found against her and there is a note on that case that the council has also cancelled a PCN for this contravention. Time to hang up Mrs Redacted's driving gloves?

28 November 2014

Mr Mustard won't help a fraudster

If you get a PCN due to fraudulent use of a blue badge don't ask Mr Mustard for help as he won't give it.

Barnet Council had been asleep at the wheel on this issue for 5 years but with the arrival of a new permanent (as opposed to interim) parking manager, they have woken up.

You have been warned.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

19 November 2014

Council only metaphorically several sandwiches short of a picnic?

Waitrose: sandwiches for 4-6 people = £18
Now Mr Mustard isn't the only person to think that the council's One Barnet* decisions have been taken by people who are one sandwich short of a picnic (the very idea that you can outsource almost everything and all your problems will go away and you will save money is patently absurd as is voting for 2,000 page contracts that you haven't read) but when it comes to having post council meeting picnics refreshments the horses (no, don't mix up your stories Mr M - Ed) are not spared and a shocking amount is spent on sandwiches even though half of the councillors might have to rush off to other important engagements.

so polite "would it be possible..."
We could save £4,000 a year by not providing sandwiches after full council meetings. After all, what do bloggers do? Well, with a meeting starting at 7pm they probably eat at 6pm and then set off to the Town Hall or, if they have to set off earlier, they buy their own sandwich and eat it on the journey. If they are still hungry after the meeting they go and spend their own money in the noodle bar opposite the Town Hall or decide that a pint of Youngs and a bag of crisps will adequately fill their stomach and adjourn to The Greyhound. If the public can manage then so can councillors. Why are sandwiches provided for full council meetings but not for other committee meetings? (Mr Mustard is pretty sure that they aren't as councillors tumble out of the Town Hall like ferrets over a cliff the minute that meetings end), it isn't logical as they usually all start at 7pm and finish by 10pm.

If sandwiches are absolutely necessary, which they aren't, then Waitrose can supply them at a cost of £18 times 12 for a small mountain of sandwiches (veggie ones are £2 less per tray) = £228. Why on earth is £512 (and 50p) being spent each time?

Mr Mustard consulted a certain "troublesome" cafĂ© owner, Helen Michael of Cafe Buzz in Finchley, N12 and asked her to quote for sandwich supply. Now of course we haven't seen a list of exactly what is normally on the groaning buffet table but she guessed there would have to be veggie and kosher sandwiches and 63 of at £2.50 a time would be £157.50. Let's suppose that half of the councillors will need two whole rounds of sandwiches and add in some large round cakes made by Helen's fair hand (boy, is she good at baking) and a small delivery charge and we are still only up to £300 (a photo from a councillor of the spread at the next meeting would be nice so that the whole world can see if this is merely a subsistence spread or too lavish) and a local business is supported by the council. It would make up for some of the 30% drop in turnover that removing cash parking meters caused to the businesses of the borough.

More sandwiches for less money. Now why isn't that the council mantra, perhaps because it is the councillors' own stomachs they are thinking of?

Until a photo comes his way, Mr Mustard has had to use his imagination as to what the post full Council meeting buffet room looks like.

Yours frugally, unlike our council

Mr Mustard

p.s. The basic councillor's allowance is £10,597 which would buy 588 trays of Waitrose sandwiches, sufficient for 2,352 to 3,528 councillors. Oink.

* "One Barnet" should be renamed "No Barnet" as soon there won't be anything much left except for overpaid Commissioners.

Update: 19 Nov 14

The concern of the public for the health and wellbeing of the bloggers is heartening. I have had the star rating of the noodle bar brought to my attention.

On the other end of the scale Cafe Buzz has now been awarded 5 stars this very week.

Update: 20 November 14

As ever, Jack Cohen, our one and only liberal democrat councillor, who isn't in public service to line his pockets but to serve the public and consequently Mr Mustard would happily buy him a slap up dinner after every full council meeting (but Jack won't accept even a tea or coffee if he pops in for a chat having spied an activist or two in Cafe Buzz, as often happens) is on the money

Still, Richard's answer is inadequate as it doesn't inform Rebecca, and us, of the number of sandwiches provided, as she asked. The libraries budget is being cut by a huge amount but the councillors' catering budget not by a penny?
Mr Mustard has also learnt of other sandwiches It isn't clear if the media sandwiches (bloggers are new media but the council certainly won't be feeding us and Mr Mustard would want to send any fish paste sandwiches off for analysis before eating them, or at the very least have Miss Marple by his side) and there are sandwiches for Officers (staff) as well. If any London wide media are reading, why not send a Freedom of Information request to every London council to see what they spend after, or before, full council meetings.

Never mind the fine detail. The question is one of principle. Should councillors get free scoff after a 3 hour meeting?

18 November 2014

The Parking Consultation looks flawed, if not illegal

Barnet Council have carried out a parking consultation. Here are the questions &
answers to what methodology should be used to work out permit prices in the future:

which is a little hard to read so Mr Mustard has multiplied the sample groups by the percentages to give you real numbers, which are

so clearly, following the consultation, residents want a flat rate not a rate based upon vehicle emissions (on which they are already being taxed extra by Central Government if they have an inefficient car - road tax and petrol duty).

That though, isn't how consultations work in Barnet. Someone, whether it is a councillor or an officer is impossible to work out from outside the council, is hell bent on foisting an emissions based pricing structure upon us.

Here is what Officers (staff, except they seem to forget their role) are recommending to tonight's Environment Committee (do come along, Hendon Town Hall, 7pm) 

So because about 70% of respondents quite rightly and logically agreed that reducing air pollution was a laudable aim (and was the question put into the survey for the very purpose of bending the permit price structure to someones pre-determined idea?) Officers (staff) are recommending to councillors that they go with an emissions based pricing structure (Mr Mustard feels a Judicial Review coming on) which hopefully councillors will reject.

Where Mr Mustard thinks that the Officer's (staff member's) thinking is flawed is that the question about air pollution was at Q1 and the question about permit pricing was at Q10 so respondents already had air pollution in mind when answering Q10 as they had already been asked to think about it and so their choice was an informed choice.

This is how consultations are run in Barnet. If they don't give the right answer, the answers will be bent to fit the aim. A disgrace and possibly illegal.

The library consultation is now upon us. Expect a "yes" answer to the following actual question:

"A library service that makes knowledge and information easily accessible"

to be interpreted as, "local communities were delighted that with an unstaffed library opened by a pass they could visit the library at 4am if they so wished".

You have been warned. Read Mrs Angry of Broken Barnet on the subject of nonsultation.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Public meeting about council services - 26 November at 6:30

16 November 2014

tktApp test pilot wanted

There is a newish service on offer to the public but currently only on iPhones which Mr Mustard refuses to pay for (he prefers the Motorola Moto G at half the price and all the functionality). The android version of the App is coming though.

Here is a short promo film telling you about it.

So what Mr Mustard is looking for is an experienced PCN fighter to download the app onto their iPhone and then pay £3.99 to give it a full test and then write a short blog post (just a short story about the strengths and weaknesses of the App and whether it is worth £3.99)

Many thanks

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

15 November 2014

Short term or short of space?

The lovely rural scene above is in Oakleigh Road South taken from the standpoint of a camera situated outside the entrance to one of the two proposed new ex. Bittacy Hill, Mill Hill dustcart depots and which seems to be entirely unsuitable, not least because it might only exist in the short term, and there are residences not far away (and as the proposed location extends longways alongside the railway tracks they are much nearer to the noise and the smell than they seem in this snap). Mr Mustard apologises for the low volume of recent blogs but has a new set of debt ledgers to manage which entails him visiting 3 sites up and down the land. If you like to holiday in the English countryside he can recommend the Trough of Bowland which is lovely even at this time of year.

Mr Mustard couldn't be at the meeting but another resident was and here is their report, sent of their own volition to Mr Mustard.

Dear Mr Mustard,

Barnet Council only last week announced they had found two suitable sites for the relocation with Oakleigh Road South (a residential area with a childrens' nursery nearby) being their preferred location.

I went to the emergency additional meeting of the Assets, Regeneration and Growth Committee meeting last night. Why is it an emergency to purchase land within 7 days of making the announcement public? 

I can only assume that it is because they want to rush this through unopposed, before residents become aware of what is being proposed. There were only 6 residents in attendance including myself.

Cllr Daniel Thomas, and his fellow Conservative Cllrs were hell bent on getting the approval for Barnet to purchase the land there and then, giving them a clear path to force through the relocation to Oakleigh Road South.

Thankfully, because of the magnitude of the decision, Pauline Coakley, the Coppetts ward Cllr put forward a motion to take the proposals to the full council meeting in 4 weeks time. This was seconded by the other Labour Cllrs. They also made a request for the financial figures to be made available, were the depot to remain at it’s current site in Mill-Hill.

Cllr Daniel Thomas, and all the Conservative Cllrs seemed very upset by this and tried their hardest to make the Labour Cllrs retract the motion. For some reason they did not seem willing to wait an extra 4 weeks for the whole council to make a decision on this important matter.

I do not know what their fixation is with New Southgate, first Pinkham Way, and now Oakleigh Road South. It feels like they have targeted the area where I live, and it just feels as if the whole thing is being rushed through, without residents being made aware of what they are planning (so that they do not have another Pinkham Way on their hands).

We now have 4 extra weeks to make more people aware of what is going on. Your help would be much appreciated.


Further comment form the concerned resident.

What I find amazing is the fact that they have spent so much money on feasibility studies to come up with two sites which are not fit for purpose.

In their own words:

1. Lupa House is too small and will need an additional 1 acre site (presumably another round of feasibility studies) and will cost £900,000 more a year than if the depot was in one location. 

2. Oakleigh Road South (their preferred site) is being earmarked as a railway siding for Crossrail 2, and there is a risk they will only be there for 5-10 years. I actually make that 3 years, as they have to be out of Mill Hill by Dec 2016, and Crossrail 2 work starts in 2020.

The other proposed depot is in Borehamwood which is too small to accommodate everything from Mill Hill so only a partial solution. What would be the extra environmental & financial costs of having a large depot with many vehicles outside of Barnet? How many extra miles would be racked up by council vehicles every year? Leaving the depot where it is looks like the best option. The council should look to buy itself back out of the sale it so stupidly made when it didn't have a new home for the depot already in the bag.

One side effect of this is that there is a threat to remove the right of a committee to refer matters to full council, as reported here, which would be yet another nail in the coffin of democracy here in Barnet. Mr Mustard would caution against making the balance of power too one-sided as it only needs one councillor to cross the floor from Conservative to Labour for the whole dynamic to change and somehow Mr mustard thinks that there would be howls of protest from the conservative ranks if they were to find themselves being speared with their own undemocratic behaviour.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

10 November 2014

Sainsbury's express ticketing

Since J Sainsbury's new small store came to Finchley Central hundreds of people have been caught out by the parking bay right in front of the store - so tempting to stop there thinking it is for shoppers? The previous signs (photo from October 13) were like this

So that limited parking at certain times (to allow for deliveries) and limited parking during the day to 1h 30m in which time you certainly could buy some shopping. The situation was further confused by a single yellow line through half of the bay. Many people got this wrong and now eventually changes have been made. This is the new sign and the yellow line is gone.

That is slightly clearer and free in the day but how many people are going to get caught after 8pm buying what will turn into a very expensive pint of milk? 

15 minutes isn't a great deal of use. All it will take is a small queue to pay and you will be over your time once you have filled a basket with groceries.

Let's see how many people get caught out under this new regime.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

9 November 2014

From worse to bad - looks like a phishing attempt

Mr Mustard heard about the above letter being very poorly presented and is now lucky(?) enough to have seen a copy of it. There wasn't a letterhead nor a named contact and signature. One could be forgiven for throwing it away as it couldn't possibly have come form the council or one of their contractors, or could it? Probably thanks to complaints received a revised letter was cobbled together but it really isn't much better.

The second letter is marginally better in that it has the borough logo on the bottom but would have benefited from all the usual address and communication details in the top right. It still looks dodgy.

What really made the recipient think it was fishy (the no cash parking council offering to accept cash?) was that they never paid by debit or credit card in the first place.

They paid by cheque, which has already cleared.

Well done Crapita, down to your usual standard.

Best send a properly drawn up third letter (don't charge us council tax payers for it please).

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

7 November 2014

Looks like the traffic warden was a bit too crafty

Mr Mustard has tweeted about PCNs going missing. he has suggested to the council that they log places and traffic warden numbers of instances in which the PCN goes missing to see if there any patterns. Either there are phantom ticket nickers about in certain streets or it's always, mysteriously, the same traffic warden's tickets that go astray. Their pockets should be checked when they gets back to base?

This PCN doesn't look very well attached

but it should still have hung on unless a hurricane passed through Barnet.

The unfortunate thing for this traffic warden is that he/she issued 2 PCN within 3 minutes of one away to vehicles parked next to each other and neither driver got their PCN. Mr Mustard has worked in High Barnet for 27 years so is well known and he knew both drivers, honest people, who passed on their Notices to Owner to him. Mr Mustard doubts that anyone would steal a PCN from a vehicle parked outside a shop. He strongly suspects that both PCN were removed afterwards by the traffic warden who clearly doesn't know what he/she is doing, or maybe they do?

So that is the front vehicle of the two that Mr Mustard is dealing with. You can see two signs, one of which is angled away and not visible from the driver's seat. The driver can see the right hand sign which is a dual resident and business bay for which the vehicle had a valid permit. The left hand sign is PayByPhone. Can you see the join between the two bays? (nice fresh lines - pretty but wrongly painted) no you can't and that is because it wasn't visible before they were repainted as the 2 payment bays were only introduced about a year ago. So the driver could see a sign and walked off as he was correctly parked, or so he thought. Which sign did the traffic warden photograph, the incorrectly aligned left one (which would enable the issue of a PCN as no payment had been made) or the right one which the van was entitled to be parked against. Yes, you guessed correctly

This action by the traffic warden is at the sly end of the scale if not downright cheating.

He took his final photograph at 9:26 and then proceeded to ticket the other van at 9:27 for code 11 which in Barnet contractually requires a 3 minute observation period; was it given? Mr Mustard doesn't know as the PCN went missing. It is possible that both vehicles were observed at the same time and Mr mustard will ask the parking manager as he is just about to email him.

If you have had a PCN recently in Union St, High Barnet thanks to this confusion Mr Mustard will help you to sort it out. Email him at mrmustard@zoho.com.

This sort of behaviour is unacceptable from a contractor to a council. At the very least their contract should not be extended or renewed. We should look to bring the task back in house asap and only employ traffic wardens who sign a declaration that they will only issue a PCN when there is no doubt about their right to do so. 

It says in the current contract that signs and lines should be checked before the issue of a PCN. Clearly, that isn't happening.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

6 November 2014

"Human kindness is in short supply in Barnet" - PATAS adjudicator

The Appellant, who is very severely disabled, returned to the vehicle a few minutes late as he was "taken poorly" and had to rest on his way back.

It seems to me quite astonishing that the Council on reading the circumstances described by the Appellant, supported by medical evidence and the subsequent grant of a disabled badge on the strength of it, should not immediately have exercised its discretion to cancel the PCN, whether or not the PCN was technically correctly issued. He states "I live my life in my bedroom and this was a wonderful day for me I was upset my ticket was not cancelled for human kindness reasons". It would appear that human kindness is in short supply in Barnet.

Be that as it may, it seems to me that on looking at the facts of the situation as described by the Appellant, and which I see no reason to doubt, I take the view that the delay in returning to the vehicle , and hence the reason for the vehicle waiting there  was caused by circumstances beyond his control. Although the CEO cannot be faulted for issuing the PCN , as it transpires I am satisfied it was incorrectly issued and the Appeal is allowed.

The parking enforcement contract needs to be taken out of the clutches of NSL and returned to the council (there is a slim chance that a council employee saw this case and let it proceed but NSL produce the evidence for PATAS to consider). They should then find a suitable employee, with a heart, to decide upon representations of this kind and make common sense decisions.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

5 November 2014

Parking appeals - 8 to 20 months later

Mr Mustard is indebted to the Barnet Bugle (who is usually at interesting meetings with his camera so that important matters get recorded) for these extracts neatly edited together of last night's full council meeting. They show Cllr Alan Schneiderman asking serious supplementary questions about the PATAS parking ticket Appeal statistics for the year to March 14 and Cllr Dean Cohen vaguely promising action at some unspecified future date. Although the figures were only published last month, the council tracked them throughout the year so they shouldn't have been news to Dean and thus putting a plan in place in November 14 is rather slow work.

Mr Mustard only accounted for about 2% of the Appeals to PATAS.

Dean's replies were without substance. That isn't how the democratic process should work. Dean should have been able to say what actual steps were being taken to file evidence packs in more cases, get fewer Appeals in the first place and increase the success rate. Did he not know?

The arrival of a permanent parking manager, as opposed to a passing through interim, has seen a number of technical paperwork errors be corrected and so, as it happens, the council success rate will go up once the erroneous notices have worked their way through the system.

If you are reading Dean and want to see some PATAS cases being heard you can simply turn up there at Angel, Islington on any working day or Saturday morning (not Wednesday afternoon) and watch any hearing as a member of the public. You could see how a number of boroughs perform as against Barnet. If you want to sit in on any Appeals for which Mr Mustard is the representative do send him an email and he'll tell you when there is a good list of cases. Mr Mustard currently has 4 cases at 10am on 4 December (one against Hackney and three against Barnet) but Barnet may throw the towel in before then, as is customary, so best to check first.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

No times = no valid PCN

Today Mr Mustard and the parking manager were in complete agreement. This worries him (the manager) but it does happen.

The above sign is in Marsh Drive, NW9. Mr Mustard's client had 2 PCN which he received over a  weekend. Apparently, since the button factory closed, there aren't any business permit holders needing to park in Marsh Drive and at weekends residents have parked there without problem, until recently that is.

A sign with no times on it operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Mr Mustard thought it unlikely that the hours for a business bay would be much more than 8am to 6.30pm, Monday to Friday. He suggested as much to the Parking Manager who entirely agreed and said he would check the Traffic Management Order which sets out the rules. Having done so this sign has been found to be wrong and will be replaced. Every PCN issued there recently is also being cancelled. That means that 5 people with a PCN will find that if they challenge the PCN they will be told it has already been cancelled and if they try to pay on line the system won't take their money. Luckily no-one had paid so ticket issuing here must have been the new wheeze of a particular traffic warden - a wheeze which is no more.

So well done to the manager for agreeing straight away to cancel everything that was wrong. It is the sort of honesty that residents are entitled to expect as routine. If a PCN had been paid getting a refund might have been harder but the question wasn't tested.

Mr Mustard is looking out for any other Business permit holder only bays with equally defective signage. If you see one, do let Mr Mustard know by sending a photograph to mrmustard@zoho.com.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

3 November 2014

Not a sign of the times

It was only in August that the Secretary of State for Transport approved a suspnded bay sign for Barnet Council. Before that they didn't have one and so every parking ticket for a suspended bay or space could be contested. Now they do have one but it doesn't look like the one above which was erected on Saturday.

Firstly that is insufficient notice. If you had gone away for a long weekend you could have been ticketed before you got back. 5 days is seen as the bare minimum for suspension except in an emergency.

This is what the sign should look like.

There is no mention in the authorisation that gaffer tape is an acceptable material.

The sign should be in 3 parts so that once folded and mounted it can be seen from both sides of the suspended section. It should really contain details of exactly what section of road is suspended (this cannot be done by the use of cones as in this instance as they tend to "walk" along the road) and there shouldn't be an advert for the surfacing contractor on the sign although there should be a telephone number to call in case of query. The sign in this case is within a residents' bay that holds a dozen cars. How much is suspended? probably only about a 5m section but you could argue it is the whole bay. We'll see what traffic wardens make of it and then NSL will get yet more representations to deal with from Mr Mustard which they will doubtless reject. No wonder Appeals to PATAS have risen so much.

The parking contractor should not be left to erect their own signs as appears to be the case here as the result of any slackness on their part is a PCN for an unsuspecting motorist.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard