Monday, 19 August 2013

Fine With You?

Blog reader David, recently felt compelled to email me about the overzealous way the council's contracted parking enforcement team go about their business in Worcester Park.

He writes: 
"In my road there is a pavement parking bay which has no 'end line' at one end of the bay. Consequently, drivers who park there thinking they are parking responsibly (and correctly) are being targeted time after time by the parking enforcement personnel who have logged this space as 'an easy catch'. I challenged one of the men as he was about to issue a ticket to a car in this bay telling him that the bay is incorrectly marked and that he knows he has no right to issue a ticket. 'They can appeal', was his response. Funnily enough, since that chat a few nights ago, no-one to my knowledge has received a penalty notice for parking in that bay. I have contacted the council for clarification on the matter as I think it is grossly unfair that tickets are being issued willy-nilly in the hope that some drivers will pay up thinking they are in the wrong.
These people would do better to issue tickets at 10 o'clock at night to those cars parked outside the British Legion that cause traffic coming down Central Road to drive around the island at the end of Brinkley Road into oncoming traffic just so that they can continue their journey safely."
For those interested, the bay in question is outside number 22 Washington Road.

I noted a similar experience being shared in this week’s local paper (Sutton Guardian) by one R Collins who said he (apologies if ‘R’ is a she) and two others witnessed a traffic warden issuing a parking ticket to a red saloon car at 5:30pm when the pay and display finished at 4:30pm. When he challenged this, the warden asked if the car belonged to him. As the answer was 'no', he completed writing the ticket despite knowing the car was not illegally parked.

While this other incident was in Mulgrave Road and not in Worcester Park I worry about this increasing trend in reports of dishonest practices by those who are supposed to serve the people of the borough. What is going on here?

Thanks David also for the photo.

12 COMMENTS (Add Yours Now!):

guest D said...

The problem is 'Parking Attendents' are not public servants the are employees of a private company contracted by Sutton Council and who are incentivised (horrible word) to issue as many tickets as possible.

It doesn't matter to them if they are later cancelled as it will not affect their pay. Always challenge every ticket issued by Parking Attendents, if at all possible, take photos of the road markings and street signs. If there is the slightest non compliance or confusion in the signage the ajudicator will probably rule in your favour. At the very least it will cut into their profits.

This is particularly important with the new remote fining where a camera is used to harvest 'offenders'.

Simon Densley (Consv Activist) said...

It is the council’s job to ensure the companies they contract, do the job the council requires. If this behaviour is condoned or encouraged by the private company then the council has either not set out their requirements and terms clearly enough, or else should be able to cancel the contract due to the contractor breaching those terms and employ one that will act with the appropriate propriety.

People just don’t have the time to appeal every wrong decision and the council shouldn't allow situations to occur where they have to.

guest D said...

I completely agree with you. It is the council's responsibility to ensure that they comply. The recent court case against Barnet Council and the BBC's exposure of Hammersmith and Fulham has shown that Councils of whatever political complexion have moved to use parking and traffic enforcement as a cash cow, particularly in London.

Are you suggesting that people should just accept mistakes and pay their parking fines? rather than fight them? I estimate that it takes around half an hour of my time to fight a parking fine, ok so it's not cost effective, but the principal matters.

And if people don't fight them the council will have no metrics to deal with the contractor's breachs. Or are you suggesting they employ a squad of inspectors, to monitor parking attendents.

Simon Densley (Consv Activist) said...

No I suggest that as the council is ultimately answerable to the residents they serve, we the residents should demand the council act with the honour we should expect from them. And for me, using parking and traffic enforcement as a cash cow rather than a tool to make travelling, driving and parking easier for all, falls rather short of that.

I agree with you that the principal matters, and for many people the cost of a fine is not something they can just write off; their only hope is to appeal it. My point was the council (through their contractors) shouldn't be wasting people’s time by putting them in situations where they have to keep doing this.

As for a squad of inspectors to monitor parking attendants, that shouldn't be necessary and would be a waste of money. If residents are talking to their local councillors about the problem and councillors monitor the appeals that are made and if the BBC can expose such behaviour then I don’t see it as beyond the wit of Sutton council to know what is going on in the borough they are responsible for.

guest D said...

I don't think I have ever seen parking on a manifesto, so it's clearly not a hot potato. Sutton is 92 on a list of those councils making a surplus, so I suppose we must congratulate them on making a small surplus (some councils make a loss) and not being greedy.

I would also doubt it would be a hot potato in H&F as there it is mainly a tax on non residents. I'm sure it will be in Barnet where the council will have to find millions to refund the residents it ripped off and the legal fees in trying to defend their illegal actions.

As to controlling the parking control company, they would have put it out to tender and done due diligence on those tenders, in reality it will go to a Serco or G4S subsidiary. Once the contract is awarded all they can do is monitor revenue / tickets and the level of appeals how other bouroughs are performing and negative reports on the contractor.

The only major parking issue I can see in Sutton is the sale of the town centre car park to SubSea 7, now that will be a hot potato.

Simon Densley (Consv Activist) said...

Putting a contract out to tender and selecting one with due diligence is not a license for the contractor to do as they like afterwards. Nor does it absolve the council of responsibility for the work being done. It is the council’s job to ensure that the contact entered into, spells out what is and isn’t acceptable from the contractor. There should be penalties built in to ensure that breaking these terms is very costly to the contractor. Therefore if the contractor is behaving in an unscrupulous manor, the council must take responsibility for the contract which allowed it to occur, or else invoke the penalty clauses that were designed to stop it from occurring. Once it is awarded the council can monitor any aspects they like to ensure the contractor is not breaching the terms. Their hand are not tied with regard to ensuring the job is being done properly.

Your claim that “Once the contract is awarded all they can do is monitor revenue / tickets and the level of appeals” etc. could be almost seen to suggest there is little the council can do and they shouldn’t be held responsible. For clarification, I would disagree with this and would see it as a cop-out.

Traffic and parking is a major issue in Worcester Park and in other parts of the borough even if not the highest priority across the entire borough. Deliberately punishing or fining people for crimes they haven’t committed is something I find completely unacceptable. Can I ask, in suggesting it’s not a hot enough potato, are you saying it’s not worth doing something about?

guest D said...

I'm sorry but I'm a pragmatist. Is it sensible for the council to invest the amount of time and our money that you want into monitoring one of their contractors.

The level of monitoring I have suggested should be more than sufficient. If these complaints partucularly the late issuing of a fine are true, than that is more a matter for the police as in that case it would be issuing an instrument with the intention to commit fraud.

You either want to find the slightest fault to pin on the council or want to them to waste our money with excessive schemes. As I've said before when the details of the proposed sale of Sutton car park come out, there may be serious issues for them to answer.

And in saying it's not a hot potato, I'm saying are the opposition councillors tabling it as an issue at council meetings.

Simon Densley (Consv Activist) said...

The more this debate has unfolded, the more you have started to misrepresent my position for the sake of some apparent straw man argument. You mentioned “the amount of time and our money that [I want spent] monitoring one of their contractors” when I wrote no such thing. You were the one who mentioned a squad of inspectors to monitor parking attendants and tried to attribute it to my argument, whereas I stated that this would be a waste of money.

You have here mentioned “The level of monitoring [you] have suggested”. Nowhere have you suggested any ‘right’ level of monitoring. What you did say was “Once the contract is awarded all they can do is monitor revenue / tickets and the level of appeals how other boroughs are performing and negative reports on the contractor.” Which is not true – it is not all they can do. It doesn’t take much to follow up specific complaints and if necessary use the clauses that should have been put into the contract to rectify any problems. Surely getting things like this right is the council’s responsibility?

I note you now want to pass the blame away from the council by saying is more a matter for the police. While I am trying to talk about an important issue of justice and standards and noting that those responsible could do better, you say I “either want to find the slightest fault to pin on the council or want them to waste our money with excessive schemes.” Neither is an accurate representation of my position however your position seems to be to dogmatically deflect any responsibility away from this council regarding this matter. Are they not the ones ultimately responsible for council services? I am surprised you advocate taking your cues from what the opposition councillors are tabling at council meetings. Or are you saying that we should not consider issues not being talking about in council meetings?

I note in your defence that you are prepared to acknowledge the serious issues that may come from the proposed sale of the Brighton Road car park. Perhaps you are not merely an apologist for this council after all. But in acknowledging your points of view I also note that you have ignored everything I have said that you haven't attacked.

guest D said...

I apologise if you feel I have misrepresented you, it was not my intention. My problem is as someone that has dealt with many subcontractors over the years that this is an area that is particularly hard to monitor and control. For example when if you subcontract building work, it is easy to go to the site check the right grade of materials are used and that the work is being carried out to a professional standard. If you say contract material testing it easy to send known samples and check the results. If you are Macdonalds style company you can check your franchises by the use of 'mystery shoppers'.

What can you use to check here 'mystery parkers'?

All you have added to my suggestions are to contact complaints and follow them up. Yes that is a sensible and fairly cheap approach.

In my experience with contractors you have three possibly, four courses of action, though the fourth I've never been involved with.

1) greater than 95% reliable use them again.
2) greater than 60% reliable, monitor and raise issues with them, use clawbacks in the contract to encourage improvement.
3) less than 60%, check with the lawyers business process managers at the costs of getting out of the contract.
4) The BP - Haliburton scenario - legal action to reclaim your losses.

Yes the Council is legally and morally responsible for all its contractors and ultimately their subcontractors and their subcontractors and so on.

Various power companies have found that to their cost with the misselling done on their behalf and the fines and loss of reputation suffered.

Another example of the complexity of these situations, is the Olympic Delivery Authority, who subcontracted security to G4S, they failed to monitor G4S properly and are responsible. The Mayor of London contracted the delivery of the Olympics to the Olympic Delivery Authority, his office failed to check that ODA were monitoring G4S. But I wouldn't put the blame on Boris, but legally that's were it lies.

I'm not an apologist for any political group and since I reached the age of enlightenment (somewhere between 33 and 40) vote for the candidate and not the party. So I have voted for Communist (she was a fantastic local councillor, though she was a marxist), labour, social democrat, liberal, lib dem, conservative and labour, from left to right in terms of the candidate's political stance. Yes I know labour is there twice. I'm very much of the old One Nation Conservative viewpoint, the slightly left of centre approach of Ted Heath politically.

Simon Densley (Consv Activist) said...

Thanks for the clarification and apology which is accepted gratefully. I also apologise for what in re-reading one or two of my submissions, I consider to be in a less pleasant tone than I prefer to use.

You have made some sensible points here which I will consider.

I do believe that many of the contracts this council has drawn up have been woefully inadequate. There are several well known examples so I won't go into theme here. I am just doubly frustrated by the waste in conjunction with the injustice mentioned here and the blasé attitude of those who I believe could or should have already done something about it, and are actually ultimately responsible for doing so. I am sure that much council business could be done both more thoroughly and more efficiently. Perhaps I am still too enthusiastic and not yet jaded enough but then again, maybe that is what is needed.

guest D said...

I think there it's best to end the debate. I feel we agree on most points just have a different emphasis.

It's been a pleasure debating with you.

guest D said...

Interesting article on the BBC News site today., relating to Camden and Ealing setting targets for the number of tickets issued, and claims of the enforcement company falsifying tickets to meet the targets.

The article suggests that the councils' contracts with the enforcement company are potentially illegal because of these targets and could cause all the fines issued to be illegal.

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