31 March 2014

NSL - could be more helpful

There are 7 files on Mr Mustard's dining table, the ones on which some action is imminent. The above box contains his other live files. He has twice as many files as that for 2014 which are already in the closed box.

Thus you can see that he is fairly busy making challenges, representations and Appeals. Sometimes they work and NSL decide to throw in the towel. The pleasing part is that whatever Mr Mustard wrote has worked but the displeasing part is that sometimes Mr Mustard does not know that until he checks the balance on the council computer (which is off until 7 April whilst they change software supplier from Civica to ICES).

If Mr Mustard makes an informal challenge which NSL, on behalf of the council decide to accept, they should write and tell him every single time and not leave him wondering if his client has received a Notice to Owner that they haven't told him about (or worse that one has been sent which hasn't arrived). It would be polite and businesslike to write an email saying the PCN is at an end. This would do.

Dear Mr Mustard 

PCN AGxxxxxxxx has been cancelled.

best wishes

NSL on behalf of Barnet Council

and then some of his more elderly clients would be spared 6 months of worry. The thing is, Mr Mustard thinks, that as soon as there isn't any money in it for the council, NSL lose interest in the PCN and often can't be bothered after that to do a single thing.

Other situations in which PCN just disappear are when the formal representations have not been answered within 56 days. That is an automatic acceptance of them and cancellation of the PCN but how does Mr Mustard know that a Notice of Rejection has not gone astray? He doesn't, which is why NSL should write and say that the PCN is at an end.

If a Notice to Owner has not been issued within 6 months of the PCN that is an automatic cancellation (although PCN do sometimes still get chased - quite wrongly). (This sentence only relates to parking PCN served on the car windscreen or into the hands of the driver).

Sometimes, due to system error, nothing happens to a PCN. At the point of discovery of an oversight which cannot fairly or legally be recovered the motorist (or Mr Mustard) should be told that the PCN has been abandoned.

Mr Mustard thinks there is a severe shortage of polite good practice. It is also good practice to keep the PCN database tidy so that someone else does not come along and bring back to life a PCN which is actually finished but which hasn't been amended to a £nil value.

Please could we have some politeness so that there is certainty and transparency.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

29 March 2014

NSL - out of order again

There is a safety net built into the PCN enforcement process to catch you if you don't receive the Notice to Owner or if the Notice of Rejection of Representations does not arrive.

The way it works is that the Traffic Enforcement Centre (part of Northampton County Court) agree that a batch of PCNs can be registered as debts and enforced as if they are county court judgments (although they don't count towards your credit rating).

Under Civil Procedure Rule & Practice Direction 75 this fact must be communicated to the debtor (i.e. the registered keeper of the vehicle) within 15 days of that batch being agreed (7 days in the contract with NSL, Mr Mustard thinks) i.e it must reach the debtor within 15 days thus allowance must be made for time in the postal system. The TEC keep a note of the deadline for each PCN which is 36 days after the date of their decision.

Barnet Council then send you a form TE3 Order for Recovery which tells you this. The TE3 has a date on the front by which you must file a form TE9 to return your PCN to the Notice to Owner stage (if you didn't receive the Notice to owner the first time) or have a PATAS hearing (if you didn't receive the Notice of Rejection). You get 21 days in which to file your form TE9 (by email is best).

(NSL have cut a big hole in the safety net by being slow to act. Here are the dates of a case which, thanks to the rejection of an in-time TE9 as being out-of-time, Mr Mustard got dragged into (luckily for the motorist concerned).

29 Jan 14: TEC agree debt registration 
13 Feb 14: Official deadline to issue TE3 Order for Recovery
28 Feb 14: TE3 issued
6 Mar 14: 36 days after debt registration = deadline for TE9
10 Mar 14: Witness statement TE9 filed (rejected as late)
21 Mar 14; Deadline for TE9 set by Barnet Council/NSL (incorrectly)

So what you say this is just a one-off? No, Mr Mustard had a case he was dealing with in November 13. Ah, so at least 2 cases then which would be 2% of the cases that Mr Mustard deals with in a year. Therefore, with 165,000 PCN issued annually we could expect there to be 330 such cases in a year. How many were there?

6,193 (let Mr Mustard repeat that)
yes, 6,193 not issued within 7 days at May 13 (since presumably 1 May 12 when the contract started).

So that is 6,193 PCN not processed in accordance with the contract or within the Civil Procedure Rules and thus illegally pursued.

We don't know how many went to bailiffs and were paid, completely illegally.

We don't know how many people paid up in fear, completely wrongly.

What we do know that the contract with NSL is a One Barnet contract.
We know that it is a disaster.
We know that we paid for a service we didn't get.
We do know that KPI.9 Processing Services has a zero tolerance for failure. Mr Mustard will be checking that this KPI has not been paid for in 2013/14 given that it has obviously been consistently failed (and 2012/13 was still being negotiated last time Mr Mustard looked).

So if the thin client side can't manage such a simple contract what hope is there for the contracts with Capita and Re:  (bloody stupid name for a joint venture)? Absolutely no chance at all that these much larger and more complicated contracts will:

a) perform
b) have contract terms that are properly enforced.

The only way to be 100% sure of what is going on in a department, is to run it in a hands-on style.

The NSL contract isn't working (this is not the only process failure).

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Amended by Mr Mustard to change the 15 days which he changed to 7 back to 15!

28 March 2014

Those PATAS Appeals keep rolling in

Rolling, rolling, rolling
Those Appeal forms to PATAS keep rolling in with another 82 submitted last week. 

PATAS Barnet Londonwide

Appeals Appeals %
Mon 15 259 6
Tues 17 283 6
Weds 19 246 8
Thurs 20 191 10
Fri 11 230 5
Sat - -
Total 82 1,209 7

PCN issued Barnet London %
Year to March 13 165,569 4,283,964 4

That makes 518 in the last 5 weeks (the trend was downwards but this week is likely to see an increase and next week probably will as Mr Mustard already has 4 Barnet ones to file). If we take 2 weeks out for Xmas and Easter when people, on the whole, tend not to do their paperwork (although hundreds of people did file their tax return on Xmas Day) we have 50 weeks in the year and that would give us something like 5,200 Appeals in a year out of 165,000 PCN issued in Barnet which is 3.1%. The figure often quoted for Appeals is that only 1% are appealed but Mr Mustard makes it 1.4% for London last year.

What we can see from the number of Appeals is that the motorists of Barnet have had enough. They have had enough of dodgy parking tickets and are fighting back using the system which exists for that purpose.

So we are up to 5,200 Appeals to PATAS a year which means that the council have to contribute £200,000 to the budget of PATAS. Can you make it 8,000 a year by this time next year? That would be a 5% Appeal rate and somewhat exceptional in London.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

27 March 2014

The library that lived and who saved it? A joint post by the Barnet Bloggers.

Labour Councillor Pauline Coakley Webb opens Friern Barnet Community Library
Barnet Conservative candidates in Coppetts Ward have been distributing an election leaflet claiming the credit for saving Friern Barnet library.

This indefensible attempt to rewrite history is something that cannot go unchallenged.

The Barnet bloggers have followed (and been part of) the story of Friern Barnet in detail, from the moment in 2010 when Councillor Robert Rams launched the strategic library review, making ludicrous suggestions about the possibilities of ‘pop-up’ libraries in Tesco, and Starbucks.

We supported the raising of a petition, gaining over 7,000 signatures, and the lobbying of council meetings, and councillor surgeries. This gave the Tories pause for thought and they relented from their initial plans.

When the review was announced, only two libraries were marked for closure: Hampstead Garden Suburb and Friern Barnet. As Hampstead Garden Suburb was in a staunchly Tory ward, it took little pressure from influential local resident groups for the council to grant a reprieve, and happily agree to subsidise the small branch library in this most affluent area of the borough. This left Friern Barnet library, in a largely Labour voting ward, as the sole victim of Councillor Rams’ axe. 

Community campaigners were invited to draw up plans to keep the library open. As later events were to demonstrate, this was a crafty ruse by councillors and senior officers, which meant the campaigners were working on plans in the period where they could have instigated a judicial review. Such time wasting slammed the door on legal remedy. It seemed clear to all involved that the council had acted in bad faith and the invitation to draw up proposals were never a serious proposition.

In April 2012, the council closed the library at short notice. A symbolic occupation of the building by residents took place, to register the sense of injustice felt by the local community. The same afternoon, valuers arrived to assess the building for future development. The library was boarded up, emptied of books, and left to stand until a plan of sale had been made.
The marvellous Keith Martin
The closure of Friern Barnet, as some have forgotten, was justified by Tory members on the basis of a new library to be created in the Arts Depot at North Finchley. This plan came to nothing.

Along with many other supporters and activists, Barnet bloggers were at the forefront of the campaign to reopen Friern Barnet library, helping to launch the People’s ‘pop-up’ library, not in Tesco, or Starbucks, but on the village green next to the building, beneath the cherry trees. It was an act of defiance from local residents and campaigners in response to the removal of a much loved local community centre, and it received an astonishing outpouring of support.

The pop-up library received donations of hundreds of books and kept the protest alive throughout the weeks that followed. The BBC One show came to film the event, the first of a wave of media interest in the issue.

Despite this clear evidence that there was enormous support for the library, Councillor Robert Rams and his colleagues continued to ignore the local community.

Through the summer of 2012, residents came down every Saturday, come rain or shine to swap books on the lawn. As we approached autumn, and weather conditions worsened, it looked as if the Peoples library may become unsustainable: but in September 2012, the Occupy movement took over the Library and the People’s Library moved back into its rightful home.

How did Robert Rams and the rest of the Tories react to this demonstration of "Big Society"? They refused to engage with the local residents, although ironically they were more at ease discussing terms of occupation with Phoenix and his collective of squatters who had re-opened the library on behalf of the community.

Within weeks, the library shelves were full and the library was back in business.

Council officers were despatched to meetings to see if a compromise could be reached, but the elected representatives of the Tory Party ignored residents, and refused to attend talks. The council then launched eviction proceedings against the people of Barnet, who were simply using a public asset in the way it was intended.

Despite spiralling costs, the Tories persisted in the war against their own citizens. When the case finally came to court - supported by legal assistance organised by Labour party councillors - it lasted 2 days. 
Barrister and Labour candidate for Finchley & Golders Green, Sarah Sackman, who represented the occupiers in court (at the microphone)
The council had originally claimed it was a simple possession case and asked for ten minutes. It was clear to all that despite the judge finding in favour of the council, there were strong grounds for an appeal. The judge herself brokered a deal whereby Occupy would hand over the keys to the community and the library would continue. The council had won the battle but lost the war. 

The sad truth is that there is no happy ending.

Does anyone trust the council after their previous tactics? It would appear to be a mistake to do so. The election leaflet implies that the library was saved by the ‘fervent campaign’ within the Conservative party fought by Councillor Kate Salinger. In fact any success was entirely due to the fervent campaigning of local residents, and the occupation of the premises: and the library has not been saved. It still faces an uncertain future.

Barnet Council simply offered the re-named Friern Barnet Community Library a two year lease, to park the problem until after the election. 
Time stands still in Friern Barnet library, September 2012
The Council has refused to fund a full time librarian. The Council has refused to allow the Library to access the council book stock. There are even allegations of other Barnet Libraries refusing to allow posters promoting events at FBCL. Most worrying of all, there is no long term lease, and Councillor Daniel Thomas, the deputy leader, has merely guaranteed that the building will not be sold in the next four years. What happens then? And even if the building is not sold, for how long will the community library be allowed to remain?

In truth the local community has preserved the building, and filled it full of books, which is a stunning achievement. It is a wonderful community enterprise, a victory of resistance against injustice, but it is not a public library.

Barnet’s Tory councillors have been outmanoeuvred by residents in their move to close the library and sell the beautiful, eighty year old building for redevelopment as a supermarket or flats. But it is only a temporary victory.

To ensure this library and every other publicly owned property controlled by this council remains in our hands and does not become the target of a ruthless agenda of sale and development, the only course of action is clear: use your vote wisely on May 22nd, and do not return this Tory administration to power – or we will all live to regret it.

John Dix
Derek Dishman
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne 
proud and happy library members

NSL advertising for free to Barnet Council PCN victims

The above is the footer that NSL are putting on emails about parking tickets.

Now Mr Mustard thought that the idea was that NSL are acting as the council's agent and that the footer, as well as the email, should appear to be from the council (as they used to). It would be OK for a little footer to say that the email has been sent by NSL Ltd as a contractor to Barnet Council so that the situation is transparent but to use up to 165,000 PCN victims a year as potential customers to be advertised to is just not on and certainly is not expressly allowed for in the parking enforcement contract.

Doubtless the foot will be toned down now that Mr Mustard has raised the matter but shouldn't someone in the commissioning team (that we pay a fortune for) have already noticed it and tugged on NSL's chain?

The monitoring of One Barnet contracts is far from satisfactory. This advertising has a value otherwise NSL wouldn't do it, and they are doing it for free.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

24 March 2014

Tea & Cake / Peas & Dill

Mr Mustard is self evidently a fan of food and yesterday evening he had the pleasure of having for his dinner some French beans in Sweet tomato sauce, Lemon Spinach & Rice and Peas & Dill on a bed of sticky Potato Puree. These dishes had been given to him at the 80th birthday party of Friern Barnet Community Library at which he had also consumed tea & cake. Mr Mustard spent most of yesterday eating fine food as he breakfasted at Cafe Buzz and his dinner included Iranian Rice Pudding which an Iranian friend likes to give to him. 

The party was a fabulous gathering of people who realise how important libraries are (no, councillors Robert Rams and Richard Cornelius were not there) and there was a great outpouring of happiness and brotherly/sisterly love. The council have by their actions in closing this library made Friern Barnet a more together, friendly, big society place. It's a funny old world.

Mr Mustard bumped into many old friends and some news ones, like two gentlemen from Barnet Participates which is taking place next Sunday although sadly Mr Mustard's diary is, as ever, full to bursting with social events (he feels sure that at least one blogger will be there as it is hard to find an event in Barnet when there isn't one). Do go.

Do also please support Peas & Dill (their food is absolutely delicious) Mr Mustard plans to, he has friends coming for dinner soon who will be eating their offerings which Mr Mustard will not pass off as his own.

good enough to eat
You will find the website of Peas & Dill here and they even deliver free in N3 and charge a ridiculously small amount to go as far as High Barnet.

Peas & Dill are a small local business working out of a home kitchen (they won't be there for long as they must inevitably grow) and are just the sort of small business that we want in the world and Barnet more particularly.

What are you waiting for, get yourself booked up for Barnet Participates on Sunday, food and humour at the end of the day (what is there to lose) and order food for your next gathering of family and friends here.

Good luck to both enterprises.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

21 March 2014

The Friday Joke

It is a long time since Mr Mustard has had time to put out a Friday Joke but here goes (although he has the funny feeling he might have used this one before)

As the coffin was being lowered into the ground at a Traffic Wardens Funeral, a voice from inside screams

“I’m not dead, I’m not dead. Let me out!”
The Vicar smiles, leans forward sucking air through his teeth and mutters
“Too f****g late pal, I’ve already done the paperwork”

20 March 2014

Issue forth to a Residents' Forum - Wednesday 26 March 14

Mr Mustard takes issue with use of the vague word "issue" that you are meant to submit by Monday morning at 10am. He thinks you should probably be submitting questions, comments or complaints (and suggests that asking questions is the best way of eliciting information) rather than submitting an issue which, in his dictionary, is:

- a point in question
- an important subject of debate or litigation
- a result
- an outcome
- a decision

and then Mr Mustard thought he would check the Constitution. As seems to often be the case the council website wasn't working properly so he went back to his paper copy from April 13 (which might be out of date) and it says that residents can raise "local matters" which leads to comments made at the meeting and then the decision maker has to respond within 20 days so you aren't going to submit an issue at all, but a matter, but no matter!

If you get the thirst for more knowledge you could also start attending Council meetings and you will find the calendar here and/or meet one of your local ward councillors whose details you will find here.

Given the upcoming elections on 22 May they will be falling over themselves to help you and will be delighted to hear from you.

If you seriously want accurate information then you can also send in a Freedom of information request, using this link.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard