26 July 2014

Emergency planning for a mayor disaster

Did you know that the council is partly responsible for emergency planning in the event of a major disaster, see this page. We're all doomed but at least every Capita employee will be safe?

Mr Mustard may have got the title slightly wrong, or there again he may not have?

On his way to a committee room this week Mr Mustard came across a pile of the July 2014 Barnet First magazine, which thankfully hadn't been shoved through his "no junk mail" letterbox and which he supposed it was his civic duty to read, having forgotten his copy of Private Eye which he reads during the quieter moments of dull committee meetings.

The back page is called "working hours" and is a sort of "a day in the life of" a council employee and this month it is the turn of the senior mayoral support officer in which the employee concerned starts by saying it is about more than driving the mayor around. Of course it is, you have to wash the car as well, look after the regalia & robes and the Mayor's parlour at which point we must have a slight diversion:

And I’ve a many curious things to shew when you are there.”
Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”

“I’m sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?” said the Spider to the Fly.
“There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I’ll snugly tuck you in!”
Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “for I’ve often heard it said,
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!”

Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, “Dear friend what can I do,
To prove the warm affection I’ve always felt for you?
I have within my pantry, good store of all that’s nice;
I’m sure you’re very welcome — will you please to take a slice?”
“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “kind Sir, that cannot be,
I’ve heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!”

“Sweet creature!” said the Spider, “you’re witty and you’re wise,
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
I’ve a little looking-glass upon my parlour shelf,
If you’ll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.”
“I thank you, gentle sir,” she said, “for what you’re pleased to say,
And bidding you good morning now, I’ll call another day.”

The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.
Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
“Come hither, hither, pretty Fly, with the pearl and silver wing;
Your robes are green and purple — there’s a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!”

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew,
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue –
Thinking only of her crested head — poor foolish thing! At last,
Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlour — but she ne’er came out again!

And now dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed:
Unto an evil counsellor~, close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.

~ Councillor, surely? (Ed)

and continuing with the duties of this person:

"advising the mayor on protocol" which Mr Mustard would suggest ought to include that an officer and a gentleman wouldn't call on tenants unannounced at 10pm at night.

Now we look at where the mayor has been and this Mr Mustard has cut and paste from the original article to save you going out to your recycling bin.

If Mr Mustard was of a cynical turn of mind he might think that the mayor is off indulging his hobbies at our expense. Can't he see our cadets at their Barnet base or entertain them in his parlour? How often is often? Does anyone feel a freedom of information request coming on?

Finally the Friday Joke, a day late, but never mind

Hugh Rayner, first citizen or worst citizen? You decide. You can always email him at cllr.h.rayner@barnet.gov.uk if you have any words of advice on protocol, decorum, morality, how not to bring disgrace on ones office etc. Feel free to blind copy Mr Mustard in at mrmustard@zoho.com as he likes a laugh.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

25 July 2014

Councillors need to get control of officers - Environment committee

Mr Mustard appears in the above video, thanks Barnet Bugle, from about 1h45m.

Mr Mustard had been somewhat hyper-active at last night's Environment Committee having asked 36 questions which you can find on this link and that is because he thinks there is so much that is wrong with parking policy and he was trying to get councillors to be brave enough to tear up what officers had proposed and make it much more resident friendly.

There were three things that troubled him and the Bugle (himself a former councillor who knows about council procedures) and which they were whispering about in the public gallery.

1. When councillors proposed some changes to the draft policy which is to go out consultation they were told by officers that there wasn't really time to incorporate them. Why did officers not allow time for councillors' amendments to be incorporated rather than simply say it wasn't really possible and then suggest they would stick an extra piece of paper with councillors' comments in at the end? Officers should assume there will be changes and make the timetable accordingly. Councillors set policy, it is why they exist.

2. Councillors were told by a staff member that they should complete the consultation like ordinary members of the public should. Er, no. Councillors will consider the consultation feedback of residents and make their own suggestions at the next committee meeting to consider this, councillors are not the public in this regard, they represent the public. Officers need to remember this.

3. Both parking and Re: (The stupidly shortened name of Regional Enterprise, a council joint venture) officers / staff handed out papers to councillors at the meeting but did not put any extra copies on the table for the public. The public are entitled to see all papers in advance of the meeting as the opportunity to ask public questions was denied and the public were completely in the dark about the detail of what was being discussed. Nothing has been learnt since Tuesday's Audit Committee when an item had to be postponed for a week because councillors had not been given the papers in advance. Governance please take note.

Mr Mustard is off now to email governance and he will copy in the Chief Operating Officer who was also spectating from the public gallery.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Comment (a speech)

Last night at the Environment Committee the vexed question of parking policy was on the agenda. Members of the public can comment (making a speech really) for up to 3 minutes and I think that technically you are addressing the chairman but of course the whole room can hear your views. Mr Mustard nearly ran out of time because the officer on the left of the chairman Dean Cohen kept whispering in his ear, presumably something like "Mr Mustard is completely wrong, of course we don't revenue raise"). Mr Mustard's strategy for dealing with this is to stop speaking until the chairman and the officer stop speaking to each other, give him their full attention again, and then he quietly carries on. It does slightly disturb the rhythm of his delivery and so here, for the benefit of those who didn't listen attentively is the full text of what he said (Mr Mustard gave a printed copy to the governance officer after he had spoken as he thinks they have to record the gist of his comments - he will follow this helpful practice from now on)

The council's reputation is largely founded on collecting dustbins, cleaning streets and parking enforcement.

The reputation for parking probably couldn't get much lower.

The reason for this is that, whatever the council might say to the contrary, the council is revenue raising from the issue of PCN. The proof comes in paragraph 5.2.2 of the response to Alan's (Councillor Schneiderman) member's item which shows that a reduction in parking income would have an impact on projects or that funding for them would have to come from the general fund which is of course what the general fund is for.

I sat through the judicial review on parking permit pricing and the judge rejected the argument that prices could be increased to plug a hole in the budget. The council needs to wean itself off any reliance on parking income and should treat it as a useful bonus in the year after a surplus has been generated.

The other reason why we know that the projected annual surplus on the Special Parking Account is actually a target, although not in name, is that if there is the slightest danger that the projected surplus will be missed, a parking improvement plan gets put in place to make sure that the projected surplus is achieved.

As soon as the council starts to concern itself by the effect on the budgets of other services of policy decisions then you are using parking income as a revenue raising measure.

Please stop.

Now councillors it is you who decide policy, not officers. They have given you a suggested parking policy, and that is all it is, a suggestion. I have already had a good go at it by submitting 30 questions to make the council reflect if it is going the best way about things.

So if you want:

10 minutes grace after paid for parking and on single yellow lines and 5 minutes for everything else except for terrible naughtiness such as parking on pedestrian crossing zig zags

a PCN to be cancelled if the wrong location gets used

a PCN to be cancelled if the wrong vehicle registration gets used

a PCN for a blue badge holder to be cancelled once they show they hold a valid blue badge

then say so today and take a vote on it.

If you don't want:

spy cars & parking sensors

enforcement on bank holidays

bailiffs sent after pensioners and the disabled
traffic wardens parked illegally

then make those policies today and improve the reputation of the council and make Barnet a better place for its residents.

There is a public consultation coming on 1 August so get your thinking caps on as to what you think the parking regime should look like. You can be as radical as you like.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

23 July 2014

(PO) Boxed into a corner

no value in writing to Worthing
The above address is the return address from an envelope that came with a Notice to Owner in the last few days. It is very odd as the Notice has an address to send your challenge to of PO Box 197, Lowton Way, Hellaby, Sheffield S98 1LW and so we could reasonable expect the envelope to bear the same address.

Now either NSL haven't told their printers (they outsource bulk printing of documents as far as Mr Mustard can see, to a company called Infinity Print?) or NSL or the printer has acted like cheapskates and decided to use up the existing stock of envelopes rather than waste them (they could be given to charity to find a use for).

Why does it matter? It matters because if a document is sent to you by NSL on behalf of Barnet Council which you don't receive it will take an age, if ever, to be returned via the special sorting office for undelivered post at Royal Mail Belfast to the Sheffield address inside. If you end up filing an out-of-time witness statement due to non-receipt of a vital document the council, acting by their agent, NSL will file a statement of truth that mail sent by them was not returned undelivered. It was impossible for the item to be returned if the PO box on the envelope was no longer in use. This is the sort of truth which is not the whole truth.

Mr Mustard thinks that the Worthing PO Box has been quietly abandoned as the test item he sent there by the 1st Class Signed for service on 17 July 14 has not yet been delivered.

If you have written to this Worthing address in the last month send your letter again to the Sheffield one as it is going to go into a black hole. If you have had an item returned please send copies to Mr Mustard so we can work out when the PO Box was closed as Mr Mustard suspects it has been for some time. Mr Mustard also asked the Royal Mail to confirm the delivery address and they couldn't find a live record for the PO Box in Worthing.

He rather thought that this was just an NSL (or their agent) failing but finds the council to be equally behind the times. He looked up their website and look, no mention of Sheffield! The address on the link will change as soon as Barnet Parking read this blog page so Mr Mustard has cut the address out of it as it stands today:

So you are not getting 100% consistent information from either NSL or the council. It's a poor show.

What should have happened is that the council should have had a pop-up box or flashing information panel about the new address on the PCN web entry page and a cautionary note should have been enclosed with every communication on a piece of coloured paper so it doesn't get missed. It isn't too late for the council to make partial amends by doing this now. The council also need to accept as valid any representations that were sent to Worthing in error when the motorist didn't see that their PCN said Worthing and the Notice to Owner said Sheffield.

Silence which leads to motorist error is simply not good enough. A Rabbi fell foul of the fax machine being withdrawn overnight in 2012 and he sent 4 faxes for all of which he got delivery receipts and the council denied receipt of all 4. He ended up paying the bailiff. Don't find yourself in the same boat.

If the entire parking service was managed in-house Mr Mustard feels sure that this change of address would have been carried out in a more joined up manner.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

They looked like lost pet notices!

Barnet Council, and their sub-contractors, have a lot to learn about the art of communication. Seeing a yellow PCN envelope on your windscreen is enough to bring many people out in a cold sweat or cause their heart to miss a beat. That feeling isn't forgotten when you open up the envelope to find, not a wretched PCN, but a notice of road lining works, the damage has been done.

Was it Advance notice?

Just. The PCN plastic envelopes were stuck to every car at the weekend in advance of works on the following Tuesday so 2 or 3 day's notice was given. Luckily Mr Mustard's informant came back from holiday just in time or they would have been given a PCN for not having moved their car.

Were the works really only decided upon at the last minute? Of course not. There will have been an interminable number of surveys, meetings, emails, quotations etc. working out which roads would be done when and at what cost. It should have been possible to give advance notice of at least 2 weeks to residents.

Was it adequate notice?

No, as only those people with vehicles parked in the road at a weekend would have been notified. The set of vehicles parked in the road at a weekend could very well be quite different to the set who park there in the week. No consideration has been made for the occasional visitors of residents as these notices were not put through letterboxes.

What should the council do?

Two weeks before the chosen day they should put signs up on all posts.

At the same time they should put letters, in envelopes, preferably by street address, through letterboxes. Having just rolled out individually labelled blue bins across the borough the council should have a good database of home addresses that they could make more use of.

In the two days before the chosen day they should put warning notices on cars of the proposed lining works. These should be in envelopes marked "Useful information about street lining works on dd/mm/yyyy".

If on the day there is the odd car in the way they should knock on a door or two to see if they can locate the owner and ask them to move as there may be a good reason why that car has not moved (hospitalisation, working abroad, on a long holiday etc) rather than just issuing a PCN for being innocently in contravention.


If you are going to apologise, at least spell it correctly. Apologise does not have two "p's".

NSL really do need to be a lot better at communicating; not just by PCN how they usually do.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


Mr Mustard asked his informant about signs on lampposts and this is what they had to say:

There were some photocopies sellotaped around lamp-posts. None of them looked official or professional. They looked like lost pet notices. And they were wrapped round rather than flat and prominent. It would have been very easy to miss them or not understand what they were.

I've written to Barnet asking for an explanation. I'm yet to hear.

In any event, none of these things were there on Friday morning. I was away for the weekend. Came back Monday lunchtime and the fake PCN was there. I wasn't given any notice that a yellow line was about to appear outside my house
(a separate matter, a new yellow line which has never been there before, no consultation, no advance warning).

There were no cones out.