31 January 2014

Cromwell Museum - Huntingdon

 
Dear All

You may have seen that, in an all-too-familiar act of barbarism, Cambridgeshire County Council (minority Tory 'leadership', 11 UKIP councillors!) intends to withdraw its funding of the Cromwell Museum at Huntingdon from 2015. The 'savings' made will be pitiful (some £20,000 a year), but the proposal comes with all the usual sick-making cant about prioritising resources to 'protect the vulnerable'.

(This sad news will have a paticular resonance for all those who were involved with Church Farmhouse Museum. Church Farm had a very happy relationship with the Cromwell Museum. We displayed two of its excellent travelling exhibitions- on the Regicides and on Cromwell's re-admission of the Jews to England- and, when Church Farm shut, we gave our stock of The Rota facsimile 17th Century pamphlets to Huntingdon.)

The Cromwell Museum is the only museum dedicated to one of the most significant figures in British history, and is of national- indeed, international importance. Its building, the oldest in the town, and once Cromwell's grammar school, is Grade II* listed, and so unlikely to fit any other purpose, and its collection, much of it on loan, once dispersed would be unlikely ever to be re-assembled. There are no alternative sources of funding in prospect. Protest has already started in earnest (a letter in Tuesday's Times signed by more than thirty distinguished 17th Century historians attacked the proposed closure in no uncertain terms), but, as always, the 'consultation' period is pitifully short: a petition against this miserable plan must close on 4 February.

Please click on the link below, take a moment to sign the petition (and forward the link to anyone you think might be concerned), and show the cheese-paring clowns of Cambridgeshire CC that, even if they do not think that history matters, a lot of us do.

http://savethecromwellmuseum.org/

regards

Gerrard

29 January 2014

Why bother having KPI if you don't enforce them?

KPI review meeting in full swing
Sharp eyed readers will have noticed Barnet getting a mention in the Standard again yesterday in an article about targets for the issue of parking tickets. Barnet doesn't have an explicit target for an absolute number of PCN but the contract does include KPI (Key Performance Indicators) which are likely to drive up the number of PCNs issued, such as (these are extracts from the contract)

KPI.2 : effectiveness will be assessed by ... PCNs issued.

KPI.11 : The service provider will maintain....the industry average for the recovery of a PCN at £45 and work to increase the value of this recovery rate for the duration of this contract.

Mr Mustard raised objections to the Accounts of Barnet Council for both of these somewhat doubtful KPI to the external auditor Paul Hughes of Grant Thornton. His reply, which for Mr Mustard's four objections about parking, ran to 8 pages which actually said very little apart from some little gems hidden away, was that everything was cushty (Mr Mustard may be paraphrasing the champion pen twiddler's reply here, you'll doubtless be familiar with Mrs Angry's descriptions on the Broken Barnet blog of the high esteem in which the external auditor is held by Barnet's Bloggers) and that he wouldn't be doing anything, apart from giving us a hefty extra invoice (actually this last bit Mr Mustard gleaned from the agenda for the Audit Committee meeting of 28 January when Mr Mustard had a snooker team to captain, which won 7-5 since you are asking, and to be fair to Mr Hughes he is at some future date when everyone has forgotten what happened going to have a closer look in the council's records at what Mr Mustard had to say, although he'd probably be well advised to sub-contract it to Mr Mustard and his fellow bloggers to ensure a thorough job does actually get done).

Mr Mustard supposes we should be grateful. When it came to paying MetPro over a million pounds, there wasn't a contract. Was that something that the external auditor picked up during his audit? oh bless me no. Mrs Angry was the lead auditor that day with her army of armchair auditors all offering their assistance, advice and publicity. Well, at least with NSL Ltd there is a Contract. 

So why is Mr Mustard unhappy? Simples, because the Contract terms aren't being enforced.

The KPI are meant to be recorded every month. As part of his armchair audit, under the Audit Commission Act 1998, Mr Mustard asked to see actual KPI in July 13 for the previous year to March 13. The actual measurements were not available even though within the Contract they are clearly specified (despite NSL thinking they had yet to be agreed - the numpties) and accordingly each month has to be considered as not met. Therefore the "Bits" - bonus payments or deductions - had to be heading downwards to the floor and Mr Mustard calculated, & he is quite good at maths, that a refund of £137,343 was due to the council (on behalf of Mr Mustard and every other resident). Somehow he feels that if a bonus of that amount was due to NSL they wouldn't have wasted any time in submitting their invoice. This refund has not been made.

Let us now look quickly at the average recovery value of a PCN.

Year to 31 March 12, when Barnet Council ran the whole show:

Income / number of PCN issued
£7,227,652 / 134,801 = £53.61 average PCN income.
 
Year to 31 March 13, NSL were appointed on 1 May 12 (so 11 months of this year is theirs and their figures will have been boosted by the council handling the first month)

£5,834,877 / 165,569 = £35.24 average PCN income.

From this we can see that the income achievement of NSL (and Mr Mustard doesn't want PCN used as revenue raisers) is only 65.7% as good as the council's. Quite simply, their performance is mediocre (Mr Mustard is being polite here, Private Eye would say they are piss poor)

Now the bloggers have got sadly inured to council procurement being awful. Which cretin, or cretins, agrees a KPI for £45 when the current council performance is £53.61. So some complacement idiot is content with a KPI performance level that is 84% of the current performance. If the person who agreed this hasn't yet left the council please would they now do so now and don't put your hand out for a pay-off. The first rule of negotiation is that you don't give anything away for nothing.

What is also clear though is that at £35.24 NSL are performing at 78% of a woefully reduced expectation.

Clearly KPI.11 has not been met, ever.

If a KPI that measures incoming revenue isn't a revenue raising measure then Mr Mustard doesn't know what is (no matter how satisfied our apparently easily satisfied external auditor is).

The parts of the Paul Hughes letter that Mr Mustard did find interesting are these, thanks Paul: 

In appointing NSL Ltd, the Council had an expectation that recovery rates would improve so these figures do represent underperformance to date in recovery of PCNs.

There is a clear acknowledgement from the Council that management of the NSL contract has not been acceptable.

We are aware that remedial actions are being put in place by the Council, including a recent performance meeting with NSL, resulting in a high level performance plan.

the overpayment to NSL ... remains the subject of performance discussions with the contractor.

What Mr Mustard notes from the above remarks.

Once a contract is signed even if your performance is only 65% of what it ought to be, not much will happen.

The council is unable to properly manage outsourced Contracts, as the Famous Five Barnet Bloggers have been saying for ages.

Every blunder simply results in a "lessons will be learned" improvement plan. We had one after MetPro; it evidently hasn't worked; they are just a sop.

Some 10 months after the year end, and 22 months after the contract started, the contract terms have not been implemented. 

What is the point of having contract terms that the Council don't implement.

The wider picture

The NSL contract is a simple procurement of one service, parking enforcement.

Scale it up 40 times to the level of NSCSO (customer services) or DRS (development and regulatory services) which bundle together a myriad of services with many more KPI and it is clear that the council doesn't have the skill or the will, or both, to properly enforce the contracts that they sign.

The commissioning council is going to be an unmitigated disaster, no matter how much hot air is spouted by councillors in Hendon Town Hall. 

You councillors don't have the grasp of details that the bloggers have. 

You did pick this contractual failure up before Mr Mustard, didn't you? 
Silence.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

One Barnet parking contract - less for more

Mr Mustard's twitter followers asked why NSL managed to issue so many more PCN than Barnet Council and then collect a lower amount of money.

To save you going back to the previous blog (you easily can by clicking on older post at the bottom) the number of PCN went up by 30,000 in the year that NSL took over (they were in charge of issuing and processing for 11 months of that year) and the sum recovered from motorists for PCN fell by £1.4 million - that is a spectacular result by any measure - spectacularly bad unfortunately. Mr Mustard seems to recall the council "Leader" Richard Cornelius telling the audience at the BAPS Question Time event how well this contract was working; you didn't have a clue did you Richard? you were simply bluffing. The contract with NSL was intended to save £600,000 a year.

Mr Mustard does accept that costs are down by more than the drop in income but he doesn't have an analysis of why that is so (he might have to make his first FOI request for many a month) and thinks that it is because there are a number of one-off events such as the movement of £167,000 out of the parking budget into the customer services budget. We must compare apples with apples, or more likely lemons with lemons in this case. Costs were only targeted to reduce by £600,000 so a drop of £1.9m must have some other explanation.

So possible reasons for the dismal performance by NSL are (and these are simply the as informed as possible views of Mr Mustard, if NSL want to write in and explain Mr Mustard will publish what they have to say)

When traffic wardens were employed by the council they were paid about £10 an hour. New ones taken on by NSL to fill existing and new vacancies are only paid £8.20 an hour. Applicants are likely to be of lower quality.

Traffic wardens were being sent out on the beat before they had sat their NVQ in parking tickets which would be a breach of contract by NSL that was probably swept under the carpet by Barnet Council; at least until Mr Mustard asked a direct question about the start dates and exam pass dates of traffic wardens. It is only a level 2 NVQ which isn't exactly difficult to obtain. You might think that NVQ stands for National Vocational Qualification but others know it as Not Very Qualified.

Traffic wardens are issuing more marginal parking tickets which motorists are more likely to contest. People have an inbuilt sense of fairness and won't pay if they have been unfairly treated. Marginal tickets include for being 2cm across a dropped kerb, having half a wheel on a bay line, overstaying for 1 minute, being ticketed whilst in the process of paying by phone and being stood next to the traffic warden and telling that what you are doing. 

Parking tickets were also being issued when you, or a visitor, parked across your own dropped kerb (which only serves your property) and which should only be enforced if you ring up saying there is a problem. 

Parking tickets have been issued for scratching out vouchers with a pen instead of a coin. Ridiculous as the voucher has been rendered unusable a second time.

When NSL took over the existing back office team of local people who answered your letters and emails about parking tickets were all made redundant (a handful scrabbled to find new posts elsewhere within the council) and the whole operation was moved to Croydon. Posts that were previously worth £25k were suddenly only worth £18k. The quality of staff employed by NSL must be lower than those previously employed by Barnet Council directly.

Some of these new Notice Processing Officers (NPO) simply don't know enough about parking law and get corrected by the independent adjudicator at PATAS who is legally qualified. These NPO keep writing, for example, that you should go on the internet before you set off on a journey to see if Saracens are playing. The Adjudicator keeps giving that comment a drubbing.

The back office is in Croydon so there is no local knowledge or affinity with the residents.

The back office team should have been increased in size by 20% to reflect the increased volume of parking tickets which will have led to an increased volume of appeals. It probably hasn't been increased in size. In fact, as NSL are paid a fixed price per month they have probably tried to slim down the team. You can see the temptation to do that. 

Some of the extra PCN were due to the Saracens Zone which has added from 200 to 500 parking tickets on each match day (up to 16 a year). This has led to new arguments because the zone wasn't advertised well enough, because the zone is far too large and because people miss the zone entry signs and then have no idea if it is an Event Day or not.

The back office team weren't familiar with the back office software used by the council and which NSL are still using (new software is being purchased later this year; that will lead to a few new cock-ups). This meant that some parking tickets weren't chased at all and others were wrongly chased and had to be cancelled.

NSL were meant to have had bailiffs ready to roll on 1 May 12 but they didn't get them appointed until April 13. How incompetent can you get? The delay also meant that the parking tickets sent to bailiffs were harder to collect as many more of the cars would have been sold on or scrapped and so couldn't be seized.

Finally, the whole structure of parking enforcement is not designed to enable good communications and team working.

Traffic Management Orders, permits, sign installation and the organisation of line painting are all managed by the council out of North London Business Park or the Mill Hill depot.

Traffic wardens work out of Solar House in North Finchley (which incidentally will be why there are so many traffic wardens in the town centre there. Mr Mustard saw one at 8.10 and two more at 8.20 whilst eating his poached eggs on toast at Cafe Buzz and co-incidentally reading emails from the parking manager about the Lodge Lane Car Park Meter)

Documents are scanned in Worthing.

Challenges to parking tickets are dealt with in Croydon.

Not quite sure where bulk document printing takes place but it could be somewhere else again.

How can the poor client side parking manager ensures everyone works as a team when they are in so many different places? He can't, as we see.

This experience has a parallel in the Capita contract for collecting Council Tax. If their collection performance is inferior to that of the previous council team the drop in income could obliterate any cost saving.

If Mr Mustard had his way he would bring parking back in house. Mainly because it is a front line service that the council is measured by and it always upsets people which causes reputational damage to the council and secondly because it would be twice as easy to manage if it were in one place. The money doesn't matter. It will always make a profit which shouldn't be used to artificially subsidise Council Tax. The surplus made from parking tickets should be used for special one off projects which otherwise wouldn't happen and should be spent in the following year so that there isn't pressure to make a certain amount. The surplus should be spent on things that make Barnet a better place to live.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


Mr Mustard tenders his apologies to the council client side parking team who have probably now got senior management and/or the "leader" or Cllr Dean Cohen breathing down their necks wanting instant results which just isn't possible when each PCN is only 0.0000606% of the problem. This mess is not of your creation; it is the fault of the Cabinet Resources Committee for voting it through.

28 January 2014

One Barnet isn't working

Fine words butter no parsnips
Before he gives you the bad news about One Barnet, Mr Mustard wants you to know that he isn't against the idea of outsourcing as he himself is a debt collector who provides an outsourced service. The difference between him and One Barnet is that he delivers what he promises and his income is directly related to his success rate. Mr Mustard was against One Barnet from the start as he didn't think the council had the capacity to procure what was needed ( the hapless Craig Cooper has left us but his legacy lingers) as he didn't think it provided the flexibility that was needed, a contract cannot provide for the unexpected, and as he didn't think the KPI (Key Performance Indicators) would be properly implemented or monitored and as the right to terminate at certain points in the contract were unlikely to be utilised as the capacity to provide the same service would not exist. You can disregard all of the Leader's fine words about how wonderful the world would be as mere blandishments designed to pour oil on troubled waters.

Sadly, in one of the first decent sized One Barnet projects to go live, Mr Mustard has been proved completely right in his doubts about the ability of the slim client side (Mr Mustard has no criticism of the individuals who are doing their best and are under the constant eye of Mr Mustard or his many moles, some of whom even Mr Mustard doesn't know the identity of) to properly scrutinise an outsourced provider at distance simply because they are under-resourced.

Now parking, as compared to the multifarious services taken over by Capita, is a walk in the park. All you have to do is wander about the borough and dish out parking tickets and then collect them. It is a discrete service i.e. it stands alone. What could be simpler? You can equate it to a sausage factory; meat, fat and rusk go in (Mr Mustard is vegetarian so not strong on sausage details) and sausages come out of the other end. This is what should happen to parking tickets. PCN go into the machine and money comes out of the other side.

NSL took over on 1 May 12 so we can broadly compare the years to 31 March 12 as being pre NSL and the year to 31 March 13 as being post NSL. How did they do?

Well, on the issue of PCN they couldn't have done better than a drunken sailor home on shore leave (Mr Mustard doesn't know where traffic wardens are recruited but if it is on the docks at Plymouth when a ship comes in he wouldn't be at all surprised)

Number of PCN # #
Year 11-12 12-13
Parking PCN 121,484 150,211
Bus Lane 13,317 15,358
Total 134,801 165,569
Increase
30,768
Percentage increase 23%

So since NSL took over there has been a whopping increase of 23% in the volume of PCN issued. Have you become 23% worse at parking since 1 May 12? No, Mr Mustard didn't think you had. So, put quite simply, NSL are out there from 7 in the morning until 11 at night issuing PCN like drunken sailors for marginal contraventions.


Have NSL managed to collect all of these extra PCN, or at least the same proportion of them as Barnet Council themselves did? Apparently not:

Income £ £
Year 11-12 12-13
Parking PCN 6,492,115 5,003,385
Bus Lane 735,537 831,492
Total 7,227,652 5,834,877
Decrease
1,392,775
Percentage drop 19%


Now let us remind ourselves how much outsourcing to NSL was meant to save. The answer is to be found in the papers of the Cabinet Resources Committee meeting of 14 December 2011 which show that the 5 year contract was meant to save £2.95m over 5 years or £599,000 each year. So here we are after one year and we are losing twice as much as we are meant to be saving. 

Why haven't NSL been sacked when they fail to deliver so spectacularly? Well Richard Cornelius, what do you say to that?

Who should we blame for this mess? Well the councillors who were at CRC that night is a good place to start. The minutes show the councillors present to have been:

Cllr Daniel Thomas
Cllr Sachin Rajput
Cllr Richard Cornelius
Cllr Robert Rams
Cllr Andrew Harper
Cllr Brian Coleman

Shouldn't all of these councillors be playing merry hell that they have voted for something which hasn't been delivered? Yes. 
Are they doing so? No.

Are they up to the job of being councillors? Probably not, so vote them out at the next elections in May 14.

How does this translate into One Barnet generally? Well, if NSL can't manage a simple process like parking tickets there is no hope for Capita and complex compound procurements like NSCSO and DRS.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

24 January 2014

Saracens Zone - suggested plan to appease residents

a helping hand

Mr Mustard has just appealed a PCN for the Saracens Event day zone for someone who lives within in and evidently didn't realise, at the time, that he did so. The appeal will doubtless get rejected (AG28544536 if the council want instead to save themselves the £40 PATAS fee and Mr Mustard the time spent going to Angel and back) and the motorist now knows and won't get ticketed again as he has the necessary free permit & vouchers for visitors.

Mr Mustard knows that the ward councillors are getting enormous grief from residents and if this isn't all about the money Mr Mustard knows how to calm things down.

If the "offending" motorist is from outside of the borough then the appeal process should take its course with the PCN being judged on its merits.

If the motorist is from within the borough then they should have their PCN cancelled the first time and they should be sent a map of the zone and a list of match dates (a complete and correct one obviously) so they don't transgress again.

If the motorist lives within the ED zone then all ED zone PCN should be cancelled and they should be issued with an ED permit the cost of which is payable by Saracens. If necessary a dispensation can be granted whilst the permit is processed. The council themselves can check where the vehicle is registered as part of the PCN process so it shouldn't take long.

Any car with a permit for a different CPZ zone shouldn't be ticketed either but an information pack should be placed on their car to encourage them to apply for an ED zone permit (whoever decided that one car needed 2 permits put the council's administrative organisational problem before the convenience of residents - which was just wrong).

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Just for the record Mr Mustard has rather sloppily used "appeal" as the word to describe representations made to the council or a "challenge" as it is also known. An Appeal is the correct word for the, usually, third stage of trying to get the PCN cancelled when you file a Notice of Appeal with PATAS. Everyone understands what is generally meant by appeal though.

23 January 2014

Q. How can you tell when a traffic warden is lying?


A. When their lips move.




Mr Mustard first heard this joke from a Frenchman talking about a Belgian but suspects it has many variants. The old uns are the best.

Q. Why has Mr Mustard told this joke?
A. As he received the below email from a friend.


Hello Mr Mustard

We could use your advice again. We parked in the Stapylton Road car park today. The credit card machine was not working. My mobile phone was not working – the reason we were there was so that I could go into the Spires and get the phone fixed. What to do?

There was another couple present; they were from out of the borough and didn't have a mobile phone. There was also a parking warden and we clustered around her. A man came to get his van and told her that the machine didn't work. He took the PCN she had just put on his car, offered it back to her (no dice) and then said he never paid them anyway.

The warden rang the office and told us as the machine was out of order, our alternative was to use the phone. We each explained our situation again: no phone and broken phone. The other couple drove away (lost trade for Barnet). The warden said that we could get a voucher from the library but it had to be in 3 minutes; I said I didn't think we could do it that quickly. Then she said she was leaving the car park and would return in half an hour; she repeated that. So, guess what, we thought we had 30 minutes' grace. We went and got the phone fixed, returned to our car and – you already know, don't you – there was a PCN on our car, which from the time on it was issued as we left the car park.

Now, when we appeal, do we tell the entire story or just state the fact that the machine wasn't working and my phone wasn't working. Is the council obliged to have a working machine for payment or are we obliged to go elsewhere? By the way, we recently had to use the Moxon St car park, and it's credit card machine was out of order for at least two weeks; I don't know if it has been fixed, but on those occasions my phone was working.

Thanks for what I know will be your words of wisdom.

Yours truly

Mr G Washington


So the PCN is for £60.

What will happen now is that Mr Mustard will lodge informal representations.

If they get rejected, as they so often do (maybe 90% of the time), he'll wait for the Notice to Owner to arrive and then he'll lodge the same representations by which time they are known as formal representations.

If they get rejected, as they seem to about 80% of the time, he'll fill out the PATAS form; this stage is called the Appeal. At that point Barnet Council will have to shell out £40 in fees to PATAS for a £60 PCN which is all that his friend is at risk for. The council will also have to produce a huge evidence bundle that takes 2 or 3 hours to complete. Mr Mustard will read it and chop it into little pieces before the Appeal hearing.

Whilst you are going through the process the maximum PCN value is frozen. If you lose at PATAS you get 28 days to pay in. If you are a bit broke when your PCN arrives you can delay it for 3 months by challenging all the way.

There is at least a 70% chance that Barnet Council will lose the appeal at PATAS as the independent adjudicator is not motivated by PCN income. So, if a hundred £60 PCN go to Appeal at PATAS, Barnet Council will pay out £4,000 in fees.

They will get back 100 * 30% * £60 = £1,800

The breakeven for the council is if 66% of Appeals get rejected. They / NSL will have to sharpen their act up considerably before that day dawns. Mr Mustard also has a few cards hidden up his sleeve which he is saving for later.

It really doesn't seem that sensible for the council to ever refuse formal representations on lower value (£60) PCN especially from Mr Mustard who takes 100% of refused representations to PATAS.

Mr Mustard will wait and see the photos in the morning, as this PCN was only issued today, before he emails the informal representations. You never know, the PCN might have been cancelled by then.

One day councillors might just wake up and realise what this sort of behaviour by traffic wardens does for the reputation of Barnet and for traders. We do need parking enforcement, but we need sensible commonsense reasonable parking enforcement that is not relied on to keep council tax down.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


Private message: AG23567487

Saracens - left hand - right hand - drop the ball

So here is a tweet that the council have just put out:
So Mr Mustard did look at the CPZ page, and here it is:


Has this 25 January fixture been added to the Event Day schedule on the website recently? Probably, if the council are only just tweeting about it. Mr Mustard has found that it was announced back on 9 December, here. Mr Mustard then went to the google cache and found the previous page which was crawled by the googlebot on 16 January. Here it is and it proves that the page change is a recent one:

Then Mr Mustard looked out the fixture list that was distributed by Saracens themselves early on in the season, the front sheet of which was headed

"AVOID GETTING PARKING TICKETS ON MATCH DAYS"

and here it is:

So look at those three lots of information in reverse order to get them in ascending date order.

To start with Saracens say there will be a match this Sunday.
Then Barnet Council somehow put down a match for this Saturday but not Sunday.
Then finally, with only 2 days to go, Barnet Council manage to get both matches onto their website, which no motorist is obliged to look at before they enter the zone. Parking compliantly based upon officially published information on which it ought to be possible to place some reliance, you simply can't.

What should the council do this weekend? They should decide to not issue a single ticket in the Event Day zone as profiting from its own incompetence is most unattractive.

What is the extra Saturday match anyway? It is a friendly against The Sharks (a team from South Africa and not from anywhere near Sale as Mr Mustard wrote previously). Will the crowd be that large that it should count as an Event day? Possibly not. (Mr Mustard got half of this entire blog wrong, the crowd is at least 9,000)

Everyone who gets a PCN in the Saracens ED event day CPZ zone should appeal three times. See the guide to appealing at the top left. The reason for the appeal is that the council have not made you properly aware that it is an Event Day. Simply repeat that appeal all the way to PATAS & you will probably win. Every PATAS appeal costs the council £40, they hate paying those fees. Make their pocket hurt.

Come on Barnet Council. Behave with honour and dignity.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


Update, Thursday 4pm

Just to show you how little Mr Mustard knows about rugby he has been told that 9,000 tickets have been sold for the friendly fixture. There are only 300 parking spaces at the ground which isn't exactly well served by public transport. Enforcement therefore has to take place as residents complain about bad parking and about getting parking tickets when they shouldn't be there (different residents obviously). The numbers of PCN being issued are apparently slowing, going down from about 500 a day at the peak to under 200 now. Of course if you are one of the chosen 200 it isn't funny. More PCN are being cancelled if appealed (so appeal!) and you probably have a better chance if you live within the zone and then apply for a free permit. The whole size of the zone is again under question as the traffic wardens are wearing their shoe leather out covering it. Some dot matrix signs of a more reasonable price have been identified and they will get used the rest of the year for other purposes, road closures, special events in town centres that sort of thing.

It seem to take forever sometimes but changes are coming apparently. As part of Mr Mustard's deal with the COO to get a reasonable number of FOI questions answered (although he hasn't asked any for months) he agreed to write a bit of good news as well as bad, so when these changes arrive you will read it on this blog.


16 January 2014

Voucher scratching for dummies

Barnet variation - scratch with a pen & lose £60
Some problems just don't go away.

Back in October, Mr Mustard blogged about the senseless policy of giving a parking ticket (PCN) to anyone who had the temerity to scratch out the panels on a visitor voucher (or parking voucher) using a pen instead of a coin.

Following his email debate with one the parking managers NSL were instructed to tell traffic wardens not to issue a PCN if someone had used a pen to mark off the voucher instead of a coin as clearly the voucher could not be used twice and that is all that matters.

Fast forward to 13 December and what happens? yes, you guessed it another pen scratched voucher leads to the issue of a PCN. Representations were sent in by the motorist and rejected and then he turned to Mr Mustard. Following an email from Mr Mustard to a parking manager NSL and its traffic wardens are again being reminded not to issue PCN in such circumstances. if you are affected do send an email to mrmustard@zoho.com and he will assist you.

What does this tell us about outsourcing? That when the staff report to someone else your message as a manager may not get through as you would like. It makes managing traffic wardens much harder as they are in a different building and not under your direct control so communications are much harder. It tells us that the back office either haven't got a clue, or are turning down representations that they know they should accept in order to get money into the coffers, or that a simple error was made. It also tells you that parking client side at the council are probably not sufficiently resourced to keep a close enough eye on what NSL are doing in the name of the council. If they were, Mr Mustard wouldn't keep finding things that are wrong, the parking team would.

The PCN was for £60. Mr Mustard gives his time for free and now, in 2014, asks those people whose PCN is cancelled to make a donation to the North London Hospice. This is the first one who has told him the amount (Mr Mustard doesn't need to know but it is nice) and a very generous £50 is being paid. Whatever you can afford will help others who have much more to worry about than a parking ticket.

A story with a happy ending. Thank goodness the motorist was introduced to Mr Mustard as he was elderly and was stressed by the situation and nearly paid £30 (the 50% for fast payment) to get rid of the problem. Much better that funds go to the hospice rather than the council.

If you have been poorly treated please don't pay the council but get expert help.

Anyone want to bet how long it will be before the next incorrect scratching PCN lands on Mr Mustard's desk?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

10 January 2014

Never Sodding Learn = "NSL"

Parallel Universe aka Croydon (click for original picture location)
Now Mr Mustard is a bit sad sometimes and he reads the PATAS reports for Barnet every day. Barnet council, acting through their contractor, NSL, also have to read them as they get sent them in order to deal with the fate of appealed parking tickets. What they are also meant to do is to learn from them; they don't appear to.

In April 2013 Mr Mustard and a parking manager at Barnet Council had an email debate about whether or not a visitor voucher on which a pen had been used was "scratched off or not". Mr Mustard said "yes", the parking manager said "no" but cancelled the PCN anyway which Mr Mustard viewed as agreement but the parking manager would say was just extending goodwill (and saving the fee of £40 he would have had to pay for the PATAS appeal as Mr Mustard has never failed to take a PCN appeal to the end of the line).

He didn't mention it later when an adjudicator at PATAS, the ultimate arbitrator of what is right or wrong said the following:

Miss L produced the original visitor voucher which was on display in her vehicle at the time in question. Clearly visible are the blue ballpoint scratches which have been made across the relevant day date and year to show that it was valid for the day in question. I conclude that a valid visitor voucher was displayed.

The officer appears to have issued the Penalty Charge Notice on the basis that the voucher had not been scratched out properly. This seems to me to be utterly without foundation. It is clear from the marks on the voucher that in scratching across the relevant items with the pen Miss L had put the voucher well beyond a second use. In the circumstances there is no doubt at all that she had complied with requirements.

Mr Mustard hasn't mentioned this case to the manager concerned but he will now. This is because he has another case where a man of over 80 has been given a parking ticket in identical circumstances. He does not have the time or nerves to challenge but luckily he has been introduced to Mr Mustard who has a limitless supply of energy with which to contest stupidity and/or improper behaviour. The informal representations have been rejected on the grounds that "the details were not scratched out, a pen was used. This invalidates the voucher..." which based upon the earlier case is incorrect.

What Mr Mustard thinks should happen in response to the daily reports from PATAS is that the back office should look and see what types of appeal they lose and then stop contesting them or change the lines and signs which are defective etc. In addition, traffic wardens should be educated to not issue a PCN when a voucher has clearly been put beyond reuse and at doubtful locations until they are fixed.

A cynic would say that they don't want to learn because 50% of all PCN, right or wrong, get paid in the first 14 days. The appeal trend is a growing force though and as people appeal to the adjudicator and win, they are emboldened the next time. It seems to Mr Mustard that Barnet Council are going to get themselves to the top of the adjudicator appeals league table by their policy of issuing marginal parking tickets and not learning from their past mistakes. If every single parking ticket was appealed all the way to PATAS the fees to pay in a year would be £6,600,000 - just imagine that.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Private message. AG18043068

8 January 2014

Residents' forums / fora

Interesting choice of venue, the Crown Moran Hotel, about as far west as you can get without leaving the borough. The church hall at Golders Green seemed perfectly fine to Mr Mustard, central within the constituency and with very good transport links.

Who thought up those email addresses? whoever it was needs to think again and use:

cbrf@barnet.gov.uk
fggrf@branet.gov.uk
hrf@barnet.gov.uk

7 January 2014

The penny has dropped - on Parking


Finally, more than 2 years after parking meters were cleared from the streets of Barnet and scrapped, the penny has dropped.

Last night Mr Mustard  went to the Business Management Overview & Scrutiny Committee. Tucked away at the end of the agenda was consideration of whether a decision taken in October 13 (yes all of 3 months ago) should go ahead. If ever you wondered how much time is wasted in pointless meetings, just go to Hendon Town Hall and watch for yourself. You'll find the dates of meetings here. It might help you to see your councillor in action or, in inaction (one didn't add anything to a 3 hour meeting yesterday evening, he might as well have stayed in the party room and scoffed the buffet) and then you can decide if you want them working for you or not.

The meeting was made more palatable by the welcome attendance of the redoubtable Barbara Jacobson who asked 32 questions which highlighted the errors in the report on Regeneration and she asked if perhaps in future someone at the council could check reports before they are published. This lament was made by Mr Mustard the year before last when he found a table that was about a million pounds awry, don't hold your breath Barbara. Also there was Helen Michael, of Cafe Buzz in N12, who has tirelessly campaigned for lower charges and the return of cash parking meters and been assaulted by a councillor for her troubles. If anything, she found last night's meeting even more painful than being assaulted in the street and having her wristed twisted but at least the result was (ah, you'll have to read on). Lovely Green Party Poppy was there. She is standing in High Barnet ward and will get one of my votes in May

So having decided to have a quick fire Task & Finish Group there weren't enough staff resources in the Scrutiny office to run one and the other reason for thinking again was that there was a huge review of parking going on. That was a red herring as the question of payment method was not part of the review. Not only that but since the report to committee was drafted which said there weren't the resources to manage the T&FG the resources had become available. Anyway, the ball having been placed on the pitch, it was duly kicked about for a while by councillors, as follows:

Alison Moore wanted the T&FG to go ahead. it could feed into the larger review.

Brain Salinger was happy to drop the T&FG provided the review came before the committee for pre-scrutiny and he was happy to have an extra meeting for that.

John Hart, bless him, didn't know about the T&FG. Mr Mustard didn't understand that at the time but now sees that John Hart has replaced Andrew Strongolou on the Committee which is just as well. Sadly what John showed us was he hadn't done any reading of previous reports before coming to his first committee which is a bit slack in Mr Mustard's opinion. He is about a 1000 years old and he at least knew about scratchcard vouchers which he seemed to think were popular (not if you get a parking ticket whilst you are in the shop buying one) and he hadn't worked out how to use the credit card meters (lord help us, he makes decisions that affect us all). He didn't want people getting confused by another choice. Hmm, they managed perfectly well before.

Kath McGuirk stepped in. No minced words from Kath. The decision taken 2 years ago was blatantly wrong and need a short sharp T&FG. Well said Kath. We must avoid getting sucked into wider parking issues she said.

John Hart had another go. We are working hard on getting business centres to thrive, he said. (Funny that, no-one can see the results.)

The man in charge of the meeting (Mr Mustard isn't prepared to get into the argument about chairs and chairmen that raged recently on twitter) Hugh Rayner then asked the question which should have been asked at the start. Is the wider review looking at payment options?

Answer: No.

Then the penny dropped. Brian Gordon spoke at length and twiddled his pen like a drum majorette, and he was speaking fast so these are Mr Mustard's notes rather than verbatim, we might get it on film later:

The more that is done to review parking the better, he is concerned about the public, parking exercises the public (i.e. it makes them mad and reactive) we will see the effect in May 14 (when you next vote for councillors) he deals with a lot of parking problems like parking tickets on bank holidays, tickets on boxing day outside synagogues, there is a feeling of nastiness (you could make a policy decision to turn Bank Holidays into Sundays or not enforce at all) he wants the public to be happy (Mr Mustard wants them to park properly as well) he is puzzled by the idea of the T&FG not going ahead, there is a widespread feeling that removal of cash meters was the wrong way to go.

at this point, Hugh Rayner who had been trying hard to keep the meeting to his timetable (wrongly in Mr Mustard's view, the business should take as long as it takes to get the salient points out) proposed that the T&FG should go ahead. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, said aye, and Mr Mustard went to his next meeting.



Mr Mustard wonders if the decision had already been taken beforehand to let it go ahead. Richard Cornelius, the "leader" of the council had been at the meeting all along. Mr Mustard doesn't think he is the best leader he has ever seen but that didn't stop them shaking hands and wishing each other a Happy New Year before the meeting started. Richard left at the end of the previous item. Whatever else Mr Mustard says about Richard he knows a vote losing policy when he sees one and Mr Mustard thought he would stay to steer this item safely to a conclusion but he didn't, he put his coat on (nice scarf Richard by the way) and left so perhaps he made his view known to Hugh before the meeting, there was of course no question that a whip had been applied, in a scrutiny meeting, o goodness me no, that never happens................

You really should try attending at least one meeting, just so you can see how bloggers suffer for you.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


2 January 2014

Business as usual / not as usual?

Parking Policy Task and Finish Group - 6 Jan 14 by MisterMustard


Mr Mustard is ready for his first committee meeting of the year. The above item is the one that interests him. He was at the meeting in October 13 at which the decision was made to do a cost benefit analysis of introducing cash parking meters in High Streets and car parks and a person or persons unknown is already trying to derail it.

Officers (employees) may well be carrying our a Parking Improvement Project (and being able to pay by cash on the spot would self evidently be an improvement) but the question that is being over-looked is that it is councillors who decide on policy which officers should then implement. For that reason alone the Task & Finish Group should continue. There was widespread dismay, and a fall in parking revenue, and a huge loss of trade for High St businesses, and focus groups really aren't necessary to take the blindingly obvious decision that both cash meters and PayByPhone have a place in the palette of payment choices. Nor should it be about the money; parking is expected to make an annual surplus of £7m and so using some of that to provide cash parking meters, maintenance and cash collection is self funding.

Another thing that this report highlights is that officers evidently hadn't told the members of the Business Management Overview & Scrutiny Committee what they were up to which strikes Mr Mustard as completely wrong. (Mr Mustard didn't know either until mid-November).

Looking at paragraph 9.5 it seems that most of the project activity has already taken place. The report is silent on what has been learnt so far about cash meters. It would have been helpful if that had been included in this report.

Parking is one of the activities which most upsets residents and so councillors (who aren't part of the Cabinet) should be consulted as a matter of routine as the proposed policy affects every ward and it is only 139 days to the next Barnet Council elections. This meeting would be a good chance for the elector at large to take a look at some councillors in action (or inaction in some cases) and decide if you really want them representing you in the Town hall.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard