Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)



  Chairman: Good afternoon, lady and gentlemen. Thank you very much for coming this afternoon. You are most warmly welcome. We have one little bit of housekeeping to perform before we start to talk to you, if you will forgive us. Members having an interest to declare. Mr Martlew?

  Mr Martlew: Member of the Transport and General Workers' Union and member of the GMB.

  Graham Stringer: Member of Amicus.

  Chairman: Gwyneth Dunwoody, a member of ASLEF.

  Mrs Ellman: Member of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

  Clive Efford: Member of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

  Q1  Chairman: Lady and gentlemen, before I ask you to identify yourselves, perhaps we could start at the left. Would you like to tell us who you are, just for the record?

  Mr Banbury: Good afternoon. My name is Keith Banbury. I am the Chief Executive of British Parking Association.

  Ms Witham: My name is Lynn Witham. I am a member of the Executive Council of the British Parking Association.

  Mr Guest: My name is Peter Guest. I am the Vice-President of the British Parking Association.

  Mr Macnaughton: My name is Bob Macnaughton. I am the Chief Executive of National Car Parks.

  Mr Kavanagh: My name is Ian Kavanagh, the On Street Director for National Car Parks.

  Q2  Chairman: Thank you. Perhaps I should warn you that sitting in front of you are microphones which do not project your voices, they record what you say, so I am afraid we are going to have to ask every one of you to speak up because the acoustics in this building are not altogether fitted to some of their modern tasks. Did any one of you have anything you wanted to say just before we begin the questioning? In which case, let me ask you, should decriminalised parking enforcement be rolled out across all local authorities?

  Mr Banbury: I think there is an argument to do that. At the moment, because there are two systems in operation there is some confusion in the members of the public and that would be a good reason, in a sense, to roll it out across the country, but there are other reasons. Because decriminalised parking enforcement is meant to be self-funding it may well be that some councils are unable to undertake that. Therefore, that may be the main reason against it, but I think it is something which should be considered.

  Q3  Chairman: Have you any reason other than an instinct to believe that that would be the case? Are you just assuming there is a certain population requirement before such a scheme would be self-financing? Is that your assumption?

  Mr Banbury: That is correct. Because they have the opportunity to do it at the moment, although only 170 or so have done so, it could well be that those who have considered it have turned it away because of that. I know that in some cases it is being undertaken on a county-wide basis so that the areas where they actually generate a surplus can actually support those areas where they do not.

  Q4  Chairman: Since the change on parking enforcement has been introduced, the number of reported parking contraventions has increased. Do you think we ought to be concerned about that?

  Mr Banbury: Not particularly. I think the reason why it has increased is because the enforcement is much more rigorous than it used to be and through the police system where there are traffic wardens, of course there are very few of them around and therefore enforcement is fairly sparse. At the moment, just to put it in some sort of context, there are about 8 million parking tickets issued through decriminalised parking enforcement each year and there are something like 32 million drivers, so one in four of us gets one ticket a year, or each of us gets one ticket on average every four years.

  Q5  Chairman: You could be said to have a vested interest in rolling out this legislation across all local authorities. Do you have a particular view?

  Mr Macnaughton: This is why I was keen to let Keith make the first point.

  Q6  Chairman: I gathered that, that is why I am asking you.

  Mr Macnaughton: I think for the case of consistency, absolutely there is a case for decriminalised parking enforcement to be rolled out everywhere. I think there are issues where parking enforcement is the responsibility of the police. It is not their priority, and it is increasingly not their priority. So the resources which are invested in the traffic warden service are increasingly diverted elsewhere, and that is a problem. As a consequence, we see where we take on decriminalised parking for the first time that quite often it is extremely welcomed. I would point to St Albans just in the last 18 months or so, where it was in the national media, "It's a scandal. There's no parking enforcement. People are parking everywhere." So I do think there is a strong case for it, but I also recognise the priority should be in the denser populated areas, the urban areas, where there is more congestion.

  Q7  Mr Martlew: Just on that point, in Cumbria we got rid of all the traffic wardens and to be honest when they brought in the new system everybody was not pleased. I am glad to see they are in St Albans, but they were not in my constituency. Coming back to traffic wardens, are they disappearing throughout the country, or is Cumbria just an exception? Are there less and less of them and there is no control?

  Mr Banbury: I think as more and more move to decriminalised parking enforcement there will be less and less traffic wardens and I think there is a conscious effort by the Police not to actually undertake this function as much as they used to, because they have other higher priorities. So as a result, in some areas there is very little enforcement and as a result people park obviously anywhere they wish to.

  Mr Macnaughton: I think the question is as much one for the Police Service. We do see that less resources are being put into this area. It is not their priority. They have a very big agenda of things to do and I do not think it comes very high up that list.

  Q8  Chairman: Mr Banbury, do you think statutory guidance with a Code of Practice really will raise the standard of parking enforcement?

  Mr Banbury: I think so. There have been concerns and we as an association have done a number of things to try and improve the situation, but it needs to go further. We actually introduced—and I sent a copy through—a review undertaken by Richard Charles, who is the ex-Chief Constable in Lincolnshire and he undertook an independent review and came up with 43 recommendations which he passed through to the DfT. We definitely believe there are improvements which can be made. Decriminalised parking enforcement in itself is, I think, a very sensible way to go. It is a parking ticket, it is a parking penalty and to decriminalise it makes eminent sense. It is a much more user-friendly system than going through a magistrates' court.

  Chairman: I think we will want to ask you a bit about that.

  Q9  Clive Efford: Can I ask the representatives from the BPA, do you support the adjudicator's call for Audit Commission scrutiny of all local authority parking enforcement?

  Mr Banbury: I do not think we actually directly supported it, but we do support the review of that. There is also a cause, and I think the Which? magazine and others have suggested the possibility of a parking regulator. That is something we feel the Government should consider as a longer term possibility.

  Q10  Clive Efford: What areas would a parking regulator look into in terms of the practices of local authorities in enforcement?

  Mr Banbury: Exactly that, the practice of the local authorities. He would not get involved in the actual issue of tickets. There is an adjudication service, which is generally sound. He would get involved with local authorities to ensure they undertake their roles correctly.

  Mr Guest: You said the number of tickets issued was rising, but then so are the kilometres of kerb space controlled and the hours of control. So it may not be that the actual number of tickets per space, per hour is rising.

  Q11  Chairman: Can we quantify that?

  Mr Guest: No, we cannot. It is one of our major concerns that there is very little hard data around on what has happened since decriminalised parking in terms of driver behaviour, the amount of parking and the amount of enforcement, and it is one of our recommendations that there does need to be some quite fundamental research in the field to understand what has happened with decriminalised parking enforcement.

  Q12  Clive Efford: On the issue of scrutiny?

  Mr Guest: Yes, the scrutiny of local authorities. We believe that most local authorities most of the time are doing the job quite well, or well. We recognise that some local authorities some of the time are doing the job quite badly. At the moment we have a local authority activity which is of the order of £1 billion per year in terms of turnover where there is no scrutiny, there is no control, there are no standards and there is no back-stop except by going for judicial review or similar methods. There is nobody to say whether it is being done rightly or wrongly and telling local authorities where they are doing things wrong that they should mend their ways. It is not something which the BPA has looked at and it is not something which the BPA has formed a view on, but there was a report recently done by Which? which made this recommendation.

  Q13  Chairman: I would have thought you were the logical forum to do that. You have this wide cross-sample of membership. I would have thought that was the sort of thing you would have been looking at?

  Mr Guest: Yes, we carried out the DPE research. It is not something which came up as a result of that independent research, but it has come up in the dialogue which has come out of that research and other research. It is an idea which we feel has merits.

  Q14  Chairman: You have put that to the Department for Transport, have you?

  Mr Guest: We have a meeting with the Department for Transport in a week's time where it will be on the agenda.

  Mr Banbury: Could I add to the point about statutory guidance? I think we are great supporters of this. I think this is the key for the future. There is no doubt there have been some concerns about decriminalised parking enforcement, a lot of which has been media-hyped, I have to say. Nevertheless, there are things which need to be changed and this is the mechanism through which I think they need to be changed, backed by a Code of Practice and with good practice guides. I think perhaps in a year's time the whole issue of the DPE and the issue of tickets will to some extent start to be resolved.

  Q15  Mr Martlew: You say there are things that need to be changed. Can you give us an example?

  Mr Banbury: One of the things which needs to be looked at is the question of proportionality of charges. At the moment you get the same fixed penalty if you overstay on a meter or if you are on double yellow lines. Now, in natural justice there is an argument for saying there should be a differentiation of charges. So that is one of the issues which the group, of which I am a member, which is actually standing and sitting at the moment, is to look at, but all of the other issues as well related to it. So the whole focus perhaps will change in the future. We need to do better in the sense of the way in which we implement it. We need to have stronger rules and we need greater transparency. The two key issues which Richard Charles came to us with was legitimacy—we must do it for the right reasons—and transparency so that local authorities could show to their constituents and the motorists what number of tickets they have had, how they spent the money and what they have used it on.

  Q16  Clive Efford: In your evidence you have indicated that parking managers are under pressure to raise target revenue from parking enforcement. How under the statutory guidance can we address that and what steps would relieve the pressure on those parking managers to do that?

  Mr Banbury: This was, I think, an issue which Richard Charles brought to us. Two things we have done which I think will help. The first is that we have developed a new model contract, which I think Bob could comment on in a minute. A local authority contracts with a service provider to undertake their functions. In the past the contracts which were under cctv were very much ticket-orientated. It is not unreasonable to develop an expected number of tickets, but what was unreasonable, we think, is that there was a penalty clause so that the contractors' had a huge penalty if they did not meet those numbers of tickets. I argue that with parking a ticket is a consequence of what happens rather than a target, so our new contracts focus on different forms of KPIs for compliance with the regulations rather than on the number of tickets. We have to get the number of tickets out of the equation, and that is already happening. A number of local authorities, including Westminster (who you will hear from later), are actually moving in that direction and I think what we are doing is kicking at an open door. But we do need to move on that because I think that is one of the biggest concerns of the public and people like the AA and RAC.

  Q17  Clive Efford: Particularly in places like London, are not the amounts of money which can be raised from parking enforcement too attractive at times for parking enforcement managers to raise income, and is not the possibility of using that money for other things other than traffic management issues an inducement to try and raise revenue?

  Mr Guest: I think it is important that we understand and recognise that the powers the local authority has to operate, manage and enforce parking are traffic management powers; they are not fiscal powers. It is a natural consequence of what happens, particularly in large cities, that there is a financial surplus which comes out of those activities. We are concerned that sometimes local authorities seem to have lost sight of the fundamental reason why they are doing what they are doing, so the money does become attractive and it does become an issue. One of the recommendations we have made to ensure that what is going on is understood and is transparent is that the financial consequences of what the local authority should do should be very transparent, that there should be a statutory responsibility to publish the information about the money they are raising, how they are spending that money, what they are doing with it, and it certainly is appropriate that any surpluses should be used to the public good. It is a statutory requirement for money which comes from on-street parking that surpluses are ring-fenced and used for the public good. One of the concerns we have in the industry is that originally the primary purpose of a surplus was that it should be reinvested into providing more and better parking. In fact, the parking infrastructure which we have in terms of parking structures, signs and lines, are being neglected, are falling into disrepair while the money is spent on other things, and that is a matter of great concern to us as an industry. We had the experience a few years ago where one of Mr Macnaughton's car parks partially collapsed at Piper's Row. The professions did a great deal of research into that. There was a great deal of forensic research into that. Out of that research came recommendations from the professional institutions about checking, maintaining and preparing a whole life care plan for all car parks. As far as we are able to determine, that has not happened and we know there are structures out there which are becoming dangerous. Most of those structures belong to local authorities and they are not reinvesting their parking surpluses into the maintenance and upkeep of those structures, which we think should be a very high priority.

  Q18  Mrs Ellman: How are the car parking charges and meter charges set? Who does that?

  Mr Guest: I will try and respond to that. You may gather from my hair I am quite old now!

  Q19  Chairman: We thought that was only since you had been in this room"

  Mr Guest: I suspect it will be by the time I leave this room! The original parking charge was set by the Greater London Council, which decided there should be a charge of one shilling per day to park on the streets of London. Since then, charges have been set by committees all the way across the country, I am tempted to say at random but I do not think that is true, in response to local circumstances. Local authorities have total discretion on setting their meter charges and their car park charges. They look at their local conditions, at the cost of running their parking operations, they look at the competition from Mr Macnaughton and others, and they set those charges, but there is no rigid framework which they have to comply with.

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