Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  Q40  Graham Stringer: Sorry, before you go on any further, if they are cancelled I assume that they are not then part of the 331/3% which are not collected?

  Ms Witham: If I can expand on it, there will be parking tickets which are cancelled.

  Q41  Graham Stringer: Then they disappear out of the calculation?

  Ms Witham: Absolutely, yes. The majority of tickets which are unpaid are normally as a result of demographic features, if you have an area with a high population movement. The shortest period that you can move a ticket from being issued through to a bailiff warrant is four to five months. If you have got a high population movement, there will be people who no longer live at that address. The other reason why some tickets are unpaid is because it is simply impossible to trace ownership of vehicles. Those are the two major reasons.

  Mr Kavanagh: I think it is between 5 and 10% of vehicles which are not registered with the DVLA at all, so you therefore cannot find the drivers at any stage in the process.

  Mr Banbury: Could I add to that? I did a little bit of research recently and spoke to a number of local authorities and they say the average is about 10% are uncollectible, in their view, because of the reasons mentioned. Each authority has developed an offender database, a database of persistent offenders, and recently we discussed the possibility of making this into a national offender database, which in some sense received quite a lot of support on the basis that people move around the country, they do not necessarily have addresses, they have cars which are not registered and therefore this is about £30 million which is lost to local authorities each year. So it is a significant sum of money and the view is that if the general member of the public who gets a ticket pays, by and large, it is not fair on those who pay not to try and collect those who do not pay. Therefore, we are looking towards whether or not this is a real possibility. We need to look at the technology and we need to look at the practicality of doing it, but it is something we are considering.

  Q42  Graham Stringer: That is very interesting. Could I just change the focus slightly? A number of the witnesses have suggested there should be greater transparency of what local authorities do. Do you believe there should be a statutory responsibility to record and publish the number of penalty charges, the number of representations made, the number of adjudications and the number of times the adjudicator upholds the motorists' representations?

  Mr Banbury: Yes, I think there needs to be, and part of the group which is looking at the statutory guidance I think will come up with what will be required, and we suggest it be a statutory requirement that there is a return each year by each local authority along the lines you have said to determine each of those particular issues and so that there is total transparency, full disclosure of the facts. I think this will help in trying to alleviate the concerns of some of the motorists.

  Q43  Graham Stringer: Do you believe that local authorities should be either collectively fined if they look as though they are doing a bad job when the statistics are analysed, where they are issuing a lot of parking tickets which were incorrectly issued, and on an individual basis do you think that if a motorist is put to a great deal of trouble by the incompetent and unfair issuing of a ticket that motorist should be compensated?

  Mr Banbury: There is an ability, as I understand it, for the adjudicator to award costs, but it is rare.

  Q44  Graham Stringer: It is rare. I am saying beyond costs, for the inconvenience and the annoyance?

  Mr Banbury: On your first point, I do not really think that is for us to say. I think this is a decision through the statutory guidance as to whether or not people should be fined, or if you have a parking regulator then that individual would actually deal with that particular issue.

  Mr Macnaughton: Could I just offer an angle on the penalty to the local authority? I think linking the performance of the local authority to the use, the application of any surplus, would be very wise. So if it is a poor quality enforcement regime, then certainly the authority could be restricted in the application of any surplus. If it has a high quality enforcement regime backed up by the performance data, then the public should not be concerned about how any surplus is applied.

  Q45  Graham Stringer: You originally said that local authorities have to use the surplus for public good, what came up in my mind was, what do local authorities do which is not in the public good? Is this a meaningful phrase, "public good"?

  Mr Macnaughton: I think it is defending the accusation that the whole industry for local authorities is a money-making machine and I think there are very few authorities which make a significant surplus and virtually none which make a surplus which would be meaningful to their budget anyway, I suspect. The point was made that applying the funds more visibly would be a wise thing. So I do not think anyone is questioning that they are not for the public good, but if they are being used to balance a budgetary issue in the wider council then that might be perceived as a problem.

  Q46  Graham Stringer: Do you have individually difficulties with the issue of clamping? Is it not contradictory to good traffic management when a car is parked in the wrong place to clamp it so that it is there for a good deal longer than it otherwise would have been?

  Mr Guest: I think perhaps we should remember that the whole process of decriminalised parking enforcement originates in the United States. In the original model in the United States, clamping was used as part of a progressive approach to enforcement where drivers were getting repeat parking fines which they were not paying. Clamping was targeted against the repeat offender, who was then required to clear the backlog of fines in order to have the vehicle released. So it became part of a progressive and logical enforcement process. When the 1991 Road Traffic Act was prepared that provision was not included, so clamping is on the same par as a fine. You can have a fine, be clamped or be towed; the law does not discriminate between the three. Clearly, using clamping against a vehicle which is obstructively parked would be a nonsense and potentially dangerous. If a vehicle is parked on a meter and has overstayed the meter then it is not obstructively parked and if there is a good reason to clamp that vehicle, because you want to talk to the driver, it is not necessarily a bad thing.

  Mr Banbury: But I think the general view of local councils is that they are moving away from clamping. They are removing the vehicle for the very reason you have mentioned. We do not have a problem as an association with regard to clamping undertaken by local authorities, but we do have a problem with clamping which is undertaken on private land and we have had quite extensive discussions with the security industry authority, who are now due to regulate this, because we do not feel they are going far enough and we have expressed our concerns to the Home Office and to the Home Secretary because we feel there need to be greater controls for the public good, that this is really for the public good.

  Q47  Graham Stringer: Is meter-feeding a problem and does that need greater national regulation and control?

  Mr Guest: Meter-feeding is an offence where the order controlling the parking place says it is an offence. I am not aware that any local authority actively enforces against meter-feeding.

  Mr Macnaughton: Meter-feeding does get enforced in places, but it is a minority activity. Westminster Council recently very publicly announced that they would allow meter-feeding, that it would not be enforced, and I think that was good practice. It just cuts out the low-level comments that regimes are excessive and harsh. Parking policies around stopping people meter-feeding is trying to make sure that spaces are freed up where on-street spaces are in short supply. Let us remember why those policies were there in the first place. On-street spaces are there for short-term, high turnover activities and people blocking up those spaces by absorbing the maximum amount of time they are allowed does cause other problems, so there is a balance to that, but penalising people who put another five minutes on the meter because they are not quite ready would seem extremely excessive.

  Q48  Chairman: I want to ask you about the definition of loading and unloading, which is a very fraught subject. We have been asked by the freight industry for a clear definition of loading and unloading. Would you expect that to be in your guidance?

  Mr Banbury: Yes.

  Ms Witham: There is quite a clear definition which arose from an adjudication decision back in 1995 and a lot of local authorities understand it and use it as guidance. It is not statutory, it is purely guidance, and basically the adjudicator recognised that activities such as delivering and collecting small items as part of a delivery round are loading and unloading, as are delivering and collecting bulky items.

  Q49  Chairman: Why is it then that particularly these express delivery people seem to be very sensitive about it? I would have thought they would have known that if that was the case.

  Mr Macnaughton: One of the issues with the express industry is that they have a little knowledge about the rules, but they do not have a lot of knowledge.

  Q50  Chairman: Surely you are not telling us businessmen only have a little knowledge of the law?

  Mr Macnaughton: If I can illustrate it. Yes, clearly there is loading and unloading activity going on, but that does not mean that allows them to unload on a double yellow line by a set of traffic lights or on a white zigzag, and if you actually analyse where a lot of those tickets they are disputing are going on, they are actually not in a loading and unloading area, they are actually going on in an area where there is a clear contravention.

  Q51  Chairman: So what would we do to make sure the business community actually complied with existing laws?

  Ms Witham: I think it should be in the statutory guidance and I think all local authorities should be aware of it and they should make efforts to make sure that the business community is aware of it.

  Q52  Chairman: There does not seem to be a lot of consistency across London, for example, does there?

  Ms Witham: No, there is not, and that is an area which is being addressed. It was part of the GLA review, ensuring consistency across London, but I also think authorities need to understand the needs of businesses to load and unload and to make provision for that as well.

  Q53  Mr Martlew: Just on the blue badge scheme, not the abuse of the blue badge scheme, which we all seem every day, but the actual design of it, there seems to be confusion. Most of the people who have blue badges are elderly and if they put it in the window the wrong way round they end up with a ticket. Is that your experience, and if it is, could we design it better?

  Mr Banbury: Could we make the point that I think we need a commonsense approach to that. If it is the wrong way round, then there needs to be local guidance to parking attendants, and one thing we have not spoken about is parking attendants, which I think is a major area in itself. They need to have guidance from the local authority of how they deal with these situations.

  Q54  Chairman: Can I ask you about this, Mr Banbury, because it is all part of the same question really, is it not? Somewhere like Westminster, where there is an enormous turnover of staff and they are complaining that they cannot keep people, is it a matter of terms and conditions, is it a matter of training? Why is it not possible to keep the staff to do these kinds of jobs?

  Mr Banbury: From our point of view, I think most of the contracts in the past have been, as I have said earlier, about lowest price. Lowest price means you pay low wages, you get low quality people and it is a cycle. What we are trying to do is raise the whole profile by changing the contract and also we have developed for the first time a national qualification for parking attendants. We are talking to the DfT about this becoming a requirement to practice, so that every parking attendant wherever they are in the country will have gone through the same course so that there is some consistency of approach. They will then deal with issues locally in addition to that, but I think that is important. The BPA is all about raising standards within the industry of performance.

  Q55  Chairman: You do not disagree with that, Mr Macnaughton?

  Mr Macnaughton: No, I do not.

  Q56  Chairman: Do you have anything to add?

  Mr Macnaughton: I can add to the issues on staff. I think you have to look at the nature of the job. It is a very challenging job, it is a difficult job, and there is the public's attitude to the job. We support all of the initiatives to improve the perception of quality, because why would we not? This makes a better job for our attendants. But we do see a very strong correlation between the very aggressive coverage of activity by the media and assaults on staff.

  Q57  Chairman: Mr Macnaughton, if you have come here to ask us to deal with the Press, you may have the wrong committee! Mr Banbury, you did very briefly touch on the fact that some local authorities have not kept their traffic regulation orders in proper repair and that signage and other aspects are not clear, so people are not always totally sure where they are allowed to park or not. What do we do about that?

  Mr Banbury: Well, we have to make them keep them up to date and they have to review them annually and the money should come out of any surplus they are generating.

  Q58  Chairman: Do you have any figures? How many local authorities are bad boys when it comes to keeping their estates in order?

  Mr Banbury: I could not have a guess. I do not know. It is probably quite a number, but if as part of statutory guidance they are required to do this annually then at least we can start tackling the problems.

  Q59  Chairman: Should the 50% discount period for penalty charge notices be extended beyond the issuing of the notice to the owner to give all motorists a fair chance?

  Mr Banbury: I think the answer, as I have already said, is that some of the local authorities are doing it, and generally yes, providing it is not abused. That is the concern which some of the local authorities have, that this situation can be abused, and to an extent even down to statutory declaration, that they just keep putting it off and putting it off. So there is a balance to be struck, and again statutory guidance needs to deal with that particular issue[1].

Councils can also re-offer the discount at any stage of the process if they choose to do so. We believe that Statutory Guidance should cover this matter and whether the discount should normally be offered at a latter stage including where a driver says they never received the PCN or after the NTO has been issued. We would normally support the former but not the latter.

1   To clarify the situation regarding the discount period: All Councils will re-offer the discount to those who write in to them within the 14 days after the PCN has been issued (almost all correspondence at this stage is received within these 14 days). This ensures that a driver has not been disadvantaged by querying the PCN. Back

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