Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 64 - 79)

WEDNESDAY 7 DECEMBER 2005

MR NICK LESTER, CLLR DANNY CHALKLEY, CLLR TONY PAGE, MR ANDY VAUGHAN AND CLLR RICHARD KNASEL

  Q64  Chairman: Good afternoon to you, gentlemen. Can we ask you to identify yourselves, starting with my left and your right.

  Cllr Chalkley: Danny Chalkley. I am one of the Councillors on Westminster Council and I am a Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Transport.

  Mr Lester: I am Nick Lester. I am the Director of Transport, Environment and Planning for the Association of London Government.

  Cllr Page: Cllr Tony Page from Reading but representing the Local Government Association.

  Cllr Knasel: Cllr Richard Knasel from Winchester City Council, and I am Portfolio Holder for Economic Development and Transport.

  Mr Vaughan: Andy Vaughan, Head of Street Management, Manchester City Council.

  Q65  Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Did you either jointly or severally have anything you wanted to say before we start?

  Cllr Page: No, we will go straight into questions.

  Q66  Chairman: We have got lots of questions for you all. What action is needed to bring the standard of the worst up to the best in local authority parking enforcement? Who is going to pick up that question?

  Mr Lester: If I can start off, I think there is a number of things which can be done. The Government statutory guidance will help. In London we produce a Code of Practice, which was originally produced in 1993. It was updated in 1999 and is being updated again. We will add to that.

  Q67  Chairman: What happens? Do your authorities not take notice of your Code of Practice if there is already a certain amount of divergence across the authority?

  Mr Lester: It is non-statutory, therefore it is non-binding, but as far as I am aware local authorities take notice of this, but obviously no code, no guidance can cover every individual situation. Local circumstances vary and local circumstances on each individual penalty will vary, and also local policies towards how councils want to respond to representations will vary. Some councils will want to be stricter than others.

  Q68  Chairman: So you are saying you would really like statutory guidance?

  Cllr Page: That will help. Also, efforts which can be made to improve and impart best practice. We do quite a lot of it in London, but there is not an equivalent to my organisation outside London which covers the same ground.

  Q69  Chairman: So what about your Code of Practice? What, therefore, ought to be in it?

  Cllr Page: It covers the whole range of enforcement activities and gives guidance to authorities about how to interpret different parts of it. It does not cover where to have a yellow or not, that is a different matter; that is regulation and that is entirely down to the individual authorities.

  Q70  Chairman: But it would be very specific. Do you have a way of effectively looking at the quality of the policy and the enforcement which would be assessed?

  Cllr Page: The bottom line on enforcement quality is undoubtedly compliance—do motorists comply with the regulations or not?—but that is difficult and expensive to measure accurately. It involves people sitting on the roadside for 16 hours a day. It is very easy to count the number of illegal acts, but what is also important is the duration of illegal acts, otherwise you are saying that one person parked illegally for two hours is less of a problem than two people who park illegally for five minutes each.

  Q71  Chairman: We will come on to this, and in fact we will ask Manchester a bit about that, on flexibility, but are you saying that statutory performance indicators and a service level agreement would not work?

  Cllr Page: No, they will help, and I think there needs to be a range of measures to assess performance, but the bottom line for all enforcement must be compliance. That is what it is there for more than anything else.

  Q72  Clive Efford: Can I ask the local authority representatives, have your parking payment revenue accounts been in surplus in the years during which they have been in operation? Let us start with Mr Vaughan.

  Mr Vaughan: Yes, is the short answer. Manchester's parking account generates about £1 million surplus per year. That it is really generated from on-street.

  Q73  Chairman: Is that the new or the old scheme, Mr Vaughan, so we are quite clear? Has it been consistently £1 million per year through the entire scheme?

  Mr Vaughan: Yes. I think the changes that Manchester has made have actually been around the fringes in reality, but they are the ones which are the most high-profile cases. So it has been consistent throughout. With the parking enforcement service, the cost of the service is broadly met through the issuing of penalty charge notices. That is cost neutral, and that additional income is generated through on-street pay and display charges, people paying to park rather than fine income, if that makes sense.

  Cllr Knasel: In Winchester the overall off-street and on-street surplus was about £300,000 last year. We make a surplus. With on-street parking only, we made a surplus of £36,000 last year.

  Cllr Chalkley: Historically, Westminster has always been in surplus and if you take all of the income we get from all of our on-street services, that is meters, the various levels of enforcement, suspensions and dispensations, etc, less all of the costs which we incur, for last year 2004-05 it was £38.8 million to the parking places reserve account.

  Mr Lester: If I can put the figure in context for London as a whole, there are four authorities who make an annual surplus of £10 million and another five authorities whose annual surplus exceeds £5 million. All the rest are less than that, and two authorities make a deficit.

  Q74  Clive Efford: The next highest is half of that, is it not?

  Mr Lester: Yes, I think that is right, but certainly the point which Mr Vaughan made, which is that enforcement broadly breaks even and the surpluses are made from legal parking charges meters, pay and display, is the generality across London and the reason why Westminster makes such a high surplus is because it has most of its streets controlled and a large amount of paid for spaces.

  Q75  Clive Efford: As local authorities, do you set targets for income from parking, and if so does that include income from penalty charge notices?

  Mr Vaughan: Absolutely not. No, there is not a target for penalty charge notice income. I think that would be contrary to everything Manchester is trying to achieve. There are, of course, four councils. In terms of income we base it on previous years' experience, but absolutely not targets, and I think that is really at the heart of Manchester's philosophy and approach.

  Cllr Knasel: Absolutely no targets at all. We just have a budgetary forecast based on previous experience.

  Q76  Clive Efford: Presumably it is the same answer for Westminster?

  Cllr Chalkley: Absolutely, yes.

  Q77  Clive Efford: So on the surpluses—and this is really a question for Westminster, because the surpluses in the other two authorities are minimal—what do you use the surpluses that you make on the income from parking charges and penalty charge notices for as a local authority?

  Cllr Chalkley: Nick is quite right. If you take away the monies we get through meters the surplus just associated with on-street enforcement I think last year was about £6 or 7 million, so that narrows it down from the £38.8 considerably. In terms of what we spend it on, as you know, there are limits on the range of things we are able to spend it on. We spend it on routine maintenance of our highways, servicing, paving, lighting, that sort of thing. We spend it on very human services such as taxi card schemes and concessionary fares for our elderly people, and we also use it to part-fund some very large public infrastructure projects, for example the Golden Jubilee bridges, which I like to think there is nobody in this room who does not think that that is a credit to not just Westminster but to London.

  Q78  Clive Efford: Your penalty charge notices for this year, are you on target for the figure you have put in your base budget?

  Cllr Chalkley: No, we are a long way short of our forecast for this year. I can tell you that we are about £13 million in income terms from our budget and that is largely due to the decisions which have been taken over the last year in policy terms. We have scrapped meter-feeding. I think that was covered in the previous session. We have made a whole range of policy changes to make our policies fairer.

  Q79  Clive Efford: Given that you have whittled the figure down, when you take the whole enforcement process into consideration, does that mean you are now making a net contribution from your general fund into your parking revenue account?

  Cllr Chalkley: This year it is unlikely that we will make a contribution.


 
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