Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  Q80  Clive Efford: What I am driving at is that in the past you have made a huge surplus and I think you actually issued something like 10% of the whole parking enforcement notices issued by local authorities nationwide. Does that not suggest that the whole system in Westminster has actually been run as a revenue-raising system rather than one which is there for traffic management and traffic flow?

  Cllr Chalkley: I do not agree with that. Westminster is the largest parking authority in the UK, and we have been historically, and that results from largely our geographical position within the centre of the centre. We have more cars coming into Westminster than any other local authority. We have a great deal of road space. We have somewhere in the region of 1.1 million people coming into Westminster every single day, many of those by car.

  Q81  Clive Efford: But those cars also pollute other local authority areas when they drive through them. Is it fair that the income from that only benefits the area where they stop rather than the other areas which they also pollute and drive through?

  Cllr Chalkley: Because of Westminster's central position and because of the number of bridges we have got, we do get an awful lot of through traffic and people who are doing business daily in the City will tend to stop off in Westminster. They may have two or three stops within London and they will stop off in Westminster en route through.

  Q82  Clive Efford: Can I ask you one question which every driver in London would want to ask you. At any time do Westminster issue instructions to its enforcement officers to actually increase the number of penalty charge notices issued?

  Cllr Chalkley: Incentives? I can categorically confirm for every motorist out there, and that includes myself as a motorist, that Westminster do not set any incentives or targets for our enforcement contractor, NCP, who you spoke to earlier, and I can confirm that NCP do not set to their employees any targets or incentives. We are absolutely clear about that. We got ourselves into a great deal of trouble previously, reference the Champions League scheme, which was operated some time ago. In March 2004 we made a very, very public declaration, "We got it wrong," and one of the first steps we took to restore public confidence in what we were doing was to scrap all forms of incentives and target-setting.

  Q83  Clive Efford: The reduction in income which you are experiencing this financial year is due to the reduction in penalty charges notices which you have issued?

  Cllr Chalkley: The reduction in income is due to a range of factors. They are external factors, for example congestion charging, which has obviously impacted upon the number of cars coming to the City every day, but also it has resulted from a great deal of policy changes which we have made. Meter-feeding accounted for somewhere in the region of 30,000 penalty charge notices and I am very pleased to say that the first decision I made when I became Cabinet Member back in June was to scrap meter-feeding, and I did so because I thought it was unfair, draconian and largely misunderstood by the public.

  Q84  Chairman: You do not accept the argument that if somebody is occupying a meter which is really meant to be (particularly somewhere like Westminster) used only for a short time, meter-feeding actually is rather anti-social?

  Cllr Chalkley: What we have seen, largely because of congestion charging, is fewer cars coming in.

  Q85  Chairman: But the Congestion Charge has been in place a little longer than a year.

  Cllr Chalkley: It has, but it is trendal (sic). It has only been effective for two and a half years now, but the trend has meant that the occupancy on on-street parking is downwards and therefore we have been reasonable in that we said, "Okay, fine, we've got more space available on-street. We'll allow motorists to use that space."

  Mr Lester: If I could add one thing, the important issue is where the council sets a maximum stay on parking at any one place, a maximum of two hours and four hours, that is what is important, that it is not exceeded because that is where you are avoiding, for example, shop-owners parking all day outside the shop and therefore taking up all the spaces which would be used for customers. In the past when enforcement was very lax, meter-feeding was the way of trying to address that. Now we are more capable, having more enforcement tools, to address the maximum stay rather than meter-feeding per se.

  Q86  Clive Efford: Could I ask Mr Page, in the interests of accountability, do you not think there should be more transparency around what local authorities are doing in terms of parking enforcement, the number of penalty charge notices which are issued, what they use the money for is there is any surplus income, so that people understand just exactly what is going on in the area of parking enforcement?

  Cllr Page: I would dispute that there is any lack of transparency at the current time in terms of the amount which is spent on resourcing decriminalised parking. That is all there on the record. No local authority that I am aware of sets out to make any substantial profits out of the enforcement of on-street parking, but merely a remit usually to cover their costs, and clearly one would not want to see those operations being—

  Q87  Chairman: They do not have a benchmark though, do they? For £600 a year they could get a very efficient system of benchmarking which would make it very plain to them what was actually happening within their own area. There are no local authorities who do that, are there?

  Cllr Page: The benchmarking which takes place at a local level, I can assure you, Chairman, is very visible and accountable. Parking issues are very sensitive in all our areas.

  Q88  Chairman: Yes, but the local authorities want to persuade the motorists and their constituents in their voting, do they not? There is an independent benchmarking service which is operated by the Transport Research Laboratory. There are not many authorities who for the price of £600 a year are prepared to support it. Why is that?

  Cllr Page: I am not aware of the details of that, although I would invite the professional officers to comment on that, although I do know that in terms of speaking to each other local authorities exchange a considerable amount of information.

  Q89  Chairman: Yes, but we are talking about transparency, are we not? It is lovely that you all talk to one another! I am delighted to know that councils are exchanging information, but I was just thinking that we poor excluded may not know entirely what it is you are talking about.

  Cllr Page: Well, none of this is secret, Chairman. Our deliberations and activities in local government are far more open to scrutiny in public than many government departments, as you will be aware.

  Q90  Chairman: Now, now, Mr Page do not be cruel!

  Cllr Page: In terms of when we have been re-letting contracts, we will go to great lengths to take up references and find out experiences from other authorities. My own authority recently spent a lot of time talking to Manchester about their experiences and the LGA and other professional organisations will disseminate information. So there is considerable benchmarking across the piece. The key point I would emphasise on behalf of all local authorities is that the accountability at local level is enormous in terms of representations to elected members, in terms of the processes which we have in place for reviewing parking restrictions, responding to residents and responding to representations, I would defy anyone to find a more transparent and more responsive process. In terms of the accountability, therefore, I think it would be hard to improve on it. The final point I would made in terms of accountability is of course the budget. You are focused on "profits" from decriminalised parking enforcement and warden activity, but of course we as local government get a lot of income from surface and multi-storey car parks and car parking charges in that area, where we will often set targets to make surpluses in order to reinvest, for example, in the funding of concessionary fare schemes, in public transport infrastructure support and it is part of an overall transport package to achieve modal shift. So we would have no problem in defending the use of surpluses from car parking for wider reinvestment, but that is a separate issue.

  Q91  Chairman: So you would support the involvement of the National Audit Office, for example?

  Cllr Page: Sorry, to what purpose?

  Q92  Chairman: Well, looking at the costs, the expenses and the balances?

  Cllr Page: I do not think a single authority in membership of the LGA would have any problems with that.

  Q93  Chairman: So they could easily, for example, at council level publish a breakdown of the penalty charges they issue each year with the numbers that are paid and the numbers of complaints which have been made about it?

  Mr Lester: I think many authorities already do that.

  Cllr Page: We all do that.

  Q94  Chairman: But not all of them? When we say "many" what are we talking about?

  Mr Lester: The level of detail will vary, but each authority is obliged to produce a parking account each year, which includes the totals of income broken down, the expenditure broken down and the use to which any surplus is put. That is a statutory requirement.

  Q95  Clive Efford: If that is true, why are the British Parking Association calling for more transparency in publishing those figures and also publishing what any surpluses are spent on? Also, they have suggested to us that there is pressure on parking enforcement managers to raise revenue and there is evidence and it has been reported in a report from Richard Charles that he has seen evidence that this takes place. If what you are saying is true, why are there those concerns from other areas within the profession?

  Mr Lester: Well, I have read Richard Charles's report and he expressly says that he has not seen any evidence to say that councils are into revenue-raising.

  Q96  Clive Efford: It does indeed. Richard Charles did suggest that while he did not have any evidence to prove that LAs were manipulating DPE, it became clear to him that during his study some LAs were putting their parking managers under significant pressure to meet financial targets rather than improvements to traffic flow and safety. So I think we need to read the whole report, do we not?

  Mr Lester: You do need to read the whole report, but it is also clear that any council which was using parking enforcement as a way of raising revenue would not just be doing bad practice, it is actually acting unlawfully. I think it is something which needs evidence if there are going to be accusations of unlawful behaviour.

  Q97  Mrs Ellman: What lessons have you learned that you could pass on to other local authorities about to embark on decriminalised parking?

  Cllr Knasel: Winchester was the first 10 years ago to enter into decriminalised parking outside of London and I think any new authority really ought to have a mentor authority to help them, because there are some lessons you can learn from people who are already experiencing it and I think the biggest lesson is to be fair and open. With our particular penalty charge notices we only had 16 appeals in the whole of 2004, which is 0.1% of all the parking charge notices we issued, because we have been seen, I believe, by the people who park that we are being fair. Where we are fair, I believe, is that with something like 45% of the people who query their charge, we read through it and really find a reason to agree with them. So we are only moving forward to actually insist on charging where people have queried it, where we feel quite clearly they have been abusing things. So if you are quite clearly fair to people, I do not think there is any issue.

  Cllr Page: The worst thing that happens in my own area is the churning out of a standard letter which clearly does not respond to points people have made and I think in the interests of again transparency, but particularly fairness, if people receive a letter which clearly addresses points they have made they will be far more satisfied than talking to a machine which simply churns something out. As an authority which has been guilty of churning out those letters but has now reformed and improved its practices, I can certainly testify to the significant downturn.

  Mr Lester: I think it is an important generalised point that when most authorities start off thinking about enforcement they think about issuing notices, whereas the most important part of the exercise, to my mind, is dealing with them after they have been issued. So the important lessons are not to under-resource the back office, to have the back office staff properly trained. Issues at that level are as important, if not more important than the people on the street and it deals with all the challenges raised. I am conscious there is a similarity with a comment which British Airways once made that its most satisfied customers were not those who had a trouble-free flight but those who had a problem but then the airline sorted it out well. I think that is as relevant for enforcement as anything else.

  Cllr Chalkley: To be firm but fair is our charter statement and I would encourage any local authorities who are going into this process to adopt a charter. We make public our enforcement protocols, which we review very regularly, weekly, daily, as we work around the City, and I think that goes a long way towards ensuring transparency. Specific examples of things we have introduced which have been very successful are the introduction of digital cameras and also the use of CCTV, so it is evidence-based enforcement. That obviously gives the Council reassurance that their enforcement contractor is doing a proper job, but also it gives the public some reassurance. That is our charter.

  Q98  Chairman: I am afraid we cannot recall visual aids. We use old-fashioned things like words in this Committee.

  Cllr Chalkley: I do apologise. Intelligent deployment also, ie putting enforcement where it is actually needed on the street, and I am very pleased to say that increasingly Westminster Council is being seen as an exemplar council along with Kensington and Chelsea.

  Q99  Clive Efford: Just very briefly, I notice there was an article in the Evening Standard on Westminster Council where a parking enforcement officer issued 700 penalties in central London over 13 months raising £68,000 for Westminster, and there was a case where you upheld the decision of the parking enforcement officer, where on cctv evidence which the person who was issued with the penalty charge notice supplied he proved that the officer was lying. Did you go back and review all 700 penalty charge notices, I just want to know?

  Cllr Chalkley: That individual left the Council some time ago. Unfortunately, the Evening Standard did not approach us to ask us for a response. We are going back. We are reviewing his cancellation rates to see whether they were higher or lower than the mean. The short answer is, yes.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 22 June 2006