Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 7 DECEMBER 2005
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
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
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
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
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
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
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