Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 7 DECEMBER 2005
Q100 Mrs Ellman: Should there be
time limits and more specific performance requirements on how
councils deal with representations?
Mr Lester: In practice, there
are. The adjudicators have set out time limits and if people appeal
a case and time limits are breached, the adjudicators will normally
expect an explanation as to why those time limits have been breached.
In some cases there are statutory time limits. In private legislation
in London, for example, we brought in a time limit for issuing
a notice to owner so that if it is more than six months after
the event then it is no longer lawful to issue a notice to owner.
Q101 Mrs Ellman: Could I ask Cllr
Page on behalf of the LGA, in general terms would you agree with
Cllr Page: I would, certainly.
I think there probably is a need for some greater clarity, and
this may come through the guidance, as to the issue which was
raised earlier from the previous witnesses about whether or not
the discount period applied once you had written in. There is
some evidence of confusion, not only amongst the public but also
amongst some local authority officers about this point. I think
clearly if you write in and appeal then you should still be given
that same length of discount period once the correspondence has
been finalised and clearly that is an issue which I think requires
some further guidance.
Q102 Mrs Ellman: Should drivers be
compensated if they have been incorrectly issued?
Mr Lester: I think in many cases
the parking attendant will not know about the explanation or the
circumstances surrounding the vehicle at the time the ticket is
issued. If, for example, you have got a van parked on a yellow
line at the foot of a tower block, the attendant will not know
if the van has just been left there parked or if the driver is
delivering to the top floor or not, and it would be unreasonable
to expect the attendant to know. It would also be unreasonable
to expect the attendant to wait around for maybe twenty minutes
to find out if the driver came back or not. They do have a normal
guidance of five minutes for observation in those circumstances.
So the ticket in that case may be quite properly issued and subsequently
the driver or the owner will write in and say they actually were
delivering to the seventeenth floor, it was time-consuming, and
the ticket will then quite properly be cancelled. I think in those
circumstances the suggestion that there should be any compensation
would be wholly unreasonable.
Cllr Page: My own authority has
a parking appeals panel, which has the authority to recommend
compensation. So far a case has not arisen where a recommendation
has been made, but theoretically that could be made if a case
is made, and I certainly would see no problem with that being
more widespread. Certainly the involvement of elected members
should not preclude them being able to recommend payment of compensation
if circumstances so arose.
Q103 Mrs Ellman: So has compensation
been paid anywhere in the country?
Cllr Page: I do not know.
Mr Lester: Yes, there have been
cases that I am aware of. They are limited in number and they
do occur where the process has wholly failed, has wholly broken
down in councils. Similarly, the adjudicators do award costs where
councils have acted wholly unreasonably, but it is limited in
numbers. Certainly it is interesting to see from the adjudicators'
statistics that they award costs less often than they refuse claims
for costs because in the majority of cases they do not believe
that the council has acted wholly unreasonably. In lots of cases
issues come down to one person's word against another, and how
do you decide? One person's decision could be different from another
person's decision. In cases at appeal, appellants will regularly
bring forward more information at appeal than was available to
the council at the time they decided on the initial representations.
It would be quite unreasonable, I think, to penalise councils
for rejecting cases in those instances where the decision to allow
an appeal is based wholly on information which has come to light
Q104 Mrs Ellman: What about more
discretion to parking attendants on issuing and cancelling tickets?
Mr Vaughan: Manchester learned
from history really in terms of this issue and we have had the
approach of having no discretion for parking attendants, of trying
to set policy in ivory towers for all circumstances, and we have
realised, I think, the error of our ways. I think we need to train
staff, to empower staff and to trust staff to take responsible
Q105 Chairman: Did you train them,
Mr Vaughan? I am not clear whether you trained them or whether
you gave instructions to the contractors.
Mr Vaughan: Both. I think it is
a key point that again one of the lessons we learned is you cannot
outsource the responsibility for this service and it is really
crucial. This is a council service and our contractors also share
council values and council philosophies, so the training is a
joint training with the Council and our contractor delivering
it together. But I do recognise that Manchester is a little different
from a number of councils in taking this view, but it is our view
that we need to have discretion where it is most appropriate and
that is throughout the whole process rather than separating it
and then only allowing discretion in the back office. I think
that happens in reality anyway and this is a matter of Manchester
just being open, honest and transparent about its approach. So
absolutely, and again it is a cornerstone of Manchester's reasonable
and proportionate approach.
Q106 Mrs Ellman: Mr Lester, the Association
of London Government has a different view on this?
Mr Lester: Well, I think there
is a range of policy options as to where discretion is applied.
It is essential that discretion is applied at all the processing
stages, but on the street there is a balance to be struck between
the degree of discretion which is allowed to attendants not to
issue or to issue tickets and the fact that they are also susceptible
to threats, both violence and corruption.
Q107 Chairman: Does that happen then,
Mr Vaughan? Tell me what you think.
Mr Vaughan: No, and I think in
reality if you are going to get a thump on the nose, regardless
of what someone says in the office you are going to exercise discretion
in any event and this is a matter of being transparent in what
we have achieved.
Q108 Chairman: So more attendants
were not attacked, more corruption was not discovered. Was there
a series of complaints from the contractors and from the people
doing the job about these problems?
Mr Vaughan: No, and I think that
the feedback I have received will be anecdotal from parking attendants,
which is, "Actually this is about valuing our role as a profession,
trusting us to make reasonable judgments," and it was one
of the criticisms Manchester received from the former Traffic
Warden Service before we decriminalised, that a traffic warden
would exercise discretion and parking attendants would not. Well,
it is our view that parking attendants should, and parking attendants
Q109 Mr Martlew: We have already
mentioned the issue of the 50% discount, but surely there is an
unfairness? It often happens that somebody will come along and
take the ticket off and by the time they actually get the notice
they have no opportunity to pay the discount. Is there a fairness
Mr Lester: If that genuinely happens,
there is a problem, but I think it must be up to individual cases
to be decided if people make that claim. I am certainly aware
that about four or five years ago there was a small café
in Brixton and there was a little sign on the counter which said,
"If you get a parking ticket, claim you never received it
and then you'll get off." So you have to judge each claim
as it comes through to see if you think it is right or not.
Cllr Chalkley: That is really
where the benefit of digital cameras comes in, if you can evidence
the fact that somebody has been issued with a PCN and that is
evidence as being on their vehicle
Q110 Mr Martlew: Sorry, can I stop
you on that? If the chap puts it on the windscreen and somebody
comes around 10 minutes later and takes it off, there is no evidence
from the digital camera, is thereonly that he put it on,
not that somebody else came along and took it off?
Mr Lester: You have to judge on
the evidence and if somebody writes in on every single occasion
they get the ticket and they have never actually received it,
then you might wonder whether they are wholly truthful on every
occasion. If it is somebody where it is the first time you have
ever had any correspondence from them, or maybe they have paid
other tickets in the past without question, then there may be
more evidence for believing the case they are making.
Q111 Mr Martlew: We have already
heard from the earlier witnesses that there is a belief that overstaying
by 10 minutes is not as serious an offence as parking on a double
yellow line. Do you believe there should be variable fines?
Mr Lester: We have actually done
a technical study into the possibilities of differential penalties.
What the study found was that it would be relatively straightforward,
although to an element subjective, to have differential penalties
for different categories of offence such as a higher penalty for
double yellow lines as opposed to overstaying on a meter. It is
much harder to deal with short and long overstays because the
issue is when were they actually discovered. You do not know how
long they stayed there, all you know is when the attendant came
round. It is not an instant calculation, so it is a bit harder
to do that fairly.
Q112 Mr Martlew: The issue which
often comes to light is when an authority goes through the system
you are talking about, the traffic orders and the signage are
not correct. Do you actually believe that before you decriminalise
you should actually do an audit? Are you sure that that happens
with the local authorities?
Cllr Page: Yes.
Mr Lester: It is very clear it
should happen, but the problems are often about what happens subsequently.
Yellow lines get worn away. They start off pristine and complete
and at some point you have to take the decision that it is no
longer good enough. What is very clear is that where the signs
and the lines are inadequate then the adjudicators will throw
out any tickets issued. The signs, of course, are those prescribed
by the Government, we do not have any choice in the signs which
can be used, but if they are not there, if they have been knocked
out by a lorry or something like that then the regulation becomes
Q113 Mr Martlew: So you would support
regular auditing of these then?
Mr Lester: I think it is essential
that it be regular. Whether it should be every year, as was suggested
in the earlier session, I think that is quite an effort, but there
is clearly support for regular auditing.
Q114 Mr Martlew: So if that was to
be laid down by Government you would support it?
Cllr Page: I would certainly support
the Government also looking at the whole issue of clarity of signage
because there is a problem at local level. In the area I represent
in Reading we have had a series of adjudications from the NPAS
in the last few months, three adjudications in the same area saying
that the signs are legal and three adjudications saying the signs
are illegal. This has caused us to say to the Department for Transport,
"We think there is a problem somewhere else and you need
to sort this out," and I think from talking to colleagues
there is a problem elsewhere which has arisen.
Q115 Chairman: Are we talking about
the roads controlled by the council or roads controlled by the
Cllr Page: We are talking about
the public highway but the signage of parking restrictions is
laid down in great detail by the Department for Transport and
Mr Lester can comment in much more detail about the travails of
dealing with that.
Q116 Mr Martlew: Perhaps the representative
from Westminster will have some sympathy with the situation where
you have an area, a beautiful street, and unfortunately the signage
is ugly. Is there any discretion on areas which are listed?
Mr Lester: No, none at all.
Cllr Page: No.
Q117 Mr Martlew: Should there be?
Mr Lester: I think it is a tricky
balance to strike because on the one hand we are under a lot of
pressure from people like English Heritage and the urban conservation
movements to reduce the number of signs; on the other hand the
motorists are saying there should be more signs and clearer. So
there is a balance to be struck there. I think it would be very
difficult to have differential signing in different areas because
motorists would not know what to look for.
Cllr Chalkley: 76% of Westminster
is covered by a Conservation Area and there are clearly competing
demands there. Nick has just covered it. Motorists want clear
signage and Westminster wants less street clutter.
Q118 Chairman: It does actually bring
us to the whole question of the high proportion of appeals which
the councils do not actually contest, because particularly on
the business of signing I rather understood that one of the ways
in which local councils could use the surplus money they raised
was in doing things like maintaining their general street furniture
in the sense that this would clarify the situation. Is that not
Mr Lester: It is only with the
Traffic Management Act that councils have been able to use parking
surpluses for highway maintenance, so that is in the last year.
Before that, maintenance was not an allowable expenditure.
Q119 Chairman: Tell me about appeals.
Why do so many councils not contest appeals?
Mr Lester: I think there is a
number of reasons why councils will not contest appeals. In some
cases the appellant will produce more evidence at the appeal stage
and the council will say to itself, "Well, if only they'd
told us this in the first place we would have allowed the representation."