The Independent London Newspaper
26th April 2019

Probe into ‘targets’ on parking

    Parking supremo: Kevin Goad

    City Hall to investigate department after our ticketing revelations

    THE West End Extra’s revelations about unrest in Westminster’s parking department and concerns that wardens are given targets for the number of tickets they issue has helped fuel an unprecedented investigation into the way the service is run.
    City Hall confirmed it will launch an “audit” of the borough’s warden service in attempt to reassure the public that the ticketing of cars is not part of a drive to raise money.
    Long-serving pol­iticians congratulated the West End Extra’s reporting of the issue which has opened up the debate to top level scrutiny.
    In one of a string of exclusive stories last month, a group of whistleblowers spoke to our reporters with allegations that “harsh” tickets were dished out to innocent drivers just so wardens could hit targets.
    Parking contracts NSL Services vehemently denied the practice and said their willingness to let a documentary crew into see how wardens worked on the street shows they had nothing to hide. It has held two internal inquiries of its own.
    But now the company could face visits from council inspectors at the borough’s three parking bases it operates.
    Council’s chief executive Mike More said the audit investigation would “check that measures now being taken have been effective in removing any suggestion of an inappropriate target-setting culture”.
    The planned inquiry, however, is already the subject of a fresh row.
    Laws surrounding local authority tendering processes means the investigation will not begin until a new parking contract is agreed at the end of January.
    NSL Services’s current deal is due to expire and two other companies are expected to wrestle with the firm over a new six-year deal worth around £12million a year.
    Sceptics believe the delay in getting the investigation started may affect its conclusions.
    The council has previously firmly stuck by NSL with both the Town Hall and the company denying the existence of targets, which were made illegal in 2004. But never before has Westminster been moved to order an internal inquiry into its parking operation.

    Last month, Channel 4 documentary makers turned up the pressure when the producer of their fly-on-the-wall programme Confessions of a Traffic Warden said he had evidence to back up claims first made by wardens in the West End Extra. Olly Lambert said there was a “ingrained culture” where wardens believed they would be rewarded with extra overtime for issuing high numbers of tickets.
    Westminster’s Labour group leader Paul Dimoldenberg has called for an inquiry from the beginning of the controversy. He said: “There is a widespread concern that the council’s parking policies are more about raising money than simply enforcing the parking regulations and the recent TV programme has fuelled those very real concerns. We hope the forthcoming audit investigation will expose any attempts to reintroduce parking ticket targets by the back door. I will make sure that any investigation looks at NSL as well as any new contractor, because the public has a right to know what is going on. We’d be much happier if it was a proper independent body and not the council doing the investigation. It is a vic­tory for us and a victory for the West End Extra.”
    The council is not legally allowed to make a profit from enforcement, but last year eight and a half square miles of pavement space in the borough generated a “surplus income” of £35million – making it the most prized local authority parking contract in the country.
    NSL holds contracts for 60 local authorities. The number of Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) issued in Westminster has risen by 14 per cent since 2005, and the total revenue brought in by parking has risen by 17 per cent – from just over £72million in 2004 to £84million last year.
    Kevin Goad, the council’s parking chief, said: “Westminster Council does not set targets for tickets. Where concerns have been raised around a possible ‘ticket target culture’, as in this instance, we will work with our contractor to further reinforce the message that any such behaviour is unacceptable. We have publicly committed to conducting a full audit of the enforcement service to ensure new measures that have been put in place have been effective in addressing the concerns raised by the Channel 4 documentary.”
    Tim Cowen, for NSL, said: “We welcome the audit programme’s inclusion of parking in next year’s programme. Any public scrutiny which can help demolish the myths about the way parking is managed can only help to further build public support for the way we deliver parking management for our clients. This was why we invited Channel 4 in for several months and gave them unrestricted access to our operation. We believe in being open and transparent about what we do so will take every opportunity to demonstrate that.”
    He added: “The allegations made by one former CEO in the programme were untrue, and we are happy that point was put across in the programme.
    “We correctly issue more than 99.5 per cent of PCNs in Westminster, something which simply could not happen if we focused on the number of tickets rather than the quality of the full service.
    “There are no targets for tickets in Westminster. NSL has never operated in such a way and the audit programme will help to highlight this and get more of the public onside and understanding that this is the case.
    “We are disappointed that the focus here is on the erroneous idea that there are targets for tickets, rather than the appalling abuse directed at civil enforcement officers, as highlighted in the programme.”
    JAMIE WELHAM

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