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Bonkers Blog August 2011

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1 August - Resident’s Parking Permit price increases. No justification

This month the price of a Residents’ Parking Permit rises to £100. Just over a year ago it was £35 and making a profit but councillor Peter Craske wished to raise revenue and needed to prove that the permit scheme was making a loss. To this end he made up a host of fanciful figures. Among his figures and the conclusions that can be drawn from them are…

• The permits ran up £258,000 in total staff costs. That’s nearly 60% of the whole office - for about 5% of total activity.
• It cost £49,000 to print 3,081 permits.
• White line painting within Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs) cost £36,000 a year.
• On-street enforcement costs for CPZs is £328,000 a year. That’s 45% of total enforcement costs according to an FOI response - for what is generally a two hours a day restriction, compared to all day outside the CPZs over a vastly wider area.
• Computers for Parking Permit administration amounts to £11,000 a year. That’s exactly half the total office computer costs according to an FOI response - for about 5% of the total work.
• Accommodation overheads related to CPZ admin. amount to £71,200 and the FOI says that premises costs for the whole office adds up to £110,000. 65% for 5% of the activity.
• Craske said that every cost related to Residents’ Parking Permits adds up to £783,200. That’s more than a third of the entire parking enforcement office to deal with 3,081 permits and around 12% of the total PCNs issued.

That expenditure is offset by income from fines but it formed the basis for councillor Craske’s claim that the price needed to rise steeply. He emailed the numbers to several enquiring residents. When asked why he couldn’t reduce costs he never replied. When asked to justify individual figures, he couldn’t and when pressed said he wasn’t going to comment any more. The figures looked wrong to anyone who thought about them for five seconds and many came to the conclusion that Craske was simply lying to the electorate. And now there is more evidence that the councillor really didn’t know what he was talking about.

At this point I shall hand over the blog to Bonkers‘ accounting friend who went to Bexley’s Civic Offices a week or so ago (†) to inspect their accounts…

One of the basic fundamentals of accounting is to allocate costs in order to establish where money is being spent. Bexley council tried to do this when it told residents in July 2010 it estimated the costs to run and enforce Controlled Parking Zones across the borough was approximately £780,000.

As the council had only issued 3,081 Parking Permits and an unknown number of visitors tickets – yes that’s right, they have no idea how many are printed and issued – this was then used by councillor Craske to justify raising the price of a Residents’ Parking Permit from £35 to £70 in September 2010 and then hiking it up to £100 this month.

A reasonable person would assume that there must be a cost code within Bexley’s accounts to which all the CPZ costs can be allocated. Only then might it be possible to make any sort of claim about subsidising Controlled Parking Zones and decide whether there is a need to raise more funds to cover the supposed costs, and indeed in any organisation fit for purpose it would be the norm. However, if the real purpose is to justify a preconceived premise and the sole goal is to ‘Maximise Income’ - as the council has stated in its own documents - then the last thing you actually require is a real breakdown of what was spent and where. The priority becomes making up numbers to suit the objective. If good accounting practice can be used against you it makes perfect sense not to know what the true figures are as then you can claim in your defence that you believed the estimates were reasonable.

So it won’t surprise you to know that there appears to be absolutely no verifiable basis whatsoever for the council’s own figures as no cost code exists within Bexley council’s accounting system to which any CPZ related expenditure can be allocated. So how did the council arrive at their numbers?

Bexley council has refused for over nine months to provide any sort of justification for its estimates. Any normal organisation would fall over itself to do so and prove its integrity, but Bexley council is neither a normal nor a reasonable institution and is an integrity-free zone.

I was able to inspect an analysis of relative activity of the Controlled Parking Zones and the Controlled Parking Account for on-street parking and this indicated that there would have been a surplus during 2009-10 (the most recently available figures) if permits were charged at £35 each - as they were that year. Bexley council knows this, they have been in possession of the figures for many months. They will not comment on them and the Parking Manager, Tina Brooks, claims she finds some of the numbers hard to follow! Well if she is incapable of working out and applying percentages then I guess they are.

So now I know unequivocally that the council has plucked its costs from outside of the published accounts and wishes to avoid at all costs sharing any rationale with concerned residents about how it arrived at them in the first place. Par for the course at Bexley council who once again demonstrate that they are not working for us and most definitely not prepared to listen either!

When I asked what sort of things had been loaded into the costs for operating CPZs I was told that they not only guessed the proportions of the overall parking costs to apply to CPZ in the outrageous and unrealistic way indicated in the opening summary, but they lumped in chunks of library operating costs and disproportionate amounts for building maintenance. Not once could they refer to documentation to substantiate their figures because Bexley council had failed at the first hurdle, there is no accounting code for CPZs. Councillor Craske couldn’t tell the truth because he doesn’t have a clue what the truth is. Telling residents that they must pay more for Parking Permits because the cross-subsidies must be stopped when the truth is totally different, is exactly what you might expect from a council that elected Ian Clement to be their leader and without exception never noticed the financial abuses going on right under their noses.

If when paying £100 for your next Parking Permit you feel you are being cheated by a council not untainted by fraud then you will have the consolation of knowing that your grasp of accounting is on an altogether higher plane than councillor Peter Craske’s.

† From 4th to 29th July councils had a statutory obligation to open their accounts for inspection.


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