Westminster Council in a ‘critical’ mess over parking policies

Two reports issued today, one from Westminster Council, the other from the Audit Commission reveal just how much financial and legal mess Westminster City Council are in.

A Finance and Business Plan Performance Report due to go before the Audit & Performance Committee next week says that money owed to the council is unacceptably high at a staggering £82M. (download here)

The report also states that of the service specific debt (£73M) an almost unbelievable £48M (58%) of total debt results from the councils parking operation, of which £35M has been outstanding for more than a year.

The council can’t blame its woes on those Johnny foreigners either, as the latest data available from the 30 September 2011 shows that foreign vehicles with outstanding Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) make up only £4.83m of the £48M outstanding debt.

It also looks like Westminster City Council can expect even less revenue from lucrative PCNs, as more and more motorists comply with the parking regulations and therefore avoid a parking ticket. The council set a target expecting 95% of motorists to park correctly, but probably due to the councils notorious reputation and the continuing recession, 98.6% motorists avoid the misery and expense a parking ticket can often bring. Although council parking officers say their true goal is 100% compliance, this often seems to be said through gritted teeth, as PCNs mean money. So no Champagne corks flying in the parking department for that particular target achievement.

Colin Barrow legging it

Colin Barrow legging it

The councils parking department has recently made headlines for its new Sunday and weekday evening parking charges. Back in August we saw the leader of the council, Colin Barrow pronounce himself divine then steamroller the decision to introduce the new parking tax through, no doubt with the hand of God to guide him. God must have been feeling tired that day though, as Barrows cowardly disciples could barely lift their hands up to vote in the new parking tax which all looked to have been decided even before the meeting had started.

Since then a campaign group has formed named ‘West End Parking Travesty’ (WEPT), and possibly a separate group have also lodged papers in the High Court for a Judicial Review. Westminster City Councils performance report dismisses the effect the Judicial Review will have on the council as ‘marginal’. Even so the council have refused any public discussion on the divine decision until after the new parking hours are introduced. A petition has already started to try to force the council to change its mind (view here).

Which version of the truth would you like?

The performance report also highlights the failings at Westminster City Council in providing and disseminating information. The councils website comes in for special criticism, saying “Web information is not accessible, accurate or consistent enough to enable disparate staff to offer a consistent customer service and for WCC to provide “One single version of the truth “”.

Since the council introduced its motorcycle parking tax in August 2008 the council’s communications have come under test. Campaigners having been ignored by various councillors and senior officers have resorted to using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to try to prize information out of city hall.

All too often the council failed to keep within the law in replying to FOIs as the performance report shows. The council is now being watched by the Information Commissioner; “The Council has not achieved the target (0 – 15%) in respect of open requests in 2011 to date. This figure was at its lowest in Quarter 1 (at 17%) when the Council was required to sign a formal Undertaking with the Information Commissioner to improve compliance. Non-adherence to the terms of the Undertaking may lead to further action against the Council by the Information Commissioner.

Westminster Council seem to have difficulties with all types of communications as the performance report shows us that Colin Barrow’s money making love child WestCo Trading hasn’t been able to provide any figures for the report. Oh dear nothing we said was it, hope everything is all right.

One tax too far

It looks as if the council are most worried by the action being taken against them by a Mr Jones who has warned the council they will be held to account for as long as the motorcycle parking tax remains in place.

So far the council are still under investigation by the EU Commission regarding most of the contracts involving the parking department as a result of Mr Jones’s scrutiny. The council’s report says about this investigation: “Challenges due to non compliance with EU guidelines &Procurement code. Impact to Westminster City Council ‘Critical’”.

Even though things at the council are critical it’s still unlikely they will shift from their policy of unbending arrogance, why? Well simply because it’s not their money they are losing. As again demonstrated in the story of the council’s uncertified CCTV, which sees senior officers refusing to even suspend or investigate why they keep losing appeal after appeal on illegal parking tickets.

Yesterday BBC London featured an interview with Leith Penny, Strategic Director for City Management on the poop deck of city hall trying to convince an increasingly sceptical public that there’s really nothing wrong with the councils CCTV spy cameras they really are all certified and the council will win the next appeal hearing.  How unoriginal!

Nutsville is not helping matters

The council have not had their accounts certified either, ever since they introduced the motorcycle parking tax, what a coincidence.

Here’s what the District Auditor has to say in his latest report into Westminster City Council:

“I have not issued a certificate closing the 2008/09 and 2009/10 audits as I have been considering a number of issues raised by members of the public, in particular relating to parking.”

“I am on notice of further possible objections to the 2008/09, 2009/10 and 2010/11 financial statements. I have also continued to consider a number of matters drawn to my attention by members of the public.”

“As part of my consideration of an issue raised with me concerning inadequate signage in controlled parking zones (CPZs) and the possible ‘unlawful’ enforcement of single yellow lines, I noted that after the Council knew in some cases that improved signage at the boundaries of its CPZs was required, it took sometime to complete the installation of the necessary signs.”

“I referred two issues to the Council in March 2011 that had been raised with me by a member of the public where, in my view, the Council was better placed to respond to the questions posed. Despite a number of further requests from me, the Council did not respond to the member of the public until late August 2011. This represents a significant and unnecessary delay.” (download here)

Nutsville’s objections to Westminster City Accounts spread wider and wider each passing year, so much so we are due to meet with the District Auditor next month. But so serious and far reaching are our findings the District Auditor has invited a further three of his mates along to attend the meeting making a total of four District Auditors about to descend on Westminster Council.

Despite the District Auditor’s recommendations, Peter Large the councils Head of Legal still fails to answer outstanding issues brought to his attention since September. He’s probably discovering just how arrogant senior parking officers can be when it comes to answering questions.

Looks to us as if things are really very critical down at Westminster Council, and those involved are either hiding or standing on the poop deck at city hall trying to bluff an increasingly curious public and media away.


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1 Comment

DavidNovember 21st, 2011 at 10:14 am

Been a small Moving Company based in London, we are working hard to reduce our cost as much as possible, why Westminster Council Can’t do the same?

Instead, they would rather pass on their luxurious life-style cost onto us.

This is appalling, shame on you Westminster Council

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