The British Parking Association – when PR goes out the window

 

In a bizarre twitter spat the British Parking Association Ltd (BPA Ltd) lost the plot after taking on Nutsville yesterday.

 

It began with the BPA Limited tweeting a link to it’s latest blog post by Patrick Troy, the BPA’s Chief Executive.

 

 

Troy’s blog post attempts to boost moral of the parking sector concerned with enforcing parking on private land. Six months ago when the Government outlawed the practice of clamping vehicles parked on private land a new appeals service was set up at great expense to the tax payer by London Councils. We covered the story of what was to be known as POPLA in this post.

 

It seems from Troy’s blog post that things have not gone smoothly for POPLA, with him ending his ‘come on cheer up folks’ piece by telling his members not to listen to bloggers who are attempting to spoil the party.

 

I often hear members of the Approved Operator Scheme expressing concern about bloggers’ attempts to undermine the work that the sector has done in raising standards. What I would say is listen to the legitimate organisations that represent a far wider constituency of opinion and you will hear a very different story: one which understands the challenges of the sector and recognises that it is trying to do the best for the motorist.

 

We don’t think it’s wrong to inform motorists that appeal decisions made by POPLA are not legally binding. In fact there is no contract for POPLA just a letter of intent, another headache for London Councils. Page 40 of their draft contract even goes on to say “This level of competence recognises both the level of legal decision making needed and the fact that any decisions made are not binding”. Hence why POPLA has decisions and NOT adjudications.

 

But perhaps Patrick Troy’s blog post was more about trying to get members of  BPA Limited to pay their dues, as this paragraph from leaked BPA Limited council meeting minutes reveals:

 

There has been some member concern in relation to costs, especially POPLA, and there has been some difficulty persuading around 20% to pay.”

 

We replied to the BPA’s tweet with this;

 

 

 

Looks like we touched a nerve as the BPA Limited tweeted back:

 

 

 

Poor old BPA Limited, perhaps their members have been complaining about the BPA’s own bloggers and not us after all, as you will see if you read on just how good the BPA Limited are at putting their own foot in their mouth.

 

So we then wonder just how much effect campaigners are having on the BPA Limited as we had recently learnt the BPA Limited had suddenly pulled an article from its industry magazine ‘Parking News’ at the last minute. The BPA Limited had asked campaign group the No To Mob to write an article for them to be included in this April’s edition of the  magazine. The No To Mob agreed to this, providing the article would appear unedited and could be on any aspect of the industry they choose.

 

The BPA Limited accepted this, and on receipt of the piece said they were happy with it. It looked as if the article would be published in time for the UK’s biggest parking trade show next month, PARKEX.

 

But then the BPA Limited went back on their promise indicating that because of their trade show, Parkex there would be no room for the article after all. When Sarah Juggins editor of Parking News was asked by the No To Mob if it was an editorial decision to pull the article she said “no it was board decision”.

 

Then later in a conversation with the No To Mob ,Kelvin Reynolds the BPA’s Director of Policy and Public Affairs claimed the reason for the article being pulled was; “it would get the backs up of their members”.

 

However in yesterdays twitter spat with Nutsville the BPA Limited came up with yet another reason for not sticking to its promise to publish the No To Mob article , claiming the article is ‘full of inaccuracies”.

 

 

 

 

The BPA Limited then went on in another tweet to take a swing at Parking Cowboys, Nutsville and the No To Mob suggesting that we make “speculative, ill informed judgements not based on facts..”.

 

 

 

We then point out to the BPA Limited that some of our facts came from them after the BPA Limited forgot to put sensitive membership documents in a secure area, instead publishing the whole lot not once but twice for anyone to view on the web.

 

 

This is an organisation whose members are entrusted with access to the DVLA database, and is expected to look after the data they obtain about the motorists the BPA’s members intend to issue PCN’s and bailiffs with follow up court actions.

 

The BPA’s reply was to suggest they have nothing to hide, but we do.

 

 

We ask the BPA Limited to put up or shut up.

 

 

We also ask them about their own president who hides behind a false name, as covered in our recent post here:

 

 

Then it seems the BPA Limited  realise they have made a PR blunder and we think they have wisely called it a day, so we tweet.

 

 

Today, just as we are about to tuck into our three Shredded wheat the BPA Limited sends us another tweet. It looks like they’re back for round two trying to defend their false name giving ex parking warden of a president:

 

 

Our three replies back to the BPA Limited below speak for themselves, needless to say at the time of writing this blog post the BPA Limited seem to have got cold feet and have not been gracious enough to answer our questions.

 

 

 

 

We now have permission from the No To Mob to publish their article which the BPA Limited promised to publish in next months Parking News but instead spiked expecting the No To Mob to agree to edit it so as not to upset BPA members.

Well as the  BPA Limited say, they have nothing to hide.

 

Here is what the BPA Limited didn’t want their membership to read:

 

Introducing the No To Mob

We have been variously described in the media as a “biker-gang,” “vigilantes,” “Robin Hoods,” or “superheroes” all of which make us cringe when we hear them. The fact is, we consider ourselves to be a group/Mob of ordinary people who are standing up and saying No To the injustices we encounter on a daily basis. It just so happens it is the parking industry that has attracted most of our attention at this time, and we are grateful and pleasantly surprised that we have been allowed to present our concerns over the workings of the parking industry in one of its leading journals.

Our recent appearance in the BBC1 film “Parking Mad” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYb2PIAw_Ps ) struck a chord with the general public, many of whom have arrived independently at the same conclusion as the NoToMob, which is that the industry has lost focus on what it should be trying to achieve, i.e. road safety and enhancement of traffic flow, and its focus is now firmly on one thing, and one thing only. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY.

As a result of NoToMob interventions in Westminster, Hemel Hempstead, Southwark and Richmond, where we pointed out the failures of those enforcement authorities and their contractors/advisers regarding problems with CCTV, signs and lines, and Traffic Management Orders etc., local authorities have paid back a total of approximately £2.8m to motorists they have unlawfully penalised. We do not so much consider these as successes for the NoToMob, but more as failures by those seeking to hold others to account, who at the same time fail in their own duty of care towards those they purport to serve.

One of the things that got us looking more closely at the parking industry were the constant reports in the press of “Rogue Clampers” and their overenthusiastic enforcement methods. It turns out that a number of these so called “rogues” were actually members of the British Parking Association Ltd (BPA Ltd). Clearly though, BPA Ltd didn’t succeed in curtailing its members’ activities, because in October last year the Government passed legislation that didn’t stop at simply banning clamping on private land, it actually outlawed the practice. This is a clear indication of the failure of BPA Ltd, a company that actively seeks the respect of the Government and the industry it advises.

Then there are the bailiffs, many of whom are BPA Ltd members, and a number of whom have been the subject of investigations relating to some very sharp practices indeed. It seems that BPA Ltd and enforcement authorities have again failed to rein in their representatives in the field, because the Government is about to intervene once again by bringing in new legislation that will succeed where BPA Ltd and enforcement authorities have failed so dismally.

When outlawing clamping, the Government threw the industry a bone in the shape of further legislation regarding “Recovery of unpaid parking charges.” This is the industry’s chance to prove that it can succeed where it has previously failed. The measure of success must surely be gauged by the lack of attention to this area in the press, and yet week after week we are seeing stories of parking companies using overenthusiastic enforcement methods (sound familiar?) to boost their income. We are waiting to see if the industry will step in to curb these abuses, but given past failures we remain unconvinced that this will happen.

So where do we think the industry has got it so wrong? Perhaps it would be wise to listen to the words of Ms Caroline Sheppard, the Chief Adjudicator at the Traffic Penalty Tribunal (TPT). Towards the end of Parking Mad she states “There needs to be trust between the citizens in their cars and the authorities. At present it doesn’t always appear that that trust exists on either side.” You may not agree with Ms Sheppard, but given that she sees both sides of many stories on a daily basis, it would be dangerous to dismiss her vast experience in this field.

From the NoToMob’s viewpoint, and from the viewpoint of the many members of the public who openly show their support for us, Ms Sheppard is absolutely correct in that we definitely do not trust an industry that makes a living by finding ever more ingenious (some would say devious) ways to extract cash from motorists if they make the slightest mistake. Add to that deep public resentment over the growing use of CCTV and ANPR for enforcement purposes together with unease over how this impinges on our civil liberties, and you will understand the gaping chasm that now stands between the public and the parking industry.

We recognise that those in the business of traffic enforcement will find it challenging to earn and retain the trust of those it enforces against, and we fully accept that proportionate and reasonable enforcement is absolutely necessary. However, the problem really starts when we witness an industry that is rewarded by its failures. We are repeatedly told by people in the industry that “we would be delighted if we never had to issue another ticket”, and yet we see stories in the press time and again of box junctions and bus lanes etc. raking in millions of pounds in penalties, year on year. How can the public have confidence in an industry that is clearly making its profits from the enforcement of defective schemes?

One glaring example of this was in Hemel Hempstead where Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) installed CCTV cameras to enforce a bus gate. This was designed, and enforcement was managed, by HCC’s contractors. When enforcement started, PCNs to the value of £20,000 were being issued each day. We visited the site about 5 weeks after commencement and immediately identified the problems with the scheme. We wrote to the council, giving details of the problems with the traffic management order, the signs and the road markings, and were told that the “expert” advice the council had received said that we were wrong and they were right.

However, the matter was later examined by Ms Caroline Sheppard. She adjudicated on two sample PCNs, one for each direction in the bus gate. She also visited the site to see the situation for herself, following which she allowed both appeals. Her grounds for allowing the appeals were exactly those that we had pointed out to the council some 6 weeks after enforcement commenced. As a result the council had to refund in excess of £1m of unlawfully derived income to those it had failed so badly.

So why should we trust an industry that is letting down those it purports to serve? The NoToMob are attempting to bridge the chasm between us by identifying what it perceives to be problems, but in turn we are repeatedly rebuffed or ignored or ridiculed. We are then forced to ask ourselves the question that the industry will not ask of itself. Isn’t it, in reality, ALL ABOUT THE MONEY?

Those involved in the parking industry should understand that we are merely answering the Prime Minister’s call for a “Big Society”. We will hold local authorities and their contractors to account. We will also hold to account those responsible for unlawful practices in the private parking industry, evidence of which we have already found.

The following is a list of just some of the areas the NoToMob are currently investigating. Access to DVLA database, the Approved Operator Scheme, POPLA, TMOs, signs, ANPR and unlawful data storage, abuse of DPA 1998, unlawful use of CCTV, unlawful bailiff fees, and local authority contract procurement. We have already found numerous problems in these areas.

WE ARE WATCHING YOU.

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4 Comments

Pat PendingMarch 29th, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Way to go Nutsville, I also think that if you give a false name at an Adjudication it renders the evidence submitted null & void. At the very least a procedural impropriety, at the worst Illegal.
If I had been on the receiving end of an adjudication which involved a council officer giving false witness, my next step would be to visit my solicitors.
I would also want that person removed from their position within the Local Authority without delay.

CocoMarch 31st, 2013 at 10:21 pm

A content analysis of the Notomob article:

Para 1: “It’s all about the money” is the Notomob’s opinion; BPA Limited is free to prove otherwise.

Para 2: Fact: all four local authorities mentioned had failed whichis why they made refunds.

Para 3: Fact 1: A number of rogue clampers were members of BPA Limited.
Fact 2: BPA Limited failed to control its members which is why the Government felt it had to pass legislation.

Para 4: Fact 1: Many bailiffs are members of BPA Limited.
Fact 2: A number of bailiff firms have been investigated for sharp practices – and been found wanting.
Fact 3: The Government is considering new legislation to regulate bailiffs.

Para 5: Fact 1: The government has introduced new legistlation in respect of parking on private land.
Fact 2: There are still many examples of notices that threaten clamping on private land.

Para 6: Fact: The quote from Ms Sheppard is a matter of public record.

Para 7: Fact: There is widespread public concern about civil liberty issues over the use of CCTV and ANPR equipment.

Para 8: Fact 1: BPA members are finding it challenging to earn and retain the trust of motorists.
Fact 2: The notomob does fully accept the need for enforcement.
Fact 3: Failure to provide proper signage generates more contraventions and thereby profits for BPA Ltd Members.
Fact 4: Pooly desgned box junctions and bus lanes are generating increased penaties year on year.

Paras 9 and 10: Wholly factual and these paras relate to a failure accepted by the authority and widely reported.

Para 11: Fact: The Notomob has offered dialogue and has been rebuffed – or why else was this article spiked?

Para 12: Fact 1: The Notomob is investigating these areas.
Fact 2: The notomob has already found problems in these areas.

So where are the “inaccurate facts”? The ball’s in your court BPA Limited.

RichardApril 1st, 2013 at 11:41 am

I can find many locations where clamping was, until last week, specifically stated as a remedy for unauthorised parking and I expect to find them unchanged this week also.

More power to your elbow folks and may you go for the jugular.

BPA – why are you so afraid of the truth?

Mr MustardApril 5th, 2013 at 11:24 am

It is all about the money. Barnet Council realised in mid 2012 that they were way behind in the first quarter against the expect surplus so rather than accepting that perhaps less people were visiting Barnet, or were parking legally, they instead hatched the Parking Recovery Plan to get the surplus back on track. Can I see that under FOI; not on your nelly, a vexatious question. Can an opposition councillor see it? No, it is “commercially sensitive”. Oops, parking enforcement isn’t meant to be a commercial operation is it, it is simply to encourage compliance.

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