43. While the media may exaggerate parking problems from time to time, the public perception of parking management and enforcement is undoubtedly poor. Major improvements in the public perception and credibility of decriminalised parking enforcement could be made if local authority parking operations were more transparent.
Publication of annual statistics
44. A number of organisations have called for local authorities to publish information about their parking operations. Mr Richard Childs, former Chief Constable of Lincolnshire, was commissioned recently by the British Parking Association to undertake a review of civil parking enforcement. He concluded that statutory guidance should require full public disclosure by local authorities of the level of revenues generated and how they are used.
45. The Parking Adjudication Service for England and Wales has long called for greater transparency through the publication of annual statistics relating to local authority parking activities. The Chief Adjudicator, Caroline Sheppard, noted with disappointment in her most recent Annual Report that no council had yet published an annual parking report:
46. It should be common sense for public bodies to set out in public and in detail their stewardship of the rules and monies within their responsibility. Councils need to be alive to ways in which they can serve the public better. They should be required to publish parking reports annually showing breakdowns of their parking and enforcement activities. A proper assessment of how effectively and efficiently a council is operating its civil parking enforcement requires a range of detailed information.
47. We were taken aback to learn from the Chief Parking Adjudicator for England and Wales that she could not find a single annual report published by a council parking department. Why so basic an administrative action should be left undone is unclear. We consider that the absence of such reports has contributed materially to the frustration and anger felt by many of those who become caught up in the parking enforcement system. Local authorities have shown poor judgement and a lack of professionalism in failing to publish and highlight their parking polices and objectives, performance measurements, financial information, and an appropriately complete range of relevant statistics. Action to begin to place this important information in the public domain need not await central Government guidance. The local authorities need to publish it without delay.
48. We list below what we would expect to see in the annual reports of local authority parking departments:
Revenue outstanding and use of bailiffs
Expenditure of surpluses
Parking compliance survey statistics
Number of Penalty Charge Notices issued and other enforcement actions
Number of informal representations received
Number of Penalty Charge Notices cancelled by the council prior to adjudication
Number of appeals against the council lodged with the adjudicators and the number upheld and refused; and
Details of costs awarded by the adjudicators, against and in favour of the council
49. Local transport authorities already publish Annual Progress Reports which set out performance against the objectives of their Local Transport Plans. In these progress reports, however, councils are not presently required to record the level of detail proposed above for their parking enforcement operations. But these details should all be easily available within the local authority in the daily course of administering its parking regime. It should not therefore difficult or unduly expensive for the local authorities to produce these for public inspection.
Parking as an income generator for local authorities
50. One potentially damaging aspect of civil parking enforcement to public perception is the local authorities’ right to retain the revenue from parking penalty charges.
51. The vast majority of organisations that submitted evidence to our inquiry however supported this aspect of the present system. Indeed, most acknowledged that permitting councils to retain any surplus revenue from the operation of civil parking enforcement was the most effective way of ensuring that parking regulations were properly enforced, with potential benefits for everyone through improved safety, traffic flow and kerbside management. Nevertheless, allegations have been made that the revenue generation has taken the place of traffic and street management objectives in the administration of some schemes.
52. Parking activity provides two sources of revenue: charges for parking in permitted spaces, for example, pay and display, and residents’ permits and such, and penalty charges, for example, Penalty Charge Notices, wheel clamp and vehicle removal release fees. Payment to park in permitted spaces raises the majority of revenue, although it is revenue from enforcement which tends to provoke most controversy.
53. The most recent figures are for 2003/04 and show that the total income in England from all parking activities was £1,094,464,000 and total expenditure was £655,339,000. An overall surplus was therefore generated of £439,125,000. This surplus was not evenly distributed across the country. Westminster City Council, for example, operates one of the largest parking services in the UK and in 2004/05 generated a surplus income from its on-street parking charges in Westminster City Council of £32,431,000.
54. The opportunity to raise surplus revenue from parking operations has provoked suspicion and criticism. We had evidence that parking managers in some councils are being placed under pressure to realise their forecasts by more zealous parking enforcement operations. The review by Mr Richard Childs, however, found no evidence establishing that councils in general were manipulating civil parking enforcement in pursuit of higher financial surpluses. It is noteworthy that while allegations of abuse of the system were left unproven, Mr Childs did state that some councils were putting their parking managers under pressure to meet financial targets:
55. The Institution of Highways and Transportation drew Mr Childs’ conclusion out more starkly: "Whilst some authorities might not set a target for income, once a budget forecast is made it is as good as a target and the original objectives for introducing schemes, which are about traffic management, free-flow and turnover, are often lost."The local authorities who gave evidence to us indicated that they did develop budgetary forecasts of the revenues predicted for the operation of the civil parking enforcement scheme, as well as the costs, but that they did not set revenue targets.
56. On a more positive note, the revenue raising motives underpinning civil enforcement operations do not pass without comment from the public and can be a force for change in policies and practices, including the relief from budgetary pressures on parking teams. Westminster City Council, for example, described how surplus income from parking operations in 2004/05 was £14 million below the budgetary forecast, as a result of decisions taken to "create fairer policies for the motoring public."
Restrictions on the use of any surplus revenues
57. Once the costs of parking facilities and administration have been met, the use of any surplus by the council is confined to provision of transport improvements and, following the Traffic Management Act 2004, local environmental improvements. The Act also enables regulations to be made to permit high-performing local authorities to be granted complete freedom in the way they may spend any surplus parking income once the needs of parking provision have been considered. Camden Council gave examples of some services funded with parking revenue:
58. Winchester City Council pointed out that for shire county areas most revenue raised from parking activities comes from off-street car park charges. This revenue was a significant income generator prior to civil parking enforcement, and the Council did not make a surplus from parking enforcement activity. Indeed, even now - ten years after beginning operations - Winchester has not yet recovered the capital costs of setting up civil parking enforcement.
59. Winchester also explained that a common presumption that civil parking enforcement generates significant revenue surpluses evaporates on close inspection:
60. There is some danger that councils will be tempted to use civil parking enforcement to raise additional revenue. They must resist this, and in fact we found no hard evidence that there was a widespread problem. We accept that budgetary forecasting is a necessary part of prudent financial planning. Forecasts must not however be interpreted in any way as revenue targets.
61. If local councils set revenue targets these will override the traffic management objectives which must govern the use of the surpluses generated. In order to relieve undue pressure on parking managers, the Department must make it absolutely clear in the statutory guidance that operations must support transport priorities and not financial targets. The Department and the Audit Commission must uphold this principle and challenge any authorities that appear to be doing otherwise in the operation of their civil parking enforcement.
62. Parking charges rather than penalty charges raise the most revenue. Local authorities are free to set parking charges at whatever level they decide, within the general requirement that they should not be set at levels to generate surplus revenues or as a form of local taxation. This leaves a significant degree of local flexibility.
63. NCP claimed that there was little or no transport rationale behind local authority car park charges. The RAC Foundation called for the charges to be set more explicitly according to transport objectives that could be communicated to the public. There was also a call from these groups for greater consistency in charge levels across the country.
64. Councils raise significant revenues from parking charges, much more than from penalty charges. We do not consider that absolute national consistency in parking charges would allow each local area to achieve its transport management objectives. Local parking charges need to be set within the overall context of a local transport strategy with a strong underlying traffic management basis. There should be uniformity of approach in arriving at such charges, but local flexibility in setting them according to prevailing local conditions. Charges must be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure that the levels which have been set are achieving the intended pattern of use of the parking spaces available, whether this is short stay, resident use, commuter traffic, or loading.
Enforcement contracts and incentives
65. In a misguided attempt to motivate enforcement staff, some councils and contractors have introduced incentive schemes into contracts. The schemes generally reward staff according to the number of tickets issued, and vehicles towed and clamped. The RAC Foundation drew our attention to incentive schemes, including prizes such as Argos points and flat-screen televisions for parking attendants meeting targets. Such performance incentive arrangements can undermine the legitimacy of civil parking enforcement, encourage inappropriate ’over-zealous’ enforcement activity, and stimulate misjudgements on the part of parking attendants who are attempting to meet targets rather than apply the rules.
66. Such incentive schemes appear to be comparatively rare, but the existence of even a small number risks bringing parking enforcement into disrepute. Mr Martin Wood, the Chief Adjudicator for London said that he had "very strong views about incentive schemes and that is that there should not be any. Anything that encourages people to issue tickets other than on their absolute merits is to be deprecated and potentially is very dangerous (emphasis applied)." We agree.
67. Some councils have recognised belatedly the great damage such schemes can do to public confidence in parking arrangements. Councillor Chalkley of Westminster City Council told us:
68. The British Parking Association has recognised the problem of lack of accountability in private contracts and has developed a ’Model Contract’ which has been part-funded by the Department for Transport. The British Parking Association charges £500 per year for their members (£950 for non-members) for use of the contract. It is "founded on openness and trust and shuns performance indicators relating to the number of parking tickets issued." If used universally the contract would provide a consistent base for all authorities which use contractors in their civil parking enforcement.
69. Incentive schemes in parking enforcement contracts are utterly misguided. Why these should have ever have been considered to be compatible with sensible enforcement of parking measures as a tool of street management is a mystery. That some local authorities should have started them, in the face of common sense and sound administration, is deeply disappointing.
70. We cannot stress too strongly that enforcement contracts with incentive regimes based on the number of tickets issued or other enforcement actions should not be permitted. Every local authority operating a decriminalised parking scheme should be required to affirm that it does not operate on this basis. Such incentives will squeeze out sensible traffic management objectives and serve to undermine legitimacy and public confidence in civil enforcement. We commend the use of the ’model contract’ developed by the British Parking Association for private parking contracts.
Scrutiny of local authority parking operations
The inspection regime
71. The performance of local authority transport departments is subject to scrutiny by the Department and the Audit Commission through the Local Transport Plan process and the Comprehensive Performance Assessment regime respectively.
72. Parking operations are not currently subject to specific consideration by the Audit Commission through the Comprehensive Performance Assessment or the Best Value framework. The Department for Transport told us that the new methodology for Comprehensive Performance Assessment, which is now being implemented, is to include transport in more detail, including traffic management and reducing congestion. This is welcome.
73. The Audit Commission must be able to scrutinise local authority parking departments. In order to provide an incentive to councils to raise the standard of their parking enforcement operations, civil parking enforcement should be given more prominence in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA). The inspection regime should examine not only the accounts, efficiency of the operation and any allegations of maladministration, but also the professionalism of the service. Under such a system, poor parking service performance should be reflected in the CPA scoring assessment. This system would reward those councils that demonstrate effectiveness and quality in the parking services they deliver for the public.
74. There are no mandatory national performance indicators that focus specifically on parking at present. The second edition of the Department for Transport’s Guidance on Local Transport Plans suggested the following optional performance indicators to measure parking operations: total parking provision, the proportion of short stay parking, the price differential between short and long stay parking and the percentage of planning permission exceeding parking standards. But this list does not go far enough.
75. The stages of parking enforcement, from the initial Penalty Charge Notice, through correspondence with the authority, to adjudication, is the occasion of a significant exchange between local authority officials and members of the public. This is where opinions and perceptions of local government take root. It is important therefore that councils recognise the importance of good communication and clarity of procedure (see paragraph 124 for example). This aspect too of parking enforcement needs to be the subject of performance measurement.
76. Appropriate performance indicators could provide the public and local councils with a sound basis for measuring performance and comparing standards between neighbouring authorities. The Transport Research Laboratory benchmarking initiative provides a subscription service along these lines but few councils currently make use of this facility. NCP, the largest supplier of parking attendants in the UK, supports the use of performance indicators as a key component of contractual arrangements:
77. In the interests of raising standards initially, and to ensure a consistently high quality of civil parking enforcement, local authorities should be required to report against a tightly focused set of performance indicators. It is a significant flaw in the existing reporting requirements that the optional performance indicators for local authority parking activity deal only with the parking infrastructure in place, and therefore fail to provide insights into the standard of enforcement service. A ’customer service’ attitude towards residents, businesses and visitors to the area in all aspects of the parking operation needs to be encouraged. The standards achieved must be monitored and published.
78. Compliance with parking regulations is the most important measure of performance within a parking enforcement regime. This can be measured by roadside surveys, and some local authorities undertake such evaluations now. All councils engaged in decriminalised parking enforcement should be required to do so. The key performance indicators should illustrate how efficiently and effectively local authorities are conducting civil parking enforcement, and the level of focus on ’customer service’. Examples might include: accuracy of Penalty Charge Notices issued, clear information on the procedures for making representations, speed of responding to representations, and the number of appeals made to the Adjudicator which are uncontested by the council. Where enforcement is contracted out to the private sector, the same suite of indicators should be embedded within the contract.
A parking regulator
79. We heard some calls for the establishment of a new post of ’parking regulator’ to oversee decriminalised parking enforcement. Such a regulator it was argued would be able to assist the accountability process by checking the accounts of civil parking enforcement operations, investigating accusations of maladministration and ensuring Traffic Regulation Orders were compliant. The British Parking Association argued that there was a requirement for a final arbiter:
80. We have some sympathy with those who argue for a regulator. We would have more however if it was our view that the present arrangements for implementing a sound parking regime had been extended to their full potential and were failing. We do not believe that this is the case, or that we have reached that stage. We think therefore that the British Parking Association’s view is unnecessarily pessimistic. This is not to dismiss the possibility of a regulator if local authorities, the Government, and the Adjudication Service prove incapable of delivering an excellent country-wide service in due course. There remain manifest faults with the present arrangements and these must be corrected. Adding yet another layer of administration however is not necessarily the correct way to simplify, streamline, and enhance the present arrangements at the present time.
81. The existing institutional framework for parking enforcement should, if correctly managed and extended, provide adequate scrutiny of local authority parking management without the establishment of a ’parking regulator’. But the local authorities, the Government, the parking adjudication services, and the private sector need to cooperate now to drive up the standards of performance. If they cannot manage to demonstrate real progress within a reasonable time scale then alternatives will need to be found. In those circumstances, the advantages of a ’parking regulator’ might need to be considered further.