Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sunderland Council...good morning. There are many watching.

Nice to see that the first thing that some Sunderland Council Officers do every morning is to go online and see what this blog was reporting, our insider reveals. There is a great deal of panic within the Civic Centre as to where and what exposure will come next.
Will the Police be involved?
How far have the discussions gone with the Crown Prosecution Service?
Will the District Auditor's Report, due shortly, be scathing or will it be deemed 'not in the public interest?'
Is the Department for Transport looking for a Patsy in order to reign in all of the other 'out of control' Local Authorities operating DPE?
Which Council Officers are being prepared to be the fall guys for the Council? We understand that some have been placed under enormous pressure in order to protect the careers of others. However, as more evidence of malpractice comes to light it will not be possible for those higher up the food chain to blame those lower down.
Nothing short of a full external investigation will be necessary to restore any faith in the actions and operation of both the Legal Department and the Development and Regeneration Directorate within the City.
Nothing short of a full public apology for the people and businesses of Sunderland from the Leader of the City Council will suffice, and a full public acknowledgement and thanks for the individuals who brought this shameful practice to his attention.
Only then can a line be drawn under this whole sorry episode and after NCP have had their contract revoked (due to the practice failure detailed below).

We are aware that there is another NCP whistleblower preparing to leak further information with regard to their 'work' practices and other revelations which will be worthy of the News of the World rather than the Sunderland Echo. That side of things is of no interest to our investigation. We are simply concerned with exposing the shambolic technical aspects of DPE in relation to Sunderland and the exposure of the massive flaws in DPE nationally.

As the desperate Decriminalised Parking cover-up continues the scale and enormity of the scandal gets bigger, the political and legal consequences grow.
Sunderland City Council believes that by correcting everything that was unlawful / incorrect / illegal then everything becomes correct /lawful /legal.
This is not the case and there are to be many retrospective challenges.
How many small claims court actions will follow?
How many will now beginning to sue for damages after being harassed and pursued by bailiffs?

When will the Leader of Sunderland City Council apologise to the City's residents, motorists and businesses who have been harassed and targeted by a draconian enforcement regime that has now been shown to be massively flawed?

When will the Secretary of State for Transport respond to the questions raised by Chris Mullin, Sunderland South MP, with regard to the Department for Transport being misled into approving Sunderland's Special Parking Area and therefore misleading Parliament into granting the Statutory Instrument based on a falsehood?

What now has the Department for Transport in disarray is the fact that there were no procedures or statutory guidance in place to check Sunderland City Council's DPE application. This means that despite the fact that a Sunderland Council officer either misled or lied to the Department for Transport there were no provisions in place to check the false claims.

What then followed was a Local Authority operating a contractual agreement with NCP and with both parties being fully aware that thousands of physical errors in the DPE operation existed and in certain instances with the full knowledge that there were no traffic regulation orders in place. (As more and more represntations from motorists came in the more they became aware of their situation).
When some of these errors were brought to their attention by members of the public in November 2003 they kept quiet, made no refunds and kept the money. It is staggering that there has not been a more serious investigation to date.

To date however, NCP has blamed the Council, saying that they were only doing as they were told. However, evidence revealed in the Report 'Decriminalised Parking Enforcement - Post Implementation Review' is damning and reveals that NCP were told to change the Penalty Charge Notices which did not conform to legislative requirements, leaving them wide open to face allegations of attempting to obtain money by deception.

The timeline of this particaular aspect of the investigation is this:

30th April 2002 - Formal application to DfT to operate DPE scheme - reassurances given by Sunderland City Council that all signs, lines and Traffic Regulation Orders will be correct and in force when the scheme begins.

February 3rd 2003 - Sunderland begins DPE with appointed contractor NCP.

October 31st 2003 - Council become aware that there are no valid TROs for the Taxi Ranks and there is an exemption for Blue Badge Holders parked in loading bays. There was no public statement and no refunds. Money which had been obtained unlawfully was not returned. NCP Wardens were told not to disclose the information to anyone.
A further 78 PCNs were issued on Taxi Ranks AFTER November 2003 and we have evidence that NCP were only refunding when an appeal came in.

During the period from the commencement of DPE until the revelations hit the press NCP had continued ticketing even in areas where there had been successful challenges, either over the lines or TROs.

June 2004 - and not yet admitted, another specific area( FoI request now into 50 days), a former NCP PA revealed that they had been advised that there was no valid TRO in place for Lower Marine Walk and Roker promenade. Number of tickets issued here and not yet refunded believed to be 600+ ... over £20,000.

The Chief Executive, Ged Fitzgerald, would like everyone to believe that the errors identified amounts to just 0.6% of tickets issued. This is clearly not the case and as more areas are identified the figure will rise EXCEPT it now appears that they are not now going to make voluntary refunds but wait for everyone to appeal individually.
The wrong wording on the tickets, identified below, dates back to February 3rd 2003 when DPE began and includes every ticket issued for over two and a half years!
Trouble with that one is that the money, if identified as being unlawfully derived income, will again affect the City's accounts and again will require another investigation by the District Auditor.

The timeline involving the unlawfully worded tickets is detailed below (and in must be borne in mind that just because Sunderland City Council did not know the tickets were unlawful prior to MacArthur does not mean that they were lawful):

4th May 2005 - NPAS published a Circular relating to an Adjudicator's Decision in the case MacArthur vs Bury (BC 188)
(We will be asking serious questions of NPAS seperately...why did none of the Adjudicators in any of the Sunderland Appeals, 250+, or any previous Bury cases, not pick up on the very simple fact that the PCN did not conform to statute 66.3.c or comply with the Department for Transport model?
Why did NPAS refuse to take the evidence from myself with reagrd to the malpractice uncovered in Sunderland? Sunderland City Council has repeatedly refused me an appeal to NPAS as to do so would have exposed all of these allegations and their flawed and unlawful system a long time ago and prevented many thousands of motorists from being unlawfully ticketed? )

16th May 2005 - Memo from Head of Transport and Engineering to Sunderland City Solicitor requesting comments on the matter.
(Why did it take so long since the NPAS Circular for him to contact the City Solicitor?)

14 June 2005 - response from the Assistant City Solicitor to the Head of Transport and Engineering recommending that the PCNs be changed to include the 'Date of Issue' without delay.
(Seems a pretty clear and explicit instruction from someone aware iof the potential legal consequences)

16th June 20o5 - Parking Services Team Leader e-mailed NCP requesting that the 'Date of Issue' be added to the electronic version of the PCN.

This appears not to have been done 'without delay' but some months after. I have tickets issued in October with no 'Date of Issue.' Tickets issued in January 2006 from hand held computers have been changed.

The following questions now arise:

(i) Why did NCP not change the PCNs immediately knowing that every ticket issued would be issued with the full knowledge that they were unlawful?

(ii) Why was there no follow up by Sunderland City Council whose legal department had already recognised the potential legal consequences (change the ticket 'without delay.') and knowing full well the allegations they were facing over other areas they had covered up?

(iii) Did NCP Sunderland bring the matter of the wording of the PCNs to the attention of Chief Executive, Bob MacNaughton? The consequences for NCPs contracts and ticket issue rates across the country should this get into the public domain would be enormous. Imagine if everyone who had been issued a PCN which had the same wording as that described in the MacArthur vs Bury case challenged it then the drop in NCPs revenue would have been disastrous.
We now have evidence of tickets in Westminster and Camden which also fall foul of Section 66 (3)(c).

(iv) Were NCP Head Office made aware of the exemption for Blue Badge Holders parked in Loading Bays (they had stopped issuing in Sunderland in November 2003) and in Taxi Ranks made under the 1976 Miscellaneous Provisions Act (again they stopped issuing in Sunderland, except for 78 further errors, in November 2003) and did they advise all other NCP Contracts across the country to do the same and desist?

(v) Have the Local Authorities across the country made refunds to matters raised in (iv)? The amounts are approaching £1m and £7m respectively.

(vi) What is NCPs defence for issuing PCNs they knew to be unlawful?

(vii) How many PCNs were issued without 'Date of Issue' before 14th May 2005?(when the Council became aware that the wording did not conform to statute)

(viii) How many PCNs were issued AFTER 14th May 2005 without 'Date of Issue'?

(ix) When were the PCNs changed:-
- for the handwritten PCNs?
- for the PCNs generated by the hand-held computers?

All of this is going to run and run and the resentment amongst motorists, businesses and residents across the country targeted and victimised by this out of control lawless operation will grow and grow until something is done to restore some natural balance and justice.

Attempting to whitewash over the implications by saying 'it's okay, we are trying to do it right now' is a bit like believing an elastoplast will prevent continued blood loss from an amputation.
If Sunderland Council do not deal with the matter swiftly and clinically and volunteer ALL the refunds and a full public apology then infection will undoubtedly set in and spread throughout the body and the Decriminalised Parking Problem will seem like chickenpox.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Neil as a former P.A i became increasingly annoyed at the whole running of N.C.P, the point made about the taxi rank issue is true as i was a P.A at the time, the first we heard of the invalid/no traffic order the instruction from our supervisor was "In no circumstance's shall this knowledge become public domain" this order came from the council, for obvious reasons. And believe me this is only the tip of the iceberg of coverups and shady going-ons between NCP and the council. Neil keep up the outstanding work.

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