Friday, January 09, 2009

Parking still not fine in Camden ... when will the truth come out?

We expect more whistleblowing and revelations soon. Will be interesting to know how 'aware' the council has been with regard to the unlawful restrictions it has been enforcing whilst embarking on the programme of corrections.

Hats off to Richard Osley at the Camden New Journal for the story below ...

Six months on the meter, and the man brought in to make parking fairer for motorists has gone‘Errors of judgement’ claim as parking department’s star signing exits the Town Hall

THE Town Hall last night (Wednesday) claimed a parking chief appointed to make Camden’s flagging parking system fairer had made “errors of judgement”.

In an unexpected move, John Meyer left the council service in the final working week before Christmas – just two months after a New Journal investigation into the council’s much-maligned warden service.Mr Meyer had previously been expected to keep the post of interim parking manager until the summer at least.But his contract has not been renewed and he cleared his desk on the Friday before the festive break.

The Town Hall said there had been actions “not compatible with the public profile of the post”.

Officials confirmed that Borough Solicitor Andrew Maughan was last month asked to investigate anonymous allegations that Mr Meyer had awarded himself a permit allowing him to park on yellow lines and in residents’ bays across Camden – although it did not lead to any disciplinary action.

A spokeswoman said: “We investigated the allegation. It identified some minor issues but the investigation is closed and no disciplinary action was taken.”As a matter of course, Camden investigates all complaints against staff. It was pointed out yesterday how accusations are often made unfairly against officials, particularly those in high office. The council spokeswoman added that directors believed Mr Meyer had contributed to improvements.

Last night, Mr Meyer, 37, declined to comment, beyond confirming that a six-month contract had expired on December 19 and that he was now working on a fresh challenge elsewhere. He is understood to have felt he performed well and got on well with senior colleagues during a drive to reorganise the department, taking backbiting among some members of the team in his stride.But the sudden decision to part company has left the parking department without a head just as it enters its most crucial period for four years and with critical decisions over who should run the borough’s warden service in the future to be resolved.

Camden is planning to offer its biggest-ever deal to private contractors at the start of next year and is preparing the ground before going out to tender on the lucrative opportunity. The winning bidder could take on all of Camden’s parking enforcement operations for eight years. At the same time, the Town Hall is struggling to understand why cash raised from parking tickets is down by £4million, with bosses ordering an internal investigation and a search for “quick wins” to improve performance. A council spokeswoman said yesterday: “At the end of Mr Meyer’s contract, the position was jointly reviewed with him and it was decided not to renew the contract. The decision has absolutely nothing to do with contracts or parking tickets.” She added: “During his time with Camden, John has played an important role in the council’s review of the service to make parking more transparent and fair. There were, however, some errors of judgement on his part that we believe were not compatible with the head of service role or the public profile of the post. No further action is necessary.”

Mr Meyer has forged a reputation as a top operator in the specialised world of parking enforcement and has advised other councils and large parking companies on their operations. But, as the New Journal revealed in an investigation in October, his appointment in Camden was the source of staff unrest from almost his first day. A group of staff took the unusual step of writing to their superiors – albeit anonymously – to advise caution. While some of his new colleagues at Camden raised the possibility of a conflict of interest over Mr Meyer’s private company HHCT Limited, which repairs hand-held computers used by wardens, and his brother Simon’s post at one of Camden’s contractors, council chiefs stood by their man.In a briefing organised in response to the New Journal investigations, environment department director Rachel Stopard insisted there would be no conflict in terms of his private interests and that he had given up a position he had held in the Conservative party. And in a private memo, Robert Scourfield, her deputy, confidently announced Mr Meyer’s appointment to staff, introducing him as a star signing and suggesting he would be in post until June 2009.

Officials at the Town Hall stressed last night that the “errors of judgement” did not relate to Mr Meyer’s business interests. Senior officers told last year how they need to make the parking service “fit for purpose”, although initial moves to hike builders’ permits by 267 percent have not engendered much confidence among motorists. Unresolved internal investigations into two suspended, well-liked managers have, meanwhile, further angered staff. The department was already unsettled by the departure of Rudy Bright, the last permanent parking manager, who left last year with a redundancy package soon after he had been lampooned by protesters in a You-Tube video condemned by the council.

Camden’s Labour group leader Councillor Anna Stewart said: “This a blow to the Camden Parking Service, which is in a demoralised and volatile state. There is a massive financial shortfall looming this year and staff will be under pressure to bring in ever higher charges for residents. Parking must be fair and effective for local people.”A council spokeswoman said: “The process of recruiting a new permanent head of parking services is under way, and short-term arrangements have been made to cover the post temporarily.”

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