Nobody should think of Westminster Council without recalling the dark spirit of their former leader Dame Shirley Porter, and wondering if they ever recovered those £millions she owed Westminster tax payers according to the heroic auditors.
Westminster Council were enthusiastic pioneers of privatised Car Parking Enforcement. They were embarrassed by the huge windfall this generated for the council and they found themselves obliged to engage in the argument about whether it was morally defensible to raise revenue for the council using private companies motivated by profit to control parking.
The Westminster spin was that the privatisation of parking enforcement had nothing at all to do with raising revenue. Nobody believed this when it was said then. Nor do they now.
We have come a long way since then. Ken Livingstone's Congestion Charge in the centre of London, may well have solved one problem, but it has also emboldened those private companies to go even further.
Westminster now raise around £37,600,000 per annum from parking fines. ( The Telegraph.)
It is now beyond any doubt that parking enforcement is a means of raising revenue. Why would anyone choose to think otherwise? It may of course be because that would be illegal.
White Van Spy Cams then appeared, and they are the spawn of market forces, so admired in Southend on Sea, and Westminster.
APCOA and NCP are proud to boast that they have arrived in Southend, not because there is Westminster-like congestion in Southend, (that would be ridiculous), but because there is a business opportunity for them in that town. They can certainly make money in Southend where there is less congestion, but more than enough poor suckers who have nowhere to park a car. They would be there to exploit for profit.
Andrew Meddle, Head of Planning and Transport in Southend, reported to Southend Council, and he described his proposed contract with APCOA as the "best in the market". He recommended the introduction of Mobile CCTV because this would raise revenue for the Council. This is something he made clear more than once in his report.
The spy cams have been around Southend for a year now and the council have now written another report, to justify and expand the continuing use of Mobile CCTV. In this report they are making the same Westminster-like assurances that nobody is likely to believe. The new report contradicts Mr Meddle who said otherwise. It claims, "it needs to be emphasised that this is not a revenue raising operation."
The council has disclosed that they issued 11,072 parking tickets issued by mail, and generated by the spy cams. That would be a lot of revenue the Council now claim they did not intend to raise.
When Mr Meddle persuaded the Council to adopt Spy Cams he not only told them that they would raise revenue, he also told them how he would use Mobile CCTV to raise revenue. He was careful to follow government guidelines that say they should be used sparingly and only in particular circumstances.
Mr Meddle specified the circumstance where CCTV would be used by APCOA and argued at length why that would be appropriate. For example he was most keen to discuss at length his primary target which was for safety outside schools. Who would argue against that?
He described no other circumstances and provided no other justification for extending the use of CCTV beyond government guidelines.
However all residents are aware that Mobile CCTV is not used in the way Mr Meddle's Report said it would be used. The main concern of the public is the misuse of Mobile CCTV, and not the correct use of Mobile CCTV.
The Monks have been "caught" twice in one year in circumstances not justified by Mr Meddles reasoning set out in his report. The Monks certainly did not obstruct the carriageway, or endangered children outside a school, or parked where we might cause an accident. Both tickets are described on these pages and neither meet the standards described by Mr Meddle’s Report.
The frequent refrain of the Council is that if motorists park legally they have nothing to fear.
This presupposes that there is an abundance of parking opportunities where they might park "legally." The Council and their partners in the Parking Industry have exacerbated the problem with excessive parking charges in station car parks, forcing ever more cars to take chances on residential streets. Private parking enforcement is most certainly about raising revenue and those most likely to pay are residents without off street parking.
The least likely to pay are the very councillors that endorsed Mr Meddle's big idea. Soon after the first spy cams were commissioned, and with somewhat indecent haste the councillors voted for their own allowances which included free parking in Southend. APCOA do not therefore issue parking tickets to councillors. Taxpayers should do as they say, and not as they do.
It is also less likely that anyone that lives in the most favoured streets with the biggest houses, and private driveways off streets that have parking restrictions that prevent long term parking by non residents, less likely that they would be tormented by Spy Cams.
Our councillors are not all bad, and I would love to know who argued against the spy cams. Unfortunately the council does not provide professional minutes that record anything that has been said by anyone at any council meeting. This is what they call democracy in local government.
If any Councillor would like to contact me, I will be happy to put them on my “good guy” list. At the moment I have no names to put on that list.
If you voted for Spy Cams because you feel that Mr Meddle convinced you that raising cash for Southend in this way was a good thing, then it is time for you to let your voters know where you stand.
If you spoke up against this principle. Respect. You would be a good guy, and not an inadvertent outlaw.
And who exactly are you? Do you really want to be ignored by the council Minutes?