More Brexit, Blue Badges, and VC and NCP


More Brexit, Blue Badges, and VC and NCP

The difficulty that I have is that I am writing a month before you will read my words and, as someone once said, “a week is a long time in politics”. So, apologies if HMS United Kingdom has already exploded and sunk.

For most news, it’s the silly season, potatoes that look like Donald Trump, you know the sort of thing; but right now, every paper, every TV channel and every radio talk show here is totally fixated on Brexit. Three years after the “advisory” referendum which saw 37 percent vote leave, 35 percent vote stay and 28 percent stay home and watch TV, the pro Brexit supporters have turned the vote into a messianic edict that must be obeyed regardless of the consequences.

Theresa May is widely regarded as the worst prime minister of modern times. Even her strongest supporters struggled to identify a single achievement during her three-year tenure. Her successor Boris “BOJO” Johnson, has vowed that we will leave the EU come what may on 31 October. 

Trouble is, nothing is resolved. Arrangements, such as staffing up for new customs and immigration procedures, have not even been planned. No Deal will turn the open Eire/Ulster border into a closed, and armed, boundary and could very well see a return to the nasty little shooting war that bedevilled the island of Ireland for so long.

BOJO is resorting bullying and downright lying to try and get his way. Imagine the schoolyard bully and you have it. Parliament realizes that this is a train crash waiting to happen and are working on law to make a No Deal exit illegal. Faced with the probability of having his leap off the cliff blocked in parliament, BOJO has chosen to close parliament down and threatens to ignore any new law. That’s called dictatorship. 

By the time that you read this, the situation could change several times but, as of today, I don’t know if I will need a visa to visit my daughter in the Netherlands for Christmas.


Blue Badges for Everyone

On somewhat safer ground, let’s talk about parking. Our equivalent of the U.S. handicapped placard is the blue badge. It’s a national scheme that allows anyone who qualifies to obtain a permit/ photo identity card. The card can be issued to drivers or passengers and, when displayed in a vehicle, allows that vehicle a range of parking concessions and use of reserved bays. On-street the user is pretty much exempt from charges and time limits. 

Off street, the parking provider is expected to reserve a proportion of extra wide accessible slots for blue badge users. They can charge, which seems daft when the vehicle can park on the street outside for free. And yes, the scheme has been harmonized across the EU, so a Brit can park in Paris, and a German can park in London. The scheme is, of course, subject to misuse, sometimes on an industrial scale. A study in one city estimated that 70 percent of the cards being used were illegal. Photo identity does mean that when caught, prosecution is straightforward, and penalties can be harsh.

The reason for reporting this is because the rules have just changed. Not everyone who has a mobility problem has an obvious physical disability. Parents with autistic children and people looking after a family member with dementia come to mind. Now the rules are set to change, to include people with what is described as a hidden disability. 

I think this is a good thing, I have no issue with “Entitlement” when it is helping those that are at a disadvantage beyond their control. However, there will be problems, I am sure from other entitled people who will see a supposedly able-bodied person using a badge and decide to become self-appointed medical examiner, judge and jury.

There are currently about 2.4 million valid badges out there and estimates are that the new rules will add about half a million more. People are already agitating for an increase in the number of reserved disabled spaces to cater for this. 

Unfortunately, historically, “The Rule” on how many spaces are needed has been applied with a truly amazing lack of judgement or common sense. It is quite common to see acres of unoccupied blue badge spaces in car parks where badge holders use the free facility on the street outside. 

It would seem the height of common sense to me to allow the car park operator to monitor his spaces and reduce the numbers where there is patently no demand. I remember visiting one of Oxford city’s Park and Ride sites where, in an otherwise full car park, all the disabled bays were empty. Why would a blue badge holder park on the edge of the city, then struggle to board and pay for a bus ride, on a bus that doesn’t stop near their destination when they can park for free in the city center street parking? It’s not rocket science, and I do hope that any increases will be evidence based rather than “the book says…”.


Parking People Do Best

John writes in his column this month about venture capitalists and the disjoint between running a customer-focused business and running just for the bottom line. That reminded me of the recent history of what was the UKs biggest parking company National Car Parks. 

NCP was once the giant of the UK parking industry. Back in the day they operated about 85 percent of the non-municipal parking. The company was owned by two ex-army guys who set up on bomb sites in London, staffing with ex-soldiers. When they sold the business, they pocketed some astronomical sum of money that put them well up into the top half of Sunday Times Rich List. Their golden rule was to stick to what they know, no street parking, nothing outside the UK. 

They were parking people running a parking business, the new owners were investors looking at the money. The new owners took a wider view of the world and moved into the newly emerging on-street enforcement market. So successful were they that they hived off this part of the business. And then it all went wrong, for NCP. 

The new owners sold off and leased back the property portfolio, with rents set at the peak of the property market, just before the recession, when demand tanked. Their airport division was wiped out when virtually no one renewed their contracts. By now the balance sheet was so bad, the owners were injecting truckloads of money to keep the business afloat. 

Now they have a new owner and maybe they are finally heading back up. Their new owner is called Park 24. NCP have recently acquired the UK division of the Iberian giant Empark, another business once run by parking people to provide a service, but now owned by the bank that used to own NCP. Park 24 also owns Secure Parking which operates throughout Australasia SE Asia and the Middle East as well as the UK. Secure’s UK operation is being integrated into NCP, which plans to add 300 new sites to its portfolio by 2022. It will be interesting to see whether this is a long-term business or just a short-term spurt.

Peter: RE Visiting your Daughter for Christmas – Did Netherlands require a Visa before there was an EU? I can’t remember. JVH

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Peter Guest
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