Taking the UK government to task, a marvel in Cyprus, and ‘the shirt’
Here in the “Disunited” Kingdom, we are looking forward to a general election where finally we get rid of the train wreck of a government that we have now.
Back in 2010, at the height of world financial crisis, the old government had run out of steam and ideas. That year’s election gave us a first, a parliament with no majority party. Two parties formed a coalition with a promise to “fix” the economy.
Well, they have certainly done that. In the UK, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. Having frozen public wage rises at 1%, about half of inflation, they voted themselves a 10% pay raise. And the national debt is 50% bigger than when they started.
In May’s election, for the first time there will be four national parties, each with a chance of winning a significant number of seats. Add to this the real possibility that the nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could all get the majority of the seats in their corners, and we could see a fragmented parliament and a real European multi-party coalition with all the chaos that entails.
Me? I think I might just look again at my rights to Irish nationality. I understand that they have fixed their economy, and the future is looking good.
Meanwhile, the stupid government seems to be pressing ahead with its campaign of attacking municipal parking. Camera-based enforcement will be banned, apart from a limited list of exemptions, such as outside schools and bus lanes. This comes notwithstanding the fact that the same government enacted legislation to allow private businesses to use cameras to enforce parking on private land.
The government also is enacting legislation to require that when drivers stay beyond the time paid for, they must be given a grace period before they are ticketed. Now, most councils will do this as a concession and as good customer relations, but to make it a legal requirement that when someone breaks the law, the council can’t act? That seems bizarre.
As I have said before, it will be a blink of an eye before payment for 60 minutes becomes payment for 50, since the next 10 will be free by law. Working this out isn’t rocket science, and I’m surprised that no civil servant whispered in the minister’s ear words to the effect of “don’t embarrass yourself.”
The aforementioned legislation to allow enforcement on private land was meant to give private landowners the ability to protect their land when either the public were prohibited from parking (such as an office carpark), or when the public were allowed in with conditions – for example, a shopping center in a busy town where the shoppers can park for three hours, say, but local workers should keep out.
The theory was simple: The landowner set up rules for access (in law, a contract) and had the right to levy a charge for those who broke the contract.
Trouble is, under UK law, the charge levied can be set only at the loss suffered by the landowner. So, if the shoppers’ carpark charges a pound an hour, and you overstay by an hour, what is the loss? Certainly no more than a pound, plus the process cost of the ticket.
Charges of £100 are common, but whenever challenged are quickly deemed illegal and the ticket canceled, so basically the law is useless.
Right now, this principle is being tested in court. Someone got an £85 ticket for overstaying in a retail park where parking was free but time was limited. He challenged this in a lower court and lost, and now the case is in front of the Court of Appeal.
The principle of charges for contract breaches being compensatory rather than penal is long-established, and if the Court of Appeal goes down this route, the law collapses and anarchy rules in private carparks. If they go the other way, there is a danger that we go back to a situation, before the current law, of having private parking operators making swinging charges for the smallest transgressions.
Either way, I don’t see a good outcome.
Meanwhile, the government has just announced that councils took in about £1.4 billion in parking revenue in the last fiscal year, including about £340 million in penalty charges (parking tickets). Apparently the cost of providing the service was about £546 million, giving a return of about 150% on the cost.
The UK government sees that as treating motorists as “cash cows,” but in saying that, it conveniently forgets that this is providing just under a billion pounds of funding into local government that otherwise it would have to find.
When ministers say they want to stop councils from getting this surplus, they should perhaps remember the old saying: “Be careful what you wish for; it may come true.”
Looking at these figures another way, and bearing in mind that John Van Horn, PT’s editor, has told us that perhaps only 1 in 10 offending drivers gets a ticket, more than £3 billion in parking fines went uncollected. Now, if a council decided to staff up to target this lost opportunity, then (a) the local councils could be a lot richer and (b) the UK government would be really, really pissed.
I don’t see the downside.
And finally: Two things happened to me at the end of last year that, quite irrationally, affected me out of all proportion to their importance.
No. 1 was on a holiday in Cyprus (great place; you really ought to visit). I was walking round an archaeological site where the paths had been made by using the rubble cleared during excavations. On the path, I saw a small object, about 2x1 inches. I picked it up and realized it was a piece of Roman plaster. I was strangely moved by holding something that someone had made nearly two millennia ago.
No. 2 was “the shirt”; I bought “the shirt” in India about 15 years ago. It’s black, it’s pure cotton, it’s comfortable, and I like it. After 15 years, the collar has worn out, and “she who must be obeyed” wants it binned. Nooo!
Peter Guest, a Consultant in the UK, is PT’s Editor-at-Large on all things British, European, Middle Eastern and Indian. Contact him at email@example.com.