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Big Ben

Park Firstís Scheme, Birth Certificate, and (Not-So-) Smart Parking

September, 2015

by Peter Guest

 If it seems too good to be true …

My cousin contacted me recently to ask my advice about a new “business opportunity” that she had heard about. Car-parking spaces at London’s Gatwick Airport (actually off-airport) are being sold for $37,500 each as an alternative investment for people building their pension funds. To qualify, you also have to buy another space a few miles from Glasgow for $30,000, making a total investment of $67,500

Park First is a scheme promising a “guaranteed” 8% yield for at least two years. However, its sister company, Store First, was involved with pension schemes that paid almost 50% commissions out of investors’ money and left them at least £1.6m out-of-pocket, according to The Insolvency Service, a UK government agency. 

Park First offers parking space at Gatwick for sale with “a 25% rise in capital growth from day one on the asset value,” publicity materials claim. In reality, not all may be as it seems. Park First offers to relist the land you’re buying at 25% over what you paid for it, but whether or not they sell it is another matter, because there is no market for the sale of airport car-parking spaces. 

Solicitor Tim Wixted, Managing Partner of NeglectAssist, said the two-year guaranteed teaser rate smacked of a scheme that is “doomed to fail.”

The UK High Court heard that “the guaranteed 8% return on investment for investors in Store First had not been received, and an estimated $1.6m was missing.” The scheme operates outside Financial Conduct Authority regulations on collective investment schemes. But the Court of Appeal recently ruled that another scheme, which involved land and carbon credits, was in fact a collective investment scheme and should be subject to FCA rules. 

My advice: Don’t walk; run away as fast as you can.

 

Government, God Bless ’em

Attacking government should be done with care − politicians, not so much. The fact that more and more UK politicians decide what they stand for based on focus groups − rather than on “this is what I believe in, if you agree, vote for me” − says all you need to know about their moral compass. 

However, civil servants are mostly poorly paid, honest Joes trying to do a job, often with rules designed to make things harder. Some are lazy, incompetent and/or dishonest screw-ups and should be named and shamed; otherwise, they shouldn’t be blamed for their master’s malfeasance. 

However, recent personal experience has challenged this stance. 

I qualify for the state retirement pension. You pay your taxes, and at 65, the government starts to pay you; simple. So I filled in the 12-page form, which seems 11 pages too long, and mailed it. (You can do it online, but I like paper.) 

You are told your pension will get paid within 10 days, so after 21 days, I called them. “Yeah, we got the form, it’s sitting on a desk and no one’s done anything with it yet. Now that you’ve called, we will get someone on your case.” 

Not quite the answer I expected, but refreshingly no B.S., and the payment would be backdated, so OK. However, I am then told that “I had made a mistake on the form. I had got my birthdate wrong!” 

I don’t think so; the government has my birthdate on my passport, driving license, tax records, medical records, marriage certificate and, yes, my birth certificate! But according to this department, I was born in March, not February. 

So, to prove that I had not made a false declaration on a government form, 10 years in the Tower of London and/or transportation to the colonies for life, I sent the aforementioned birth certificate to the government that issued it. They got, scanned and returned it within 24 hours. 

The certificate arrived express delivery, in one of Her Majesty’s finest manila envelopes, personally handed to me by a uniformed member of the Royal Mail, who had driven his van to my front door for just this purpose. 

But what’s this? The label says if undelivered, return to an address in Telford, a fine municipality near the Welsh border, but the envelope says take it back to Belfast, across the sea in Ulster. Thank goodness it got back to me; otherwise, I could imagine my precious birth certificate endlessly shuffling across the Irish Sea, until someone dropped it overboard to put it out of its misery.

P.S. A week later, I got a letter, asking for my birth certificate.

 

How to Deal with the Public – Not

Australia-based Smart Parking’s web page is littered with words and phrases such as “Outstanding” and “World-leading”; I think that Pete Wishart, Scottish National Party MP for Perth and North Perthshire, might demur. He has labelled the operator as a “cowboy company” after claiming he has been inundated with complaints about it from constituents. 

Apparently, Wishart has been receiving up to 10 complaints a day about the company’s Kinnoull Street carpark in Perth. He has requested a meeting with Smart Parking’s UK managers at Westminster, saying that “he could not believe the firm’s ‘arrogance’ by ‘blithely’ ignoring motorists’ grievances.” The MP said: “I’m sick and tired of this dysfunctional, cowboy company who operate useless parking arrangements leading to many complaints about their Kinnoull Street carpark. 

“They have issued totally disproportionate and unwarranted fines, and I am advising people to stay well clear of them,” Wishart said. “I receive around 10 complaints per day, and know other politicians and councillors are also receiving them. I am seeking a meeting with them to ask them about the series of complaints I have had, and I look forward to hearing what they say.”

Wishart’s comments echo those of businessman Stephen Gorton, who set up the campaign group SmartingfromParking, and said he felt that Smart Parking should be kicked out of the regulating body, the British Parking Association.

Smart Parking did not respond to Wishart’s comments.

Now it’s up to Smart Parking as to how they run their business, but if you are getting 10 complaints a day, maybe the boss should just drop by and see what’s going on. If it’s broke, fix it. If it’s not, then surely it’s worth explaining what’s happening. 

Inevitably, if they don’t sort it out, the courts will, and the Scottish courts don’t have a track record of looking favorably on badly regarded parking businesses.

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

peterguestparking@hotmail.co.uk.


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