The Ongoing Vicissitudes of Life in 2020
So, another month in lockdown and Britain is still in stasis. Parliament has returned, sort of, after operating online for a while, with a few members actually in the House of Commons and the rest participating via ZOOM, or whatever. This seemed to work OK, after all most of the “honorable members” are little more than drones marching to the party tune “thumb in the bum, brain in neutral,” you get the picture. Notwithstanding that the “modern” system seemed to work OK, some Dinosaur in the government has decided that, NO, tradition must prevail, and members return to live debates in the house.
Well, observing social distancing means that only 50 of the 650 members can actually fit in, and the many MPs who are isolating, because of their or a family members’ health, have cried foul since the change means that they are excluded from parliament and their electorate is thus disenfranchised. It gets even more farcical when it actually comes to a vote. MPs have to be physically counted as they pass through one of two lobbies: content (for) and not content (against) whatever is being voted on. OK, so 650 MPs (less those that are disenfranchised) line up to vote each 6 feet apart. That is about three quarters of a mile! All this means, of course, that parliament is not really working too well just now.
So, since March, the normal business of government has pretty much stalled and amongst the many things that are not being progressed is the government’s cunning plan to force public hospitals to make their parking free. Many of our public hospitals are on sites that pre-date the car. For example, St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City of London is still on the site that it was founded on in 1123.
That’s not to say that the medical facilities are not up to date, but the sites are often a hodgepodge of buildings with random pockets of land that have evolved into parking lots as demands for car access has grown. Now, the government has never given the hospitals a penny for parking, and so they have had to rely on their own resources to meet the need. As budgets tightened and demands grew, most hospitals opted to charge to park, not least of all as a way of keeping away outsiders from surrounding businesses who were taking advantage of the free parking, to the detriment of legitimate patients and visitors.
Charging was mostly a good thing; suddenly hospitals had a revenue stream, often with a surplus, which could be spent on better services, and parking became easier with the expulsion of the people that had no business on the site. But there were some issues. People with chronic conditions like kidney failure, who needed to visit two or three times a week suddenly were running up big bills.
The government’s response was to issue guidance saying that hospitals should put in place systems to allow people like this free or discounted parking. Should was the problem. Its advice, guidance, not a rule and sadly not all hospitals responded sensibly. The people that ran the parking were not wise, they were not parking people. They looked at the money, not at the patients or politics and didn’t react sensibly. In some sites, the pursuit of money meant that they didn’t allocate enough parking for the staff and when these people parked in the wrong place the hospital fined them. Imagine, fining a nurse who opted to park incorrectly rather than be late to care for patients! Senior staff, of course, did not have to suffer this inconvenience. They got reserved parking at the front which perhaps would have better served the disabled.
Very quickly headlines started to appear “Parking charges killed my granny” and similar trash. Inevitably, the calls for “Free Hospital Parking”, sorry Donald, grew, driven mainly by some of our less reputable rabble-rousing newspapers. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the deed has already been done and the regional governments there have already abolished parking charges. Well, not quite, because many hospitals had deals with parking companies to build and run new car parks and when these companies presented their bills for aborting these completely legal and enforceable contracts, local politicians turned pale and modified the law.
In England, the government pledged to abolish parking charges in their 2019 election manifesto, so it’s going to happen, maybe. The effects will be wholly predictable. The government won’t replace the money that will be lost, meaning that health services will be cut, a health service that is already on the ragged edge after the cost of Covid 19. With thousands of free parking spaces suddenly becoming available, fly parkers wanting to avoid city center parking charges will re-occupy hospital sites making it harder for patients to get to appointments, wasting even more of the now reduced budgets.
I suspect that a year or two from now someone will start a campaign to control hospital parking. Now, just in case you are thinking that the solution is to simply put up a barrier, remember, many sites are providing parking, a few here, a few there, in small sites distributed over a historical campus never designed for cars. Control is often by a pay and display meter backed up with a citation system. Even if there is a way to identify legitimate parkers, in English law the citation is a charge, so remove the charge, remove the citation.
Now, maybe this will all be OK with the £350m a week that our glorious leader promised would be available for the NHS post BREXIT, but he seems to have stopped talking about that. In fact, the government seems to have stopped talking about BREXIT altogether. We have until the end of 2020 to get everything squared away and settled but, to date, all that seems to have happened is that we have backed away from the broad concepts that were agreed six months ago. I think that Europe has pretty much given up, simply reminding the UK negotiators that whereas 47 percent of UK trade is with the EU, they have about 7 percent of their trade at risk. I think that the UK’s negotiating stance is very much based on the scene in the film Blazing Saddles where the Sherriff, played by Cleavon Little, holds a gun to his head and threatens to shoot himself if the baddies don’t let him go. Worked for him, don’t think that it will work for us.
The government wants to get people back to work, but their transport policy initiatives are all over the place. Their latest wizard idea is to introduce a £130 fine for parking in a cycle lane. OK, they want to make cycling easier, I get that, but half the cycle lanes are advisory, not mandatory, and not in a restricted street where parking isn’t banned. So, I can park here, and I can drive along the cycleway if I want but… This reminds me of one of my stupid council’s favorite nonsenses. They mark permitted parking places, bays where I have the legal right to park, and then overlay it with an entry marker telling me that I must keep the building access clear. In fact, I can be given a citation for parking there!!! Does not compute.