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Weather Report, Brexit, Hospitals and the Fix

February 27, 2019

Peter Guest

It’s cold and wet. We seldom have snow anymore, but everything is just, well damp. The Scots have a word for it - Dreich, and it’s depressing. The problem is that things never really dry out until the spring. But what the hey, we have the joy of BREXIT and all the exciting unknows that will bring to lighten our spring.


One thing that we already seem to have abandoned is the implicit probity of the European public tendering system. EU rules mean public tenders above around $175,000 must be let by open public pan European competition. Further, the basis for any decision must be explicitly stated. 


The government is planning for post BREXIT cross channel shipping chaos and has let contracts to provide extra ferry services, if the wheels come off. The thing is, one contract, valued at around $22m dollars has been let to a shipping company that only exists on paper. 


The business is a shell company with a share capital of about $100. It claims to run services from a ferry terminal that’s been closed for five years. It owns no boats and has never moved a pound of freight. The business says that it will be able to do the job and will hire in ships, but can’t name them. 


Apparently, this decision was made by Civil Servants after “due diligence”. How can you do due diligence on a company that only exists on paper and clearly has a false statement in its prospectus in claiming that it operates services from a closed port?


 


But Enough About Brexit


Back in the world of parking, today’s big story is charging for parking at public hospitals in England. Scotland and Wales’s governments dropped charges some time ago and, surprise, surprise, hospitals in city centers have problems with local shoppers and workers swamping their free parking, rather than using charged-for public parking. 


One suggestion is to ticket the interlopers but, hello, you can’t charge, and a ticket is a charge. Plan B, boot them, but in 2012 the government made that a crime so that won’t work. Panjandrums in the Welsh office are now talking darkly about “using technology,” but stopping short of saying what that is. Presumably, they haven’t the faintest idea.


Meanwhile, in England, some years ago, I was involved in some of the early adopters of charging for parking. Sites with seemingly intractable problems found that charging created order out of chaos, with patients finding parking easier. Meaning that they could get to appointments on time and medical resources weren’t wasted. As a by blow, many hospitals found they had money in the bank and were able to reinvest the parking surplus in more services, which seemed like a good thing. Unfortunately, it all seems to have gone a bit wrong. 


People didn’t have an issue paying a dollar to park long enough to see a doctor. The trouble is the sick people. If you are having dialysis twice a week, or sitting at granny’s bedside during her final hours, then there is an issue. 


The government gave clear guidance on how “special” cases like this should be treated with care and compassion. Unfortunately, many managers didn’t get the memo, and stories of critically ill patients getting fees of hundreds of pounds are commonplace. It’s not rocket science to avoid this, but seems a bridge too far for many. 


Hospitals in England took something approaching $300m last year from parking. And some are making political capital out of jumping on the bandwagon and shouting for free parking for all. 


These people are surprisingly reticent in either offering to up the NHS budget to compensate for the loss of this money, or to bring forward concrete proposals to solve the problems already being seen in Scotland and Wales. One local hospital has erected a sign at the entrance: “Your parking pays for 40 nurses,” which is perhaps where the debate should be.


 


Private Parking a Legal Blank Space


We really struggle with private parking here. Not parking run as a business, but parking built to service just one place. That’s where there is no public access, like the office car park and places where the public can use subject to conditions, such as a shop car park where you can stay for a couple of hours for free, but not park all day. 


Whatever it is we mess it up. Back when Adam was a baby, the office car park was sacrosanct; there was no need to trespass, because you could park on the street outside for free. Then, as car numbers grew, it was attractive to pop into the office car park to go shopping across the road rather than risk a fine. Of course, when the Boss found a car in the slot reserved for his Rolls, action was required and along came the bandits armed with wheel clamps. 


They offered an easy fix. They would clamp anyone that wasn’t supposed to be there, and they kept the money they got from their victims. They clamped the chap in the MD’s spot, the lift service engineer, the doctor that had pulled in because there was an accident, ambulances, police cars and even the MD’s wife, and they never gave the money back. 


Shops, that just wanted to keep out local workers, found that their customers were getting hit for staying (and spending money) for too long. Enough was enough and clamping was outlawed in 2012. But we still couldn’t get a sensible balance. Clamping was replaced by tickets as drivers were told that they had agreed to a contract which allowed them to be fined by entering the site. 


And the ticket writers that replaced the clampers still created havoc. Got stuck in a lift and overstayed? Not their problem. Drove into the car park? There were no spaces, so you drove out, but you entered, so you pay. 


Once again, the government has staggered to its collective feet to take firm action. The Parking (Code of Practice) Bill is in Parliament, it is being widely praised as the long-awaited universal panacea to all that ails us. It says precisely nothing, it has no substance, no policy. It simply creates a legal blank space that hopefully, at some time in the future, will be filled by a lump of common sense. Not holding my breath.



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