Michael Read outlined the paper update on the three borough joint Parking Enforcement Contract to the committee. The contract went live in Brent on 4 July 2013 and encompassed the adoption of an industry-standard IT system, SiDem, moving away from a traditional model of enforcement. The technological innovations on which the new model was predicated included the use of an online database to allow the automatic identification of vehicles likely to be illegally parked, via Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) devises. The new model also relied upon the implementation of new customer channels of contact, with transactions taking place online, by phone or by text. Brent’s Parking Shops, which had previously allowed transactions to be conducted in person, had been closed in May 2013.
Members were advised by Michael Read that the complex mobilisation phase of the contract had been successful overall, with effective staff transfer and enforcement operations, migration of historic data to SiDem and the successful transfer of CCTV functions to the civic centre. The contract was on track to deliver the anticipated full year savings of over £850k per year. It was possible that there would be some further savings achievable through reduced mobilisation and set up costs and these would be considered via the open book contract management process. Serco’s performance regarding on-street enforcement had been satisfactory but it was acknowledged that there had been significant problems during the implementation of the new system. The online permit processing system had been inherited with significantly reduced operational functionality from the previous contract, leading to a decreased ability to deal with permit applications online and subsequently, a far greater volume of telephone calls received. In turn this had resulted in unacceptable call waiting times, call abandonment rates and poor customer experiences. These issues had since been addressed through remediation plans for the permitting software and contact centre performance. Good progress had been made, evidenced by the reduced call waiting time and number of calls reporting difficulties with the online system. New call handling menus would also be implemented to improve the customer experience.
During members’ discussion, the committee noted the difficulties experienced by residents in using the new online system and sought an explanation of why an interim system combining both the new and old systems was not considered. Concerns were raised regarding the capacity of the new system to cope with the volume of use and a breakdown of call centre performance and type of calls received across peak and non-peak times was requested. Noting that an additional call centre had been established to manage the high volume of calls, it was queried what impact this had on achieving the targeted savings. Confirmation was sought that there was sufficient numbers of ANPR vehicles and Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) to ensure effective enforcement. Members queried how anomalous increases in non-compliance would be understood by the system. Queries were also raised regarding potential abuses of the system and how these would be identified and dealt with. The committee put a number of questions to the officers regarding the customer experience and queried how community, voluntary and charitable organisations would be dealt with under the new system. A member noted that Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, had issued an announcement proposing a ban on the use of CCTV cameras to identify and issue tickets to those parked illegally. It was queried how this proposal would impact Brent.
Responding to members’ questions, Michael Read and David Thrale (Head of Safer Streets) explained that the replacement of scratch card permits with registration to the online database was key to ensuring that the new system operated efficiently. Furthermore, a mixed model would not allow savings to be realised and could result in a renegotiation of the contract with Serco. It would be costly and difficult to pursue a return to the use of scratch card permits, even in the interim, as the infrastructure to support this service model no longer existed. The new system allowed efficient, targeted deployment of CEOs based on data received from the five ANPR vehicles. These vehicles would patrol the borough each day, matching details against the on-line permit database, to create a rolling ‘heat map’ of non-compliant parking. The system was able to recognise where events created one-off or irregular peaks in non-compliance. CEOs would be deployed to investigate cars flagged as potentially parked illegally and would issue tickets if required. ANPR vehicles did not automatically issue tickets. It was highlighted that previously, CEOs had spent a significant proportion of their time identifying compliant vehicles.
The officers confirmed that Serco did not have a target for the volume of tickets issued and it was noted that parking compliance levels would be published. It was also considered that the new system addressed a significant proportion of the abuses of the current system. Almost all permits would be vehicle specific at the point of issue and checks of customer details could be made. It would be evident if individuals were buying visitor permits excessively and if residents were found to be breaching the terms and conditions of the parking permits, they could be withdrawn. It was acknowledged that under the previous system certain organisations individuals had been able to obtain permits, contrary to the terms and conditions. A formal review of the parking policy would be required in the coming year to assess whether provision should be made for these organisations. If it was decided to terminate access to parking permits for these bodies considerable notice would be provided. Approval had been granted for ‘cared for permits’; these would be available to those on the care register for a cost of £65 per annum.
It was explained to members that proof of purchase would be provided to customers either by email, text, or with a reference number. There was also an option to pay by cash; this option still required the customer to apply online or via the telephone but allowed payment via one of the pay point retailers accessible in the borough. Addressing members’ queries regarding call centre performance, Michael Read further explained that at present the highest levels of calls were received on Mondays and Tuesdays, with peak times between 9.00 and 10.00 am and before lunch times. A large proportion of the calls received currently were to set up accounts and it had been profiled that these would peak between October 2013 and February 2014. The target was for calls to be answered in less than a minute. Once through to an operator, a call to purchase a permit should take less than a minute to complete. Daily reports on Serco’s call centre performance were provided to Michael Read and performance was improving. Members were advised that the additional call centre established to meet the high level of demand did not constitute an additional cost to the council. Rather the costs to the council related to the number of calls received. If the level of calls continued to the end of the year it would equate to £100,000 additional cost to the council. This had been forecasted and would still allow the financial savings targeted to be achieved. The costs of redundancies required by the contract would be met by the council, although it was thought that these were likely to be lower than anticipated. Michael Read confirmed the proposal made by Eric Pickles would need to be subject to consultation and many local authorities would be extremely concerned about it being taken further. It was understood that reference had principally been made by Eric Pickles to the use of static cameras which would not impact Brent’s system.
That the report be noted