Fisher’s Folly’s answer to Baldrick has come up with a cunning plan to help fix the bankrupt borough’s finances: raise millions of pounds through penalty charges on Croydon’s drivers.
The trouble is, some drivers might simply follow the warning signs and the cash-strapped council won’t make as much as it needs. Town Hall correspondent KEN LEE reports
The council’s ambitious target of raising an extra £4million per year extra through fixed penalty notices charged on drivers caught committing offences by Big Brother-style Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras could yet come unstuck – essentially because the borough’s motorists are not as stupid as a senior council official thought they might be.
Steve Iles is the council’s “director of public realm”, so is responsible for the tacky state of many of our streets, as well as the overflowing bins, the tons of residents’ carefully sorted recycling that is going straight to the incinerator, and the poorly implemented Low Traffic Neighbourhoods that have caused such angst and controversy.
It was Iles’ unique genius which led to Croydon somehow deciding to give rubbish contractors Veolia a £21million “uplift” on their contract last year, in the middle of the cash-strapped council’s financial crisis, a payment boost which has resulted in no appreciable improvement in the service provided during the borough’s waste collections or road sweeping efforts.
And it was Iles’ bright idea that the council could make an extra £11.8million over three years simply by installing ANPR cameras at key locations on the borough’s roads, then sitting back and counting the cash as the money from £65 automatically generated fines would just roll in. Kerr-ching!
Except nothing is ever quite so simple.
The issue arose at a recent meeting of the council’s streets, homes and environment scrutiny committee.
The elected councillors on the committee were examining forecast revenue streams from the Iles’ public realm directorate over the three-year timescale of the council’s “Medium Term Financial Strategy”, the financial plan which was drawn up earlier this year by council chief exec Katherine Kerswell and the then interim finance chief Chris Buss, designed to get the council’s finances back on an even keel.
The meeting was not considering the objectives or merits of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods or the council’s enforcement strategy in LTNs. Nor was it considering the merits, or otherwise, of using motorists as cash cows to help balance the council’s budget.
Its only consideration was how accurate the predicted revenue streams in the Medium Term Financial Strategy might be. Was the data at all reliable? Or had someone in Fisher’s Folly just come up with a number, doubled it, and passed it off as a reasonable projection and a professional piece of work?
One Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon: “Relying on errant motorists in Low Traffic Neighbourhoods to contribute nearly £12million to balance the council’s budgets is very high risk.
“It will leave a multi-million-pound hole in the council’s budget if motorists do wise up and avoid the penalty charges.
“How would this shortfall be met? What contingency plan is there in the council’s budget if motorists do indeed wise up?”
Iles told the meeting that the £11.8million of “income growth particularly from camera enforcement” had been “built in” to his three-year budget forecast.
This, though, was not allowed to slip past so easily by Robert Canning, the Labour councillor for Waddon ward.
Canning is a former civil servant, so has always had a decent understanding of how some in the public sector work. “Is there a risk that motorists will start complying with restrictions that apply, so the revenue that we are predicting for the next three years won’t actually be obtained because motorists wise up to the restrictions and start complying?” canny Canning asked.
“Is that something we need to worry about?”
Iles was forced to admit that “there is a risk of compliance”. Yes, that’s right: there is a chance that the public will be public-spirited, do their public duty and follow road signs properly.
Iles claimed that his officials had “factored” in the “significant hike” in income from motoring fines, but sounded hopeful that the APNR cameras would help fulfil their budget projections. Over the course of three years, for Iles’ income predictions to come true, he needs more than 180,000 driving offences to be committed and fined.
“It’s expected that people will not comply straight away, despite all of the associated signs,” Iles said.
It may not be surprising that there are doubts over how Iles will make his sums add up: the council currently has just a single ANPR camera operating in one LTN.
Croydon needs the road fine cash to help pay for the borough’s Freedom Pass concessionary public transport fare scheme for pensioners.
Croydon has been awarded £975,000 to create seven LTNs, part of the Tory government’s “green transport revolution” to promote walking and cycling. But on-going funding for ANPRs from the Department of Transport and Transport for London “remains uncertain”, according to the presentation made to the council committee.
“The council will incur costs of removing the schemes” if they are abandoned, the councillors were told.
A Croydon Council press officer told the Daily Torygraph: “The purpose of our healthy neighbourhoods is foremost to address concerns related to the climate crisis and active lifestyles.
“Enabling walking and cycling is a key priority for the council, and a major goal of Transport for London and the Department for Transport when providing funding for these schemes.
“Any surplus income from penalty charge notices in relation to these schemes goes towards transport and environmental initiatives, including the Freedom Pass for the over-65s and those with disabilities.”
Read more: I paid my LTN fine. I won’t be returning to the town centre soon
Read more: Broad Green driver has 12 penalty notices dropped by council
Read more: Taking a U-turn on road measures risks a traffic accident
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