Trigger happy authorities

Part of the surveillance culture and the oppressive style of some public authorities is the trigger happy approach to prosecution. Locally I receive many complaints about heavy handed parking enforcement, leading to large fines and clamping fees where honest mistakes have been made because the rules are complex. I hear this week that someone is alleged elsewhere to have falsified their address to try and get their child into a better school, and faces fraud charges. It is all over the top.

I do not condone deliberate misrepresentation to try to get in to a better school. If that occurs, surely the correct punishment is no priority for the better school, no good chance on the waiting list? It cannot make sense to throw the book at the hapless parent, who wrongly went too far in trying to secure a place at one of the better schools. It just shows the frustration of parents with a system which is meant to deliver choice. In some areas there are not enough places at the better schools. People cannot accept the standards of the poorer schools.The local authority should spend more time trying to improve standards, so there are enough places at schools where parents are happy to send their children.

The money spent on investigating and even prosecuting the parents who try to play the system would be better spent on sorting out the underlying problem. Parents understand that they will obtain priority for a place only if they meet certain criteria the Authority lays down. They can’t just say they want their child to go to School X because they think it is better. That starts the search to qualify. The better off can move to get into the right catchment. We do have allocation of better school by postcode. If a single sex school has better results, parents suddenly become champions of single sex education. They believe the authorities will listen to that argument, whilst they fear that simply saying they want their child to go to the school with better results will not cut any ice. Systems of bureaucratic rationing force people to think and say things they think will be within the allocation rules.

When it comes to parking, we all see the need to keep people from parking in ways which block junctions, driveways, or impede the free flow of traffic. It is more difficult to fathom why some places where parking is allowed have such complicated rules that it is not always clear when and on what terms you can park there. In Wokingham the largest number of cases arise from a split car park, where part is available for all of us and some is reserved for private parking. In parts of London you need to ponder long and hard to find out when and if you can use parking places,. Sometimes the attached signs simply do not cover all the cases, being unclear for example on bank holiday or Sunday rules. That’s why people think the authorities are unfair, and often too trigger happy when it comes to minor offences.


  1. Colin D.
    May 31, 2009

    I noticed an example of all this yesterday…
    A medical practice was fined because it did not demonstrate the required use of the official complaints procedure. But the patients were happy so no one had complained. No matter, the pig-headed authorities went ahead and fined the doctor anyway.

  2. Kevin Lohse
    May 31, 2009

    Dear John. I would suggest that the use of municipal and transport hub car parks to raise revenue should be closely looked at once we regain power. Outside urban areas, public transport is virtually non-existent. People have no choice in the matter. Moreover, car parking is necessary for the viability of out-of town shopping centres and to allow people to access public services such as hospitals.
    Car parks need to be maintained and improved, but all too often are cynically exploited to maximise revenue which is then used for other purposes. The most outrageous examples are car parking charges at London Airport and the NHS trusts who not only rook the public but have the brass-bound nerve to charge NHS staff for coming to work. I’m all for market forces being allowed to work, but most car parks especially NHS, and rail stations, and airports, are in a monopoly position. Certainly, there is a case for making sure that public sector car parks are run on a “not for profit” basis. I suggest that we should take matters in hand in the public interest to ensure a fair deal for car park users.

  3. Malcolm Edward
    May 31, 2009

    I very much agree, that the prosecuting authorities seem to go way beyond the scale of the original misdemeanor and use all the prosecution devices open to them to disproportionately penalise certain individuals particularly if the offence if any is minor.

    We need an investigation into how the prosecuting authorities make their decisions in these clearly unfair cases.

    In the case you mention, a mother clearly should not face a charge that could lead to a jail sentence for wanting to do the best for her child.

    I am also concerned that laws for dealing with gangsters and organised criminals are used inappropriately e.g. against fishermen who have fished over their quota (who are put in jail, have their boats confiscated and are bankrupted).

    This is happening under the Labour government who seem to be not the least bit bothered about such judicial injustices – but of course they have created the laws and the climate under which much of this is possible.

    Perhaps David cameron would like to make cleaning up the justice system in this country one of his priorities.

    1. Cliff.
      May 31, 2009

      The criteria appear to be; Are they a soft target and likely to pay up, after all, we don’t want to go after real nasty violent criminals as they may fight back. This was always going to be a problem once the criminal justice system became little more than an extension of HMRC. Many local authorities see fines as a revenue stream. Jackboots Jacki has just put in place an increase in the use of “civil enforcement officers.” The companies that wish to exploit these powers can send their employees on a course and then buy the right to impose fines and penalties. It is also worth looking up the powers civil enforcement officers would have, once the civil contingencies act was invoked. Scarey stuff for a country that is happy to go around imposing “democracy” onto other nations whilst at the same time, we ourselves are deprived of the same.

  4. Brian Tomkinson
    May 31, 2009

    Doesn’t this just show how useless government at national and local level is? They are not capable of properly organising anything.
    Would anyone advocate or want to use a government owned supermarket chain? No. Why? Because they know it would be badly run and be more expensive. However, most people are forced to use a government run education system which is failing despite the billions spent on it.

    May 31, 2009

    Although quick off the mark we doubt we’ll be the first to blog with reaction to the PM’s disastrous performance just now on the Andrew Marr Show!

    Evasive, self-serving, indecisive – in fact all we’ve come to regard as his trademarks, but in spades this time.

    Like us. viewers will have been shouting at the screen for Marr to say something like, “No Prime Minister. YOU listen please.”
    Or to have the polling facts on hand showing the precise % of the public who DO want an early general election rather than, as this man in denial sates, for him to ‘clean up the system first’ (repeated parrot-like ad nauseum l!). Marr also let him off the hook on answering whether he will be appointing more cronies to the Lords.
    This was very poor journalism given the heights to which the Telegraph has risen and license payers and the electorate deserve far better.

    No doubt we – and all your readers here – will have more to add later and we Essex Boys are gathering at lunchtime to watch the re-run together. This wretched Prime Minister is out of control and despite today’s wonderful sunshine we feel a heavy cloud hanging over our nation.

    1. Mike Stallard
      May 31, 2009

      Mr Brown has all the hallmarks of a great (trick-ed)ster
      First of all, he inspires respect, then fear in his party/group. He is also right in with the highest in the land.
      Then he gets taken for an expert with all the eccentricities that you might expect from an expert. (dirty(ed) tie, chewed fingernails).
      Third, he produces chaos and then pretends that it is all in the plan.
      Usually (tricksters-ed) get found out. Then, as in Dickens, they kill themselves, or they disappear into oblivion like Madoff. Mr Brown for some reason is still going.
      But for how much longer?
      And then what?

      1. alan jutson
        May 31, 2009

        Mike he has already been found out.

        The problem is the general public have no lawful means of getting him out until he decides, or unless his Party decides to do the work for us.

        What a bloody mess this Country has allowed itself to get in.

        The problem was that not enough of the general public found Tony Blair out in time, if they had we would not now have this problem.

      May 31, 2009

      John – we meant to have mentioned it before but your time clock hasn’t yet been adjusted to BST.

      Our early views on the Brown interview have been mirrored across the blogosphere today but even The Essex Boys don’t have the foresight to comment 20 minutes before an interview begins!


  6. Bazman
    May 31, 2009

    They are only trigger happy to prosecute easy crimes. In most cases where the offenders are easy to find i.e. an address, and have some sort of asset i.e. a car. If this criteria is fullfiled the crime is easy to solve and enforce because prosecution can be done at leisure by lazy jobworth officious police and officials.
    If on the other hand you are holding your phone with one hand and keeping the burglers knife away from your neck with the other. The police will come out some time next week. Do not try to offend the intruder though as crimes are investigated on how easy it is to get a conviction, or result as plod would call it. This can then be used to get more cash from central government.
    These rules do not however always apply to a crime where the criminal could be easily found . The police claim that they can find the owner of any car and in the case of a serious crime do so quite easily. How many people in Britain in the last five years been prosecuted for dumping cars and rubbish? Not many for sure.
    The police would argue disingenuously, that would I have them looking for rubbish dumpers and my old video recorder instead investigating very serious crimes. There is a lot more chance of being a victim of petty crime than being murdered though. They should stop try to get on the Sweeny and solve some more pressing crimes like dog crap. With surveillance if necessary. Funny how if you walk into your local bank or post office with your trusty sawn-off and put a couple in the ceiling you would serve 10 to 15. Murder and torture a child over a prolonged period get out in less than 10. Britain today. Did any MP put a parking fine on expenses? Would anyone be surprised?

  7. John
    May 31, 2009

    Over zealous officialdom just makes you despise the authorities.

    I left my car overnight in a public cark park in Ambleside; took a taxi back to the hotel. Next morning got another taxi back to Ambleside, but was 15 minutes late…. into the new charging period.

    I got a ticket – the car park was 90% empty.

    Total cost of taxis and ticket £75-00

    How I remember all of the fuss during the foot & mouth episode, the tourist board were begging people to come to the Lake District

    Just had a great idea …I will stick it on my expenses

  8. alan jutson
    May 31, 2009

    The problem is that this Country has not embraced the car culture as others have.

    This is probably because space on this tiny Island is limited, and the number of people and cars by comparison to other Countries large.

    Go to the USA, go to many parts of Europe (outside of the big Cities) and the towns welcome with open arms visitors who want to spend money in their towns at no charge.

    Compare that with here, where you guess how long you are going to go shopping, etc, and have to pay in advance in many cases. Your trip is either forshortened when you run out of your allotted time, and thus local shopkeepers loose out, or you feel cheated when you have paid for four hours when two would have done.

    It adds an element of stress to an outing instead of something which could be relaxing and enjoyable.

    I understand that now Wokingham are looking at stopping the 30 minute free parking areas in the belief that they are being abused. If this is to be Council policy then is a retrograde step that will reduce the income of local traders in the Town.

    A few years ago my elderly mother had a severe stoke and was in Hospital for a considerable time, my financial penalty for showing concern and visiting her as her only surviving member of her direct family. A total of £645.00 spent on hospital parking fees after many 70 mile round trips to visit her.

    No of course I do not bedrudge one penny, Its was my Mother, I was fortunate to be able to take time out of my own business to visit her. But Hospitals charging Car parking fees seems a strange way to encourage concerned visitors.

    Some have already written here that a car is essential in many parts of the Country, and it is, outside of the large Cities, Public transport is simply not a viable or sensible option.

    The motorist has for many years been treated like a cash cow simply because they have no alternative.

    Eventually many will not venture into towns by car at all. I myself have refused to go to Reading for years, due to the cost of parking.

    The simple fact of the Schools registration fiasco as you suggest, is to get the standards of all Schools to the same level.

    The problem in recent years and for the immediate future is the number of young people now needing to go to School, most Schools are now oversubscribed.

    We simply do not have enough School places in some areas.

    This is in some part due to the open door policy of immigration, which many have seen as the short sighted solution to our labour shortages of years gone by, without seeing the corresponding increased in cost of the necessary public services to support the increased population which an open door policy requires.

  9. Richard
    May 31, 2009

    One of the most important reforms a new Conservative government could make is to education – the very simple measure of allowing free competition amongst schools. This has worked superbly in Sweden, where parents can choose any school they like, or set up a new one, and the money from the state follows the child. This is an opportunity for a massive cut in the cost of the local education bureaucracy and could be a huge boost to educational standards. It will also, at a stroke, remove the gulf currently dividing the state and independent sectors. Time for an end to producer-led communism in the education sector as in the rest of the economy.

    1. Mike Stallard
      May 31, 2009

      If, and only if, Michael Gove survives the expenses scandal. And that does not look very hopeful really.
      But this comment is so right! Well said!

    2. Paul
      May 31, 2009

      This won’t work here, now. The difference between good and bad schools is very little to do with how they are run or anything like that, though these can tinker round the edges.

      The No.1 driver, way above anything else, is the intake. If you have an intake which is benefit culture, then the school cannot reasonably compete with (say) leafy suburbia, irrespective of what it does. It is symptomatic of much deeper problems, which show themselves in supposedly ‘better’ schools as well – just not as obviously.

      As such, allowing free choice only works up to a point – if the schools are allowed to select pupils. If they do this they will pick the smart and well-behaved ; this is the reason public schools are better, not because of anything to do with not being privately run (though the public education bureaucracy doesn’t help matters).

      If schools are allowed to expand at will, for example, they will, again, fill these schools with the top skim of the pupil population.

      Someone has to educate the pupils that go into sink schools, and market forces type solutions will not fix these schools problems.

      (Having said that, the current solutions to fix their problems won’t work either)

      1. Mike Stallard
        June 1, 2009

        I taught at a sink school for two dreadful terms. The head was having a nervous breakdown. The staff were silent in the staff room. I saw an Australian (man) teacher in tears.
        BUT by collecting the books in regularly every lesson and marking them fairly, by offering real lessons (I was teaching History) where I got the pupils to read, then answer questions in writing, I did get some sort of learning done. The Head of Department was, meanwhile, getiing the pupils to colour in pictures. He never looked at the books either, except to see that the pictures were all glued in.
        I was counting the days, though. I could not have kept up any longer. The atmosphere was that of a prison and the general feeling was despair and hatred.
        Do you know what? I reckon that without any form of Christian/Muslim/religious input that is the best you can hope for!
        What a bigoted remark.
        But that does not stop it being true.

  10. James D
    May 31, 2009

    What is the point of Local Education Authorities anyway? If we were serious about choice in education, we would privatize all schools, bring back the Assisted Places Scheme, and let successful schools expand and failing schools go bust. The only people the current system pleases are self-interested local government officers, the NUT, and assorted anti-free-market loons.

    1. Paul
      May 31, 2009

      Several reasons. Primarily though, education is compulsory and no-one would want the difficult children. There is no realistic judgement of what a ‘good school is’.

      I know two schools near me pretty well. One is served entirely (almost) by a estate with low income benefits culture. It struggles to get 25-30% GCSE pass rates. The other one has an intake composed entirely of small villages ; it averages about 66% passes. There is no doubt in my mind which is the better run more effective school – it’s the first one. However, no-one given the choice of the two schools for their child is going to choose it.

      1. a-tracy
        June 1, 2009

        I agree with you Paul. How to solve it, the only way that I can see is to rebalance the population of the ‘sink school’ townships/villages, more private homes and less housing association (HA) to create better balance. HA and council housing to be split more evenly through all areas (no more than x% of dependent families for each High school catchment area). If an area has no dependent families at all they should have a share of HA homes.

  11. Mike Stallard
    May 31, 2009

    This article on Policing is so right.
    I personally have knowledge of the Police twice turning up the day afterwards for an emergency near Thirsk in North Yorkshire.
    Remember Mr Martin who, in desperation, shot the burglar?
    I have been fined £70 when the Council parking rules were suddenly changed for no reason and with minimal publicity.
    I have been threatened with arrest by the local Police for not clearing up my dog’s muck when I already had done so.
    I read this morning in the paper about the Otis Ferry arrest which, to be honest, comes straight out of Communist Russia.
    Outside my house, there is a Primary School with lorries going to the local factory at the stipulated 30 m.p.h. round a blind corner. The Council are unable to do anything.
    Do you know what?
    I used to support the Police and try to help them.
    Now, I am furious with this arm of the People’s Party.
    And, comrades, I do not even want to mention the sheer incompetence of the local monopolistic Comprehensive State school system with no less than four Head Teachers in as many years. The current Head boast that there is now a teacher for every class…..
    On Thursday, I think I shall write a few words on my ballot paper. And they will not be nice ones either.

  12. chris southern
    May 31, 2009

    The main problems are unelected officials who believe in revenue generating instead of problem solving.
    Succesive goverments have made things worse by giving private companies the power to fine (breaking the Bill of rights 1689 which is constitutional and trumps the road traffic act from the early 90’s) and thus use statute to generate revenue. That is where this country went wrong, goverments turned the people back into assets and then handed some of those powers of revenue generation to private companies.

    As for the schools, the more goverment has meddled with education the worse it has become, qualifications no longer mean anything and if you don’t have the money to provide a private education then it’s hit or miss wether the goverment propaganda machine will provide good education for your child or just turn them into lobby fodder. (children are already being pumped full of lies so that they won’t fight against the global taxes of climate change in school.)

    It’s more messed up than you think John, it realy is.

  13. adam
    May 31, 2009

    Just come along to say, I believe our home secretary is now being sued by at least three separate people, it may well be more as its getting difficult to keep up

  14. Johnny Norfolk
    May 31, 2009

    This is a product of 12 years of labour where the local authorities think we are here to serve them when it is the other way round.
    they are just too big for their boots.
    I was talking to one of these people about rubbish collection rounds and she kept refereing to their bin. I said its actually my bin as I had paid for it not them.
    She did not understand what i was talking about.
    I explained to her that the money they spend on our behalf is our money not theirs.
    She said she had never thought about like that before.

    I was not suprised.

  15. The Huntsman
    May 31, 2009

    Labour’s criminalization of aspiration and ambition…..and when set against the activities of certain of your colleagues, a stark reminder of just how skewed our values have become.

  16. Acorn
    May 31, 2009

    This is all fine sentiment guys but it is not formulating a solution. As we lack a basic written Constitution that limits the power of the state, we have to look to the truck loads of legislation, both primary and secondary; and, the ways the Judiciary are required to interpret it by any government at any point in time.

    You will know than I keep on about separating the Executive from the Legislator. I have not mentioned separating the Executive from the Judiciary. For instance, prisons are full so stop sending scroats to prison; fifty percent discount on all prison sentences; is that the way a Judiciary should work?.

    Some smart guy said (source anyone?); “The citizens can do anything they like unless there exists a law that stops them doing it. The State can do nothing unless there is a law that allows it to do it.

    Any future UK (preferably English) government that purports to be a reformer, has to look to the wholesale repeal of existing anti libertarian legislation. I have yet to hear ANY of the existing hegemony of political parties giving me a list of Acts that they would repeal; have you? None of them have a clue how to do it because they don’t have a clue how to ENGINEER such a change.

    Those of you that have perused the SLD, know the complexity of the way that new laws modify old laws. The amount of consolidation of laws is minimal because it is so difficult to do. It takes a long time and very clever people to do it; so, it is rarely done in any parliament. When it is done, our MPs do not have the opportunity or the inclination to scrutinize what has been consolidated. We end up with new clauses in laws and regulations that do not see the light of day because they just won’t work.

    Parliament needs more Engineers who no how to write operating instruction. Engineers who know that the safest way to change an operating instruction is to withdraw the old one and issue a new one; and make sure everyone knows what you have changed.

    1. Mike Stallard
      June 1, 2009

      Did you hear Mr Cameron’s speech about this? He really does seem to know how the system worked before the New Labour came along to “modernise” it. And I got the impression that he really does mean to restore it to how is once was.

  17. Simon
    May 31, 2009

    I agree with all you say about these over zealous jobsworths but the trouble is that Tory Councils are just as bad as Labour. Cameron does not show any inclination to get these people under control and apart from vague witterings has not said anything about curtailing the powers of all these various authorities who fine us at every opportunity.

    To be honest I dread what will happen after the next election regardless of who gets in. There are going to be a good proportion of returning MP’s with a grudge. Even if there is a Hung Parliament they are likely to go on a cross party orgy of law making which will really repress us and make sure we never find out what they’re up to again.

    I see we came out 5th in a survey of Police States last week behind China, North Korea, Russia and Belarus. We are likely to move up those rankings over the next few years unless there are some fundamental changes. I reckon it’s wishful thinking to expect any real change without something momentous happening. The politicians are simply not to be trusted to do it of their own volition.

    1. Paul
      June 1, 2009

      This is because it is nothing to do with politics. Recall “Yes Minister”. The Civil Service carried on irrespect of the what the Ministers wanted.

      The councillors (elected) are not the problem. It’s the massive unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy that are the problem.

      Councillors can get voted out, and there’s a very effective system for complaining about councillors which the bureaucracy can use to shut them up if necessary.

      Suppose you have a complaint about the *staff*. I know of some behaviours that are so appalling they make the current expenses shambles look like Shangri-La.

      Who can you complain to ? If you can, what happens to them. Shoesmith (Haringey) is really unusual because despite the deaths through incompetence something was done about it (down to the particular age of the child and the goryness of the death).

      Where I live (Norfolk) these happened in the past (most infamously Lauren Wright) and I understand on the qt. still happen, but nothing ever happens to anyone responsible.

      Indeed, NO-ONE is responsible, and no-one is ever held accountable.

      All we get is “lessons have been learned and policies and procedures will be changed”. What this means, really, is “XXXX OFF”

  18. Blank Xavier
    May 31, 2009

    Why is there an Authority involved at all? why can’t parents simply apply to any school they like and the school decides who to accept?

    It is absolutely insane that we must *change our house* so our children *go to a good school*. Where you live should not be connected in any way whatsoever (barring simple commute time issues) to schooling.

    The fact that these two entirely seperate issues are profoundly connected is a manifestion of the utter insanity of the way in which schooling is organised in this country (and many others).

  19. Adrian Peirson
    May 31, 2009

    Getting her children into a better school wond do them any good, our children are being deliberately dumbed down one way or another to make us good little serfs.
    As soon as they are born and in our dumbed down Educational system.

  20. Brian E.
    May 31, 2009

    I just wonder how long it will be before someone takes a school or council to court to demand a good standard of education for their child. Perhaps the Human Rights legislation will help them; I can’t see that it is much of a defence to say the school is full and therefore you have to accept a poorer or sub-standard alternative.

  21. Monty
    May 31, 2009

    It makes me angry when governments, both local and national, make life difficult and unpleasant for people, and then punish folk for seeking to avoid the problems.

    I live near Newcastle upon Tyne, which has a Metro rail system. It’s very good, but there is nowhere near enough parking space at many of the stations. The response to the resultant street parking is to issue parking tickets.

    Now our local bus shelters have had their seating removed. The benches have been replaced by downward sloping shelves, about 5 inches wide, which are designed to make it impossible to sit down with any degree of comfort.

    My county is dotted with many charming smaller towns, in which local shopkeepers are struggling to stay in business. Our lords and masters have decreed that visiting these places in order to earn money, or spend it, must be punished. So they have introduced prohibitive parking charges and cut down the available spaces. When the shops close down they blame Tesco.

    If we want to continue to have a civil society, and a healthy economy, we have to get out of this censorious mindset of treating our own folk like some form of pollution because they want what we want.

  22. FatBigot
    May 31, 2009

    A word of solace for troubled drivers.

    If parking notices are not clear, or bays are not clearly marked, or confusion might result from the way restrictions are explained at the roadside, all is not lost.

    If you get a ticket because you were mislead, appeal it. The first appeal will be heard by an employee of the council and will almost certainly be dismissed. Appeal again, the second appeal goes to an independent adjudicator. If he or she is satisfied that you were misled, your appeal will almost certainly be allowed.

  23. Dominic
    May 31, 2009

    Please would you write your excellent articles in Word and then let the spell-checker do its work. Then copy and paste.

    There is a typo in this article. There is a typo in almost every single one of your articles.

    It’s furstrating, you see.

  24. Duncan
    May 31, 2009

    Talking about trigger happy authorities, here’s a story about a US trooper who stopped an ambulance on its way to hospital and detained it with the patient inside….

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