On 5 June, the Performance Management Scrutiny Committee met to discuss the controversial changes to parking charges. Committee papers were sent out just 26 hours before. I doubt that all committee members had read all ten documents. Officers also sprung a huge amount of crammed onto overcrowded slides on a hard to see screen. I am not convinced that any member of the committee was adequately briefed for the decisions they were to make. Certainly not the chair of the committee who was unaware that officers had proposed a series of recommendations.
The committee and officers seemed to be oblivious to the evidence gathered by Ludlow Town Council that shows independent trade is down by 18% in the first few months of this year compared to last year despite the milder weather.
The committee agreed to review the extent of the Red and Blue Zones. Residents with on-street permits will be able to park in car parks and may also be able to apply for a second permit. Owners of a holiday let will be able to apply for an on-street parking permit for guests. Tickets purchased on a phone will be 10p cheaper.
This blog is a bit delayed and my apologies for that. I have been waiting for Shropshire Council to provide the raw parking data to enable me to present it in a format that is easier to understand. But the data has yet to be converted from a propriety format. There will be more blogs once I can crunch the numbers.
The mayor Tim Gill spoke on behalf of Ludlow at the meeting along with myself. I don’t know why we bothered. There was no performance or management at the Performance Management Scrutiny Committee and very little scrutiny. Trade in Ludlow is down since the new charges were introduced but council officers showed no interest in this. There were some proposed changes that will benefit Ludlow but they were barely discussed because only a couple of committee members had read the paperwork. The meeting made minor steps forward on sorting out the brutality of the parking strategy. It could have achieved much more if members had had a chance to scrutinise the data, which is why they were appointed to the committee.
A problem with understanding
A survey by Ludlow Town Council showed that our town’s independent trade was down by 14% before Christmas and 18% after. Shropshire Council seems to have misunderstood this data, constantly referring to seasonal variations. But the survey compared the winter months in 2017/18 with the winter months in 2018/19. It is a like on like comparison. There were snow episodes in December and March in 2017/18. Despite the milder winter weather in 2018/19, trade was down.
The British Retail Consortium says that in the three months up to May, trade grew by 0.2% nationally. Council leader Peter Nutting has said that Shrewsbury is bucking the national trend by growing trade. Ludlow is bucking the national trend by losing trade.
The difference between the Shrewsbury and Ludlow is that the shopping habits in the two towns are different. A lot of people come into Ludlow town to buy a few items for a daily shop. They go to the market, the butchers, greengrocers and the bakers. No one drives into the centre of Shrewsbury for a half-a-pound of sausages and a loaf of bread. But that is daily life in our town. Day to day shopping is harder now. If you park on the street, you must pay £1.80 for just an hour. If you want to take advantage of the so-called 15 minute pop and shop period, you are forever looking at your watch.
Shropshire Council, which is determined to micromanage life across the county from Shirehall, simply doesn’t understand this difference.
It doesn’t understand the rural economy either. Or how changes in parking regimes impact on the retail trade in market towns. That was abundantly clear at the scrutiny committee on 5 June.
The committee’s recommendations
After a meeting that can best be described as uniformed, the scrutiny committee agreed to put forward recommendations to cabinet (I presume this will be on 3 July):
- A review of the boundaries of the Red and Blue Zones. This will help residents in the College Court area who must currently park down the Linney.
- Residents with on-street parking permits will also be allowed to park in nearby car parks. We need to see the detail on this and whether there will be any restrictions.
- The limitation of one on-street permit for each residence will be increased to two permits if 60% of residents vote for it and the unitary councillor agrees. I assume there will be separate votes for each Zone but again we need to see the details.
- Owners of holiday lets will be entitled to one on-street permit for each let at a cost of £100 a year.
- The cost of tickets purchased on a mobile phone will go down by 10p (this is because the council is absorbing the fee MiPermit currently adds to the cost of a ticket).
- There will be other changes on how many season tickets and residents’ permits are allowed in each car park.
Those were the recommendations in the paperwork. The scrutiny committee also agreed to urge better publicity for season tickets and pop and shop (5 minutes plus 10 minutes observation time).
There is nothing wrong with these recommendations but they do not address the big issues we face in a very rural market town like Ludlow.
A Problem with Statistics
It was perhaps just as well that the committee and its audience could not see the at the meeting. There were several graphs which were misleading. I came out of the meeting thinking that one set of bar charts didn’t feel right. They were counter intuitive. Below is what was shown on the screen. It shows the number of parking payments month by month across the unitary area. It shows a reassuring rise in transactions and that was all the committee members could see on the poor quality slides.
Did you spot the error? Councillors would have seen it if they had seen the data before the meeting. Here is the data with the months in correct order.
Much emphasis was placed on the slope on a graph of cumulative parking transactions. Here is the graph for Ludlow.
This is statistically meaningless because no one knows what the angle of the slope of the lines should be. But the graph does point out the underlying problem with Shropshire Council’s approach to scrutiny of the new parking regime. We had understood that we would be able to compare data from before the new charges and restrictions were introduced. But we are told now that data isn’t available.
Scrutiny is an evaluative process. It needs benchmarks against which to measure change. That is best practice in evaluation. We haven’t seen that best practice in scrutiny of the new parking regime.
I came out of the meeting with a low opinion of Shropshire Council’s scrutiny process. The meeting was chaotic. It did nothing to improve the reputation of Shropshire Council. It did not acknowledge the impact the parking regime is having in Ludlow.
Officers said this was only an interim review and there will be another review in November. They did not say that this second review was only agreed after I intervened in a cabinet meeting to secure it.
Small steps forward were made on 5 July. But scrutiny must perform better in November. It must have every bit of the paperwork and technical data in advance. It must also listen to what Ludlow Town Council is saying. The council’s message is that trade is down since the new parking regime was introduced.
The council makes much of its new emphasis on boosting the economy of the county. It is time it recognised that parking regimes have a major impact on the economy of rural market towns like ours.