Local government in the UK has tapped into the British Empire DNA and found a way to make serfs of its residents. In an exemplar of syndicated corruption, I will use what has been happening in my own local council as an illustration and case study.
In London, each council is divided into several wards. Each ward elects 2-3 residents as Councillors to represent the community at the local council level.
My ward is dissected by the main thoroughfare running between Central London and Wales. A part of that road, which is also part of the ward I live in, is known as the Golden Mile. It is so-called because of the concentration of industry along a mile-stretch of the road dating back to the early 1900s, which was long a source of local prosperity. Factories of architectural merit remain as a reminder of the Golden Mile’s important past.
We are not only a (historically) reasonably prosperous ward in the borough. My ward is also home to a college, and tube and railway stations. The college is a further and higher education institution with a local and international student population of more than 6,500, who go on to pursue their studies at good universities around the city.
Most of the students at the college travel in by public transport or car. Roads adjacent to the college can therefore become packed during term-time, adding to the parked cars of people who work at local businesses in the area.
It’s worth noting that along one of its perimeters, the college has a car park with 100 or so spaces. Even so, car parking congestion spills out in and around my ward – because of the exorbitant costs of parking, which is no small consideration on a student budget.
Now, successive Conservative governments have decreased local council funding over the years, citing wastage and low accountability, among other things. The knock-on effect of this is a reduction in local services: for example, refuse collection takes place fortnightly; local libraries have been threatened with closure; and so on and so forth.
So, local councils have become creative about how to fill their emptied coffers.
A totally unnecessary scheme that has become beloved of councils, especially in London.
In my ward, I estimate that non-resident cars – those that are parked on the road during normal business operating hours – come to a total of around 500. If a charge of GBP2.00 were levied on each of these, the Council would reap weekly revenues of GBP5,000.00. Multiply that by 48 weeks (to account for bank holidays and other paid employment holidays), and the income would be a staggering GBP240,000.00 The income from day-workers and students increases yet further – perhaps four-fold – when you factor in their spending at local shops and businesses.
Sensible levies of non-resident car parking could therefore bring substantial benefit and income to my ward, and to the council more generally. But local government, as cunning and corrupt as any national government, wants more. Much more.
The CPZ scheme has been ten years in the making in my ward. Leading up to this, the Council has dealt with the issue of car parking problems using ever draconian and nonsensical measures. The problem that residents faced was that students and business workers were obstructing access to reasonable parking – the council decided not to take action on this; it did not ticket the offenders at all. It did, however, ticket residents whose car bumpers and boots overhung their driveways by even a quarter of an inch. So, if anybody says CPZ is a scheme designed with residents in mind, they really don’t know what they are talking about.
As part of the Council’s consultations about the CPZ scheme, it administered resident surveys. Of the 12 residences in our road, 1 outright rejected the scheme while the others abstained from voting. They did so in the belief that only a ‘Yes’ vote would count in favour of the scheme; and that abstaining was as good as rejecting the scheme.
The Council, however, moved the goalposts – indicating that CPZ had already been rubber-stamped and that they were merely going through the motions of democracy – by announcing that 100% of the households surveyed supported CPZ. When reminded of the results in our own road, and that two residents on a road next to ours had also objected, the Council stonewalled dissent.
In other words, the Council had at best misinterpreted abstaining votes as agreement or acquiescence to the scheme; and at worst, it had committed a very visible fraud on local residents.
To compound matters, a ward Councillor supported a local resident’s efforts to raise a petition claiming that daytime parking congestion in our area, during normal business and college operating hours, was somehow the fault of Friday evening worshippers at a local mosque. By this logic, worshippers at the local Christian church on Sunday morning were as much to blame, but the petition focused squarely on Muslims, and not on any other race. Even the problems associated with the college were buried, and so too the onslaught of 4x4s which deliver and collect predominantly white students to a private school nearby every day during normal working hours, and which cause a congestion.
The Councillor who encouraged the anti-Muslim petition is the very same Councillor who supported an aged white woman in having an obstructive raised platform on her doorstep, along a shared pathway that also leads to the front door of a neighbour. The platform was erected for the white woman’s ease of access into and out of her home. However, it obstructed access by her Indian neighbour, a woman of an almost similar age, to her own main entrance. When the latter objected, referring the Councillor and the council planning officers to the fact that her neighbour’s platform could just as well be placed at the rear door of her property, these people were nonplussed. They hadn’t known of the back door. But once they did, they still refused to move the platform there. They told the ageing Indian woman to use the kitchen door to her property as the main entrance. Nevermind that access to the front door is impeded for all visitors to her property.
It was as blatant a use of the race card as was the Councillor’s encouragement of a petition blaming parking congestion on Friday evening Muslim worshippers. And it was compounded when the Council demanded a second set of fees to drop a kerb which the Indian lady had already paid to take place in the past, in order to provide access to a part of her garden where she could park her car off-road. The job had been marked down in Council records as having already been completed, despite clear and visible evidence to the contrary. The fee for fulfilling a job already paid for would be ten times higher, the Indian lady was told. Another example, lest we need reminding, that local Councils are no less corrupt than our national politicians.
The anti-Muslim, and totally racist, petition was signed by thirty households out of more than 200 in the road. The local Council used it as the basis to revive the CPZ scheme, following the singular failure of its earlier survey and the incredibly fraudulent spin it had put on the survey results.
The Council administered a second CPZ survey, once again clarifying to residents that only a ‘Yes’ vote would count as a vote in favour of CPZ. No surprise, then, that households were once again shocked to learn that abstentions were being interpreted as affirmations of CPZ. Indeed, a minority of 1 ‘Yes’ vote carried the day, and the scheme has since come into operation.
Under the CPZ scheme, residents have been told to pay GBP80.00 annually for a permit to park their car. Additional family cars incur additional annual fees. When challenged about the fact that some households subsist on means-tested benefits, a local Councillor looked sheepishly away and ignored the question. The scheme does not allow for nuances in employment and income, which vary greatly across the area.
As a result of CPZ, about 300 of the original 500 pre-CPZ non-resident parked cars that I estimated continue to use the roads in my ward. The college car park remains severely under-utilised – empty, even; as do the 150 or so exorbitantly priced metered parking bays on perimeter roads. Non-residents are seeking out spaces wherever they can, without paying unrealistic and inflated parking fees.
So, we have a situation in which:
- non-residents , who are a vital part of local life and professional activity, and who contribute economically, are being systemically excluded; and
- residents, who were previously experiencing problems parking outside their own houses, or even their own roads, paying a minimum of GBP80.00 to… well, still not be guaranteed a car parking spot outside their home.
Furthermore, residents are required to submit all car registration and insurance details to the Council when applying for a CPZ parking permit. This includes the details of their insurer, their insurance premium, and information about their income bracket (on which their premium is calculated).
The annual update of resident parking permits thus requires the annual submission of private household information to the Council. They sell this on to commercial companies seeking in-depth voter information for marketing purposes. We have already seen this happen with Facebook and Cambridge Aanalytica – the erosion of privacy is real, and is one in which we are forced to be complicit. But using social media sites, or wanting to park a car, should not come at the cost of our right to our privacy – we should not accept that we are complicit in allowing Facebook, or our Councils, allowing access to information which they have no right over. They are willfully and deliberately at fault. And it’s all for money.
The Council stands to make a lucrative, under-the-radar income by selling residents’ information on to third parties. It is an abuse of power, a continuation of the kinds of backhander deals we expect of Parliament, and a gateway to rigging elections.
It is the corruption nobody is allowed to talk about.
Many UK residents won’t be aware of the webs of unaccountable, non-transparent, abuses of power in which they are enmeshed in their daily lives and by their local leaders and representatives.
Today’s essay hopefully helps in starting to raise that awareness, and in making us more engaged residents.