The row over the parking charges at Macclesfield Hospital — and soon, Congleton War Memorial –— rumbles on.
Perhaps it’s not surprising: in 2013 ParkingEye was bought by Capita for £57.5 million, and the latter has for long been known by Private Eye as “Crapita” and “the world’s worst outsourcing firm”.
Why hospitals would charge for parking is another issue but East Cheshire NHS Trust chief executive John Wilbraham has previously said that ParkingEye was brought in because some motorists avoided paying for parking or parked in the wrong areas, and made it difficult to keep enough spaces available for patients and visitors. Obstructive parking had even blocked emergency vehicles, he said.
Accepting the premise that parking charges deter non-patients from using a hospital’s free parking — though given the location of both Macc and Congleton hospitals, this is hard to swallow — it seems reasonable for the hospital to try and maximise revenue.
Less reasonable is Mr Wilbraham’s explanation for the cases where people have been wrongfully fined for parking, that is: after paying for a ticket.
He blamed patients, saying that motorists inputted their registration details incorrectly when buying tickets. He also said visitors would pay the correct amount and input their details correctly, but then park in a restricted area.
This may or may not be generally true: the one person we bumped into who had been threatened by ParkingEye was adamant that she had entered the correct registration, and was correctly parked.
Moreover, given the hospital’s user base — the old, the worried, the sick and the hurried — this seems more than a little unfair. People parking at hospitals are either ill themselves, or accompanying a visiting someone who is poorly. People with appointments might be rushing.
For a variety of causes, people are going to be stressed and entering their correct registration may not be as easy for them as, say, doing so during a leisurely shopping trip.
It’s because of these factors that the NHS has guidelines as to what hospitals should do when imposing charges, guidelines East Cheshire NHS Trust appears to have ignored.
The NHS recommends that trusts should consider installing pay on exit or similar schemes so that drivers pay only for the time they have used.
Macclesfield’s is pay on arrival, even though pay on exit is presumably easier for patients, who will be less rushed.
Macclesfield allows up to 20 minutes for drop-offs and pick-ups, but the NHS guidelines say additional charges should only be imposed “where reasonable” and should be waived when overstaying is beyond the driver’s control, for example when treatment takes longer than planned.
Moreover the NHS guidelines firmly state: “Contracts should not be let on any basis that incentivises additional charges, eg ‘income from parking charge notices only’.”
A number of readers have complained that this is what is happening at Macclesfield.
As we understand it, ParkingEye paid for the equipment and the trust gets the revenue from the parking charges — ParkingEye’s wedge is the money raised from the fines.
We’ve asked the hospital to comment on why it ignored NHS guidelines but, as this column was being written, it had not replied. We’d guess it would say the NHS advice is that – advice only. It says you can pay for parking at any point before leaving, though this is not the same as pay on exit.
In an era when everything needs to be “monetised” it seems sad that the time of the sick and their families has a value to the NHS.
Talking of ignoring guidelines, Congleton Town Council has apologised for ignoring its own financial guidelines but, as was seen last week, individual councillors have apparently failed to comply with the rules governing their actions.
Council critic Graham Goodwin is now digging into the events surrounding the Grove Inn/Lower Heath Stores and Coun Larry Barker.
Coun Barker was a director of Yu Properties, Yu Trading, Yu Developments (involved in the Grove planning application) and Lower Heath Stores at the same time as he was chairman of the town council Planning Committee.
He did not declare that he held directorships of these companies, though he resigned his directorships of the Yu companies in May of this year.
At the full council meeting last week, Mr Goodwin was told that such declarations were mandatory.
Just to make it clear: Coun Barker did not chair nor was he present at any of the planning meetings when Lower Heath matters were on council agendas, as the Mayor explained to last week’s full council.
But, given the mess it made of buying the DDU, Congleton Town Council needs to make sure that it and all its component people obey the rules that govern its work.
On this occasion, no-one is accusing Coun Barker of doing anything wrong, and he in effect declared an interest by absenting himself from the relevant meetings.
But the Simnet affair shows that relatively innocent mistakes can snowball and result in the loss of taxpayers’ money.
Coun Barker’s case is a warning shot to councillors on a personal level — under a different series of events, the omission of the directorships could have been viewed in a different light.