Sunday, 7 March 2010

A council named sue

‘CRACKPOT councils are wasting thousands of pounds . . . by suing THEMSELVES over parking tickets,’ was how the Sun saw it. And it really is as barmy as it sounds. At least half a dozen councils are known to have issued tickets against their own vehicles – and then refused to pay them. My own local council, Islington, took one case to the parking appeals tribunal, won and then asked for costs to be awarded against itself. The adjudicator Gerald Styles refused on the ground that the council could not ‘act wholly unreasonably or vexatiously against itself’.

The Sun sees all this Alice in Wonderlandish absurdity (great film, by the way, but Tim Burton’s scriptwriters can’t match Carroll) as straightforward evidence of what it used to call ‘loony’ local authorities. Actually I think it has more to do with the madness of running public services as you would profit-maximising private enterprises. If you contract out parking ticketing to companies with more interest in making money than keeping the traffic moving, they will employ traffic wardens on pay structures that depend on them issuing as many tickets as possible. And if you insist on ‘internal market’ accounting procedures that force one council department to pay another if it so much as uses a paper clip that isn’t part of its inventory, the reductio ad absurdum of this neoliberal accounting arcadia is that they will end up suing each other to sort out any differences.

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