Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Why is inconsistency so alarming?

When the Freedom of Information legislation was introduced in 2000, I thought that it was generally a good thing.  Enabling people to have access to data held about them, as well as digging out information that public bodies would often wish to keep hidden are both worthwhile objectives.  In practice, though, it has become a tool for lazy politicians and journalists to produce easy stories which are often based on different interpretations of the questions asked and different ways of holding similar information; used in this fashion, I’m far from certain that it has had the enlightening effect which was intended.
A few weeks ago, the Tory AM for Aberconwy used a series of FoI requests to generate a ‘story’ which highlighted the difference in approach adopted by different local authorities across Wales to the issue of Fixed Penalty Notices.  It plays to a couple of favourite Tory memes, neither of which have much basis in reality.
The first is that there are “alarming inconsistencies” across Wales.  Well, it’s true that there are inconsistencies – different authorities assign different priorities to the issues covered by Fixed Penalty Notices and therefore use different methods of enforcing them.  What, exactly, is alarming about that?  If there is more public concern about dog fouling, for example, in one area than another, why on earth shouldn’t the relevant authority respond to that by taking a stronger line on enforcement and putting more resources into it?  What would be the point of having local authorities at all if they all gave exactly the same priority to every issue and all set about things in exactly the same way?
And the second is that some local authorities might be using the notices as a means of generating revenue.  Well again, it’s certainly true that authorities which put the most resources into pursuing the relevant offenders will be generating more revenue than other authorities – although they’re also incurring more expenditure in the process.  But is there any evidence – even the merest shred – that authorities are deciding on their approach to enforcement based on the possibility of generating more revenue?  If there is, you’ll be searching for it in vain in this particular ‘story’.
In one astounding statement, the AM said “The system is there to penalise those found to be in breach of the rules but it is clear that something isn’t working because the number of fixed penalties is going up dramatically each year.”  How exactly does the fact that an increase in the number of people being penalised prove that a system to penalise people breaking the rules isn’t working?  It seems to me that it actually proves that it is working, and that the problem is with the number of people breaking the rules.
And what does ‘over-zealous’ mean in terms of enforcement?  If there is no suggestion that notices are being issued to people who haven’t broken the rules (and again, I see no evidence of that in the ‘story’), then in what sense is issuing a notice considered to be ‘over-zealous’ as opposed to implementing the law?  If the Tories want to change the law so that only some offences currently liable for fixed penalties remain so, that’s an entirely legitimate position for them to take.  But supporting the law and then arguing that not all offenders should be penalised – which is ultimately what she seems to be arguing – is a very odd position to take.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Penalty enforcements and council charges for parking seem to be the pet hates for many Tories. Sell off council car parks, get rid of parking wardens and be slack about speeding and how long will it be before we are begging for something to be done about the chaos that will follow.