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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Liam Thorp

14 Liverpool politicians had parking fines cancelled through council 'back door'

Fourteen current and former elected Labour politicians in Liverpool have been accused of a "breath-taking disregard for the rules" and using "back door" routes to have parking tickets thrown out by officials at Liverpool City Council.

A 16-month Liverpool ECHO investigation has revealed the names of 14 politicians who together had a total of 51 Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) for parking - rescinded by council officers over a five-year period without using formal processes.

The council's current chief executive said the information we have uncovered is "an example of the unacceptable culture that pervaded parts of the council in the past", while the lead government commissioner overseeing improvements at the council said the revelations "shine a light on the poor practices that have been all too common in Liverpool City Council."

READ MORE: 14 city politicians named in parking probe and their explanations

The list of names revealed today includes one councillor - former Deputy Mayor Ann O'Byrne - who had a total of 17 parking tickets rescinded in that time period, while former cabinet members Barry Kushner and Nick Small saw seven and four tickets thrown out respectively. Ex-Lord Mayor Malcolm Kennedy also had four tickets rescinded.

Former Mayor Joe Anderson had two parking tickets cancelled by officers in that same period while long-serving Labour Councillor Gerard Woodhouse had five tickets rescinded. All have denied wrongdoing.

All those named in our investigation today have provided full responses and explanations for why they say they had their parking tickets rescinded and we are reporting these in full here. A number said they were acting in good faith based on advice and guidance from senior officers and believe they have done nothing wrong.

In Liverpool, if you receive a parking fine you are charged either £70 or £50 depending on your offence and must pay the fine within 28 days of the Penalty Charge Notice being issued. However, if you pay within 14 days it will be reduced by 50% to £35 or £25 respectively. If you want to challenge your fine, you must make this challenge in writing to the council within 28 days of receiving the fine.

If this process is done correctly, the council should hold records of whether a ticket has been overturned or upheld, but in its response to the ECHO Liverpool City Council said that "despite conducting extensive searches of its records, the council has not been able to locate any formal council records detailing why parking services cancelled the 51 PCNs referred to above."

Our investigation shows that the vast majority of the 51 tickets were overturned based on the "discretion" of council officers, while one was written off after a time delay. The group have been accused by opposition politicians of "swerving the system" and "disregarding the rules and regulations they themselves put in place."

Responding to our investigation, the Labour Party said there was a "custom and practice" in the city council at the time where parking tickets issued against councillors in the course of their duties could be rescinded and that councillors operated on that basis in "good faith." The party said the situation we have uncovered "reflects a period in the council when its corporate behaviours were not what they should have been."

A number of the current and former elected members have placed the blame at the door of former senior council officer Andy Barr, who was the council's assistant director of highways and planning before he resigned amid a disciplinary process in 2021 which was not connected with the parking tickets issue.

While a number of current and former councillors have explicitly claimed they were acting on orders from Mr Barr when their tickets were rescinded, he has flatly denied this in an statement to the ECHO in which he claims councillors were fully aware of the proper appeals process.

He said: "It is interesting to note that the elected members who have been asked to respond to this matter all seem to have various excuses regarding their penalty charge notices although the consistent theme running through each response seems to be that they all lay blame at my door.

"There is also a suggestion that the elected members thought the process they were following was the correct one and were not aware of the appeals process that exists. I can confirm that all elected members were aware of the appeals process as they were advised of this, by me, at the time that they presented their tickets to me."

He added: "The elected members insisted that the tickets were cancelled by me, making it clear what the consequences would be if I refused. To state that they thought this was the agreed process is quite frankly insulting, given the impact that this has had to both my professional and private life."

The ECHO began investigating claims of an alleged "back door route" for councillors to get out of paying parking tickets in October 2021. Following a complaint made by the city's opposition leader Cllr Richard Kemp, we submitted Freedom of Information requests asking for all the names of any elected members who had seen tickets rescinded between April 1 2015 and December 31 2020, the dates and locations involved and any reasons given for why the fines were thrown out.

It has been a long and frustrating 16-month process to finally get these details released, with legal issues delaying the process. While the council has today answered the majority of our questions, they have been unable to provide some answers but have vowed to continue their investigations and provide a "comprehensive" response as soon as possible.

As well as those mentioned above, the list of politicians named in the investigation includes two former Labour councillors who left the party last year to join the Liverpool Community Independents group. Cllr Anna Rothery has been named as having one ticket rescinded while Cllr Joanne Calvert had three quashed in the same time period. Both have provided explanations and denied any wrongdoing.

Others named include former Norris Green Labour councillor Joann Kushner who saw three tickets quashed, while current Labour councillors Wendy Simon, Sharon Connor, Lynnie Hinnigan, Joe Hanson and former councillor James Noakes are all listed as having one ticket quashed in the time period. Again all have denied wrongdoing.

In most cases the councillors have said they believed it was the correct practice or that they had an operational pass or position which allowed them to park where they had done.

A 16-month Liverpool ECHO investigation has revealed an "unacceptable culture" that saw city council officers rescind 51 fixed penalty notices for elected members over a five year period (Liverpool Echo)

Responding to today's revelations, Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Richard Kemp criticised the length of time it has taken for the council to respond to the ECHO's questions, before calling for disciplinary action against those named.

He said: "The fact that it has taken the council 16 months to respond to a Freedom of Information request from the Echo blows a huge hole in the claims from the current Mayor of Liverpool that she would introduce a regime and culture into the council of openness, honesty, and transparency.

"What we see in the behaviour of 14 Labour councillors in not paying 51 parking tickets is a breath-taking disregard for the rules and regulations that they themselves put in place. In this they copy the arrogant behaviour of the Tories in Westminster with a similar sense of superiority and entitlement. Two of these councillors have gone on to join the Liverpool Community Independents.

"Every councillor has a right to appeal against a parking fine, but they should have been treated exactly the same as every other person and their appeal should have gone into the recognised system that we all use and which I have used once successfully and once unsuccessfully. Instead, they used a back door route to swerve the system and got a council officer to get the ticket dropped.

"I will now raise the matter with the new City Solicitor based on this FOI report and ask for disciplinary action against those people still on the council who chose to ignore the systems that all the rest of us have to follow.

"It is now up to the Labour Party to decide whether they have any moral scruples. To my mind anyone who tries to get round regulations is not a fit person to stand for the council and Labour should look again at the eight councillors named in the FOI who are standing again as Labour councillors to see whether they should stand at the May elections. I won’t hold my breath as Labour appear to have used every legal trick in the book to get this information suppressed."

Cllr Alan Gibbons of the Liverpool Community Independents said the revelations were a sign of "Labour's sense of complacency and entitlement" that a system of "custom and practice" could be developed where parking tickets could be rescinded. He added: "Is this the Labour Party saying there is one law for its elected members and another for the average citizen? The second point is that if elected members were told this, and they followed the advice in good faith, they would surely only use it in exceptional circumstances, at most one or two. There is no excuse whatsoever for building up a quota of quashed tickets running into double figures, none whatsoever."

The city's Green leader Cllr Tom Crone added: "The same rules that apply to everyone else apply to elected members. For them to have avoided the proper channels to appeal parking tickets, and instead have had a quiet word with officers is completely unacceptable. This flagrant abuse of power goes against so many of the key principles of public life, such as integrity, selflessness and honesty. All these fines should be paid in full and a genuine apology issued by Liverpool Labour. Any person refusing to do so should be barred from standing in May's elections. Otherwise it will be clear to voters that this is still the same old Labour and nothing has changed."

Liberal leader Cllr Steve Radford said he believed the public of Liverpool "will take great offence" at the revelations.

A Labour Party spokesman said: “At the time in question, there was a ‘custom and practice’ in the city council where parking tickets that had been issued against councillors in the course of their duties could be rescinded, so they operated on that basis in good faith.

“This is the advice that councillors were explicitly given, and this is how the system – managed by senior council officers - operated. In addition, some senior councillors had access passes to help them get about the city on business which, they were told, meant they should hand-in any tickets they picked-up if, for instance, a meeting overran.

The spokesman added: “These are historical issues that have already been fully investigated by the council under its code of conduct. It’s also important to remember that no councillors were found to have breached the code given they were simply adhering to what they were told was standard practice.

“This whole situation reflects a period in the council several years back when its corporate behaviours were not what they should have been, and it bears stating that this is not current practice.”

In a statement responding to the ECHO's investigation, Liverpool City Council said: "Liverpool City Council has released information about parking penalty notices issued to elected members that were cancelled between 2015 and 2020. The disclosure follows a Freedom of Information request.

"It has taken a considerable amount of time and effort to pull together the response due to gaps in records. Further work is ongoing to ensure that we are fully transparent and ensure that all documents that can be made public are disclosed. It is crucial to the council’s improvement that transparency is embedded in our culture and practice

"As part of our improvement journey following the publication of the Best Value inspection report by Max Caller in 2021, we have made many changes to our governance systems and processes.

"Any elected member querying a ticket should have been directed to the standard appeals process for parking tickets. This process would have ensured that an authorised appeals case handler would have considered the response in a fair and appropriate way. Councillors receiving a parking ticket are advised to go through the standard appeals process.

"An annual Internal Audit of Parking Services is being carried out to provide independent and objective assurance on the adequacy and effectiveness of risks associated with its operation."

Mayor of Liverpool Joanne Anderson said: “The Cabinet and I have been working hard since my election as Mayor in May 2021 to change the culture of the council to one that is fully focused on delivering best value for its residents.

“We cannot change what happened in the past but it is vital that we learn from it and make sure we are as transparent as possible when it comes to decision-making, with the correct governance and audit procedures in place.

“I welcome the Internal Audit that is being carried out in relation to Parking Services, which will now pick up issues arising from this disclosure. The outcome will go to the Audit Committee for full transparency to see if we can further improve our systems and processes.”

Theresa Grant, Interim Chief Executive said: We have released historic information about parking penalty charge notices issued to elected members that were cancelled between 2015 and 2020.

“It highlights previous poor practice, relating to past processes and scrutiny of the way the council used to be run. It is, sadly, an example of the unacceptable culture that pervaded parts of the council in the past, as documented in the Best Value inspection report.

“I want to be clear that what happened historically is no reflection of the council’s current Parking Services staff nor management team. It is important to remember that much has changed at Liverpool City Council and we are now a more mature organisation, one that is open and transparent about decision-making.

“As part of transforming the council, so it is fit for purpose and well-run, we have made many changes to our culture, our management, our governance, and our systems and processes. We are determined to give our residents complete confidence that our services offer best value and operate with the highest standards of integrity, transparency and professionalism.

“The council’s Internal Audit team are carrying out an objective assessment of Parking Services’ systems – to give all of us – residents included – complete confidence in how the service is currently run.”

Mike Cunningham, Lead government Commissioner at the council said: “The information released today shines a light on the poor practices that have been all too common in Liverpool City Council. However, it is information that the public have a right to know and, although it has taken too long for this information to be shared, we welcome the transparent approach the council is now taking to publishing it. It demonstrates the positive steps being taken to improve the Council’s handling of freedom of information requests.

“We will continue to work with the council to root out poor practices and build on the improvements that we now see emerging.”


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