Scottish council is writing letters in plain English

Parking Review: 30th August 2014

Argyll & Bute Council on the east coast of Scotland took over on-street parking enforcement from Police Scotland in May. Prior to the switchover, on-street parking was only minimally enforced by the police, with months sometimes passing between wardens’ visits to towns such as Helensburgh and Oban. As a result, drivers had grown used to contravening parking restrictions without consequences.

The council employed six new ‘amenity wardens’ to work alongside the existing traffic wardens in ensuring compliance with parking, loading and Blue Badge permit regulations. In addition to parking, the amenity wardens also address issues such as dog fouling and littering.

In the four weeks leading up to the introduction of the enforcement regime, the council issued warning tickets to alert drivers to the stepping up of patrol activity. From 16 June the wardens started issuing real penalty charge notices (PCNs).

The more frequent patrols mean that the tourist town of Oban is already seeing a higher turnover of cars parking on-street as parking regulations are better enforced. The result of enhanced enforcement has been an increase in correspondence from drivers challenging the tickets.

The preparations for the new regime saw traffic & development manager Bill Weston and his team arrange demonstrations of several different parking correspondence systems. Weston’s team decided to adopt Barbour Logic’s Response Master system, which produces legally compliant, plain-English replies to drivers’ challenges to penalty charge notices. The letters Response Master generates are based on the council’s particular set of policies.

“From the start we were all very impressed by the process Response Master takes you through and its consistency,” Weston said. “Im happy with the results so far. It makes the parking correspondence officers’ lives much simpler and produces well-constructed letters.”

While the new wardens started appearing on-street, the Response Master system was configured with the council’s set of policies. Administrative officer Lorraine McGinty and her back office colleagues were trained on Response Master and were handling live correspondence by the time the scheme was fully operational.

“Response Master has enabled us to deal easily with what is undoubtedly a much higher rate of enforcement than in the past,” says McGinty. “There’s no ambiguity in the results or the letters. Every driver is treated exactly the same, and there’s no danger of two colleagues reaching a different decision on the same case. When we answer the prompts, Response Master generates the correct decision, consistent with the council’s policies. This gives us added confidence, which is important as we’re all so new to it. It’s too soon for feedback from drivers, but those of us who are using the system really like it.”

McGinty says Response Master’s plain-English wording is a big improvement on relying on memory and habit. “In the past I was trained to start a letter with ‘I refer to your letter/email of’. The equivalent Response Master letter opens with: ‘Thank you for writing to us’, which is less formal but still to the point.”

The council has also sought to make it easier for drivers to pay PCNs. The penalty charges can be paid via the ‘pay it’ function on the council website, by phoning customer service centre, in person at any our customer service points or via PayPoint at local shops.