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LGA submission to Department for Transport’s on restricting the generation of surplus funds from traffic contraventions

The LGA fully agrees that local enforcement of traffic regulations is vital to ensure that our roads are safe for all users and that people can move without undue interference.

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1.    Key Messages

1.1.    The LGA welcomes the chance to contribute to this call for evidence.

1.2.    The LGA fully agrees that local enforcement of traffic regulations is vital to ensure that our roads are safe for all users and that people can move without undue interference. However, a national ‘Plan for Drivers’ produced in isolation and without a plan for bus users, pedestrians and cyclists too is a sub-optimal way of improving transport provision and how we travel in this country.

1.3.    There remains too little enforcement and high levels of non-compliance of traffic regulations. Too many people are still killed and seriously injured on local roads, especially pedestrians and cyclists. Congestion for cars, buses, freight and a lack of safe, segregated cycle routes are a major drain on economic and social opportunity. Parking availability, in the right place at the right time, is vital for residents and businesses, and capacity remains a challenge in many areas. Such factors cannot be sustainably planned from Whitehall, they can only be delivered by local government, who understand their places, residents and businesses better than central government.

1.4.    The LGA has some serious concerns with this call for evidence:

1.4.1.    We believe the call is misplaced – it implies that councils deliberately raise revenue, which we do not agree with. Recent DfT social media postings appear to be aimed at people who have been issued fines as a result of contraventions which are designed to reduce congestion and enhance road safety. This suggests that the Government only wants feedback from people who have received a fine – it does not appear to actively seek the views, with the same spirit, of the millions of law-abiding road users or residents that benefit from council enforcement action, which keeps roads safe and traffic moving.

1.5.    We are also disappointed with the timings of the call for evidence and the length of questions:

               1.5.1.    Local government elections took place on the 2nd May and the pre-election period commenced on 26th March. The guidance for civil servants is that public consultations with a particular emphasis on local issues or impact on areas where elections are being held, should generally not be launched during the pre-election period. We believe some of the later questions being asked could be interpreted as political rather than just technical which is a key consideration. This particular consultation seeks the views of councils, who are bound by The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity, and we believe should not be responding, during the pre-election period.

               1.5.2.    There are far too many detailed questions on financial data; little thought has been put into the additional burdens this poses on council staff which are already stretched.

1.6.    We are also very disappointed that the Secretary of State has postponed the laying of the Order enabling the 3rd tranche of councils who have worked very hard in consulting and developing schemes in relation to moving traffic offences. These councils were following the agreed application processes and therefore this decision should have been separated from this call for evidence.

2.    The LGA believes:

2.1.    Fines are a crucial element of enforcement, providing a deterrent effect. Where enforcement has been introduced, over time compliance has increased and enforcement fallen. And where it has been removed, for example, Aberystwyth, 2011, non-compliance had increased to a level which caused a huge detriment to the public. It is fair and right that revenues from enforcement, including any potential surpluses, should be retained locally as currently set out in legislation and not paid to central government.

2.2.    It is fair and right that revenues from enforcement, including any potential surpluses, should be retained locally as currently set out in legislation and not paid to central government. It is local residents and road users that are set to lose out if Government decides to redirect surplus fines revenue to the Treasury. This will mean: less subsidies and concessionary support for bus travel which many people at the sharp end of the cost-of-living pressures rely on; SEND transport; road repair and maintenance projects, air quality improvements and other travel and road safety improvements, such as shared cycle and e-scooter schemes. Removing such funding will remove investments in schemes that will enhance the experience for all road users, including motorists.  

2.3.    Local authorities do not set out to make a surplus and, based on recent research by the BPA and PATROL, supported by the LGA, two-thirds of councils are not making surpluses at present. This research has been shared with the DfT. Councils do not pursue a surplus, and invest significant resources into enforcement, including going through the courts to ensure non-compliant drivers pay their fines and the traffic regulations are enforced.

2.4.    That current civil traffic enforcement by councils, including across moving traffic, yellow box junctions, bus lanes and parking is fair. There are clear routes of redress available to those who feel they have been wrongly fined. It is worth noting that civil enforcement powers over moving traffic offences has only recently been implemented outside of London in some places since the Government granted permission in 2022.

2.5.    There are many other factors which have a bearing on revenue from PCNs: 

               2.5.1.    Research submitted to DfT Ministers in January 2024 by BPA, PATROL and endorsed by the LGA showed that 68% of authorities are seeing regular repeat offenders in their area, i.e. people who regularly receive PCNs and pay them early, thus paying only 50%. This behaviour suggests receipt of a penalty is now regarded as an additional parking amenity, irrespective of the potential danger or inconvenience caused by the vehicle being parked in contravention of the restrictions. Higher fines for repeat offenders across all enforcement measures would help law abiding drivers and other road users.
               2.5.2.    Penalty fines are set by the Secretary of State. These impact not just their deterrence effect, but also the proportionality of fines. PCN levels have not increase since 2000. A £70 fine, when reduced to £35 when paid off within 14 days, would be over £122 or £61 if it had kept up with prices today. Many councils would welcome higher fines to provide a stronger deterrent that increase compliance and possibly reduce overall revenues and therefore any surpluses. In many places a £35 fine across four car passengers is cheaper than using public transport and not far off a full day’s parking charges. 
               2.5.3.    In 1994, there were fewer than 20 million cars and light goods vehicles on Great Britain’s roads. Today that figure is over 37 million. Road space and parking places have not gone up in line with this increase. Traffic regulations, and unfortunately enforcement too, are necessary to keep people safe and manage the network.  
               2.5.4.    Traffic and parking management and enforcement is a practical not political choice. Councils respond to the very different circumstances and demands placed on their local transport infrastructure.

2.6.    If the Government does intend to divert surplus revenues to The Treasury, then it should state how that will impact local road safety, congestion, and funding for local transport. It should set out the differential benefits of these changes across groups: the vast majority of law-abiding drivers and other road users, especially vulnerable road users, and the on the small minority of non-compliant drivers who appear to be the only beneficiaries to the costs of others.

2.7.    Councils are accountable to voters. Parking and traffic measures are major issues in local elections and councillors are highly attuned to the views of drivers, making up the clear majority of constituents and voters in most areas.  

2.8.    Councils follow government guidance and best practice in the placement, installation of schemes and any road markings and signage needed to solve traffic problems. New schemes under Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act, have been signed off by the Department and councils have followed government guidance to only issue warnings to first time offenders.

2.9.    If Government considers the rules around traffic regulations and their enforcement to be an issue, the LGA would be happy to collaborate with government and wider stakeholders about updating and clarifying any rules around enforcement. Work commissioned by the RAC highlights some areas where guidance may be unclear‘ (Size matters: An expert review of the size of yellow boxes being enforced in London and Cardiff

2.10.    The Government’s consultation on guidance around Low Traffic Neighbourhoods offers a potential template for clarifying rules and application. It makes sense to consider these issues in the round and in partnership with local government.

2.11.    Local councils act fairly wherever mistakes are made. Regulations protect the rights of drivers to make representations against a PCN with the council and to appeal to an adjudicator if that is rejected. Adjudicators are independent lawyers whose appointments are subject to the consent of the Lord Chancellor. The appeals system works well and appeals are rare but often accepted showing a system that works to correct any mistakes that can always happen.

3.    In conclusion

3.1.    Many elements of enforcement are run at a loss to provide a valuable service to drivers. Controlled Parking Zones are run at a deficit to permit holders, as permit fees do not cover the cost of enforcement. Towing and storing of the most dangerous and disruptive illegally parked vehicles, is run at a prohibitive loss, in some authorities between £450 and £800 per vehicle, such that it can only be used in the most extreme cases, reducing deterrence and compliance.

3.2.    The LGA welcomes the chance to engage with government and other stakeholders on how best to improve the effectiveness and fairness of traffic regulation enforcement. This should be based around the outcomes government and councils both want to achieve for safety and network management. Narrowly focusing on surpluses to the exclusion of other factors, in the name of a nebulous perception of fairness rather than concrete focus on outcomes, should be avoided.