Parking wardens: ‘It’s a tough job... we can’t employ any shrinking violets here...’

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PARKING wardens often come in for flack while out carrying out their work. Political reporter Miles O’Leary went out with one on patrol to find out what it’s like on the front line.

They are there to uphold the law – but often traffic wardens are sworn at and ridiculed simply for doing their job.

Portsmouth City Council parking manager Michael Robinson at the council's traffic management centre

Portsmouth City Council parking manager Michael Robinson at the council's traffic management centre

Men and women who oversee roads regularly get flack from the public over fines they issue.

While statistics show the number of recorded physical and verbal attacks on them have gone down in recent years, incidents are happening all the time as more and more staff choose to keep their head down and get on with their duties rather than speak out.

Figures given to The News under the Freedom of Information Act show there were five reported assaults on Portsmouth City Council parking wardens – whose full job title is a civil enforcement officer – between 2013/2014, down from three the year before.

The highest number of attacks reported was in 2010/2011 with 15.

agenda wardens pic 1''City Council traffic warden Grant Hesk during his morning patrol at Portsdown Primary School in Cosham.

agenda wardens pic 1''City Council traffic warden Grant Hesk during his morning patrol at Portsdown Primary School in Cosham.

Verbal altercations decreased from 28 in 2012/2013 to 12 in 2013/2014.

In Havant, the number of recorded verbal incidents involving motorists and CEOs dropped from 29 in 2012/2013 to 11 in 2013/2014.

There were seven physical altercations in 2012/2013, compared with none in the years after.

Gosport is different in that its parking enforcement is carried out by a traffic warden funded by Hampshire County Council and the police, rather than by the local authority.

No incidents were reported involving Gosport’s traffic warden last year, but the year before there was one assault resulting in no injury, and another between 2011/2012 with no harm caused.

Meanwhile in Fareham, only one attack on a CEO has ever been in reported, between 2009/2010.

But Grant Jamieson-Hesk (pictured), who has been a CEO for Portsmouth City Council for five years, says he puts up with grief on a daily basis.

He said the worst areas for trouble were around London Road, North End, and Crasswell Street in the city centre.

‘In the first few months I was absolutely shocked by the amount of on street abuse I was receiving,’ Grant explains.

‘The number of reported incidents may have gone down, but the abuse hasn’t stopped and that’s something you normally get.

‘You normally get that from people who you haven’t even issued tickets to, the people who walk by.

‘You get sworn at sometimes.

‘People see us as an authority figure and a lot of people are anti-authority.

‘They see the uniform and are angered by it I suppose. But they don’t know who I am and what I do.

‘The usual comments are “get a proper job”.

‘You hear that so often. You could be walking down the street and someone toots their horn at you. When I started, I would look up and get the middle finger back.

‘If you are not the right sort of person the job can be stressful.

‘You have got to take the agro to be honest.’

Grant, who lives in Gosport, says staff are keen to help bridge connections with the community and dispel the myth that they’re simply out to protect the council’s revenue – and much of the job is about upholding public safety.

Grant spoke as The News followed him on his morning beat outside Portsdown Primary School in Sundridge Close, Cosham.

He stood outside the entrance making sure parents dropping off their children that morning didn’t stop on yellow zig-zags since vehicles could block the sight of a child running out onto the road.

Drivers can face an on the spot fine for pulling up on zig-zags.

While no-one flouted the rules during the visit, parents were hostile about Grant’s presence and the fact a reporter was there.

One parent walked past and said ‘haven’t you got something better to do?’ while another came up and asked where he could park because designated bays were full and didn’t realise he couldn’t use double yellows opposite as a drop-off point.

‘We want to be as helpful as possible,’ Grant says.

‘We’re not there to catch people out.’

CEOs have faced media scrutiny this week after Nicholas Brzezinski was penalised in court for abusing parking rules and parking in a visitor permit-only zone while on duty.

As reported, the 64-year-old was sacked from Portsmouth City Council as a result of his actions.

But Councillor Ken Ellcome, Tory cabinet member for traffic and transport, said motorists on the whole understood CEOs were there for the greater good – until they are the ones getting fined.

‘A lot of them now have body cameras, so that probably puts off some aggressive and abusive behaviour if you think you are going to be recorded and potentially fined and dealt with.

‘You will find the number of fines have gone down. The council has taken a more relaxed approach to enforcements.

‘There is no doubt that when people get penalties, some take it as part and parcel of having parked somewhere they shouldn’t have. Others take it personally.’

Council parking manager Michael Robinson said: ‘The training that staff get is very good now, and we support staff in being able to manage that type of thing.

‘The other thing is there are a lot of staff who only report particularly serious incidents.

‘The rest of it goes with the territory.

‘It’s a tough job. We can’t employ shrinking violets.’

Cllr Sean Woodward, leader of Fareham Borough Council and the county council’s executive member for transport, said: ‘Civil enforcement officers in Fareham clearly have a job to do and they do it politely and as reasonably as possible.

‘The low level of attacks on them is possibly because that’s how they carry out their duties.’

Guidelines in place

A GOVERNMENT document gives guidance to local authorities on the way civil enforcement officers should conduct themselves.

The department for transport’s (DFT) parking policy and enforcement document says CEOs need to be ‘professional and efficient, sometimes in difficult circumstances, and ‘the public needs to see them this way too.’

The report also stresses that CEOs need ‘firmness, sensitivity and tact’ coupled with common sense and patience, and need to think clearly and react sensibly under pressure.

It recommends that CEOs who lack these qualities ‘should get appropriate training and development opportunities.’

The DfT recognises parking officials may be required to work near schools and be seen as a ‘uniformed figure of authority.’

The government recommends that an applicant for a job as a CEO undergoes a Criminal Records Bureau check, and there should be regular checks once employed.

In Portsmouth, CEOs adhere to a code of practice.

It states that the type of vehicles exempt from penalty charge notices are fire, police, ambulance and military ones on official business and a vehicle which has been told to wait by a police constable in uniform or has to stop in order to avoid an accident.

Utility companies carrying out essential works can also park in restricted streets, but their cars can be moved on.

Still problems

CHANGES have been made to working conditions for Portsmouth’s traffic wardens since industrial action was taken last year – but problems still exist.

Concerns were raised when civil enforcement officers were moved out of their own facilities to a section of the city council’s civic offices shared by other employees. The move was designed to save money, but it resulted in the parking team having much less space.

They now have to use a communal kitchen and there’s limited space to dry clothes after being out in the rain.

But since union members went on strike over the changes, partitions have been put up so female staff can have their own area.

CEO Grant Jamieson-Hesk admitted the new arrangements weren’t ideal.

He said: ‘We used to be based out of the Isambard Kingdom Brunel car park, and we used to have rest facilities and a drying room there.

‘Then the council decided to close that and move us out to the civic offices and it’s not ideal.

‘There have been issues over privacy for the girls, but we have settled in and we have got to put up with it. We are in hard times.

‘But we don’t really have our own restroom anymore which is not ideal.

‘When we come in for an evening shift, we have our dinner in there and there’s not a lot of space.

‘In some respect it’s nice to be part of the council team now and I think before we were misunderstood by the civic staff.’

Parking manager Michael Robinson said ‘positive steps’ had been taken to resolve disputes.

‘We’re continuing to work with the CEOs and the trade unions to resolve the industrial dispute and positive steps have been taken by both sides in addressing these issues,’ he said.

‘We are confident that we can continue to work towards a full resolution and hope to do this as soon as possible.’

Meanwhile, Grant insists CEOs do not have a set number of tickets they have to issue in one day.

He says the average dished out is five a day – but that doesn’t mean staff have to hit that number and can come away with nothing.

It comes after Unite Union complained ‘performance indicators’ were being used to increase the number of tickets issued.