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Chamber and committees

Local Government and Communities Committee

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Agenda: High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013, Disabled Persons’ Parking Places (Scotland) Act 2009


Contents


Disabled Persons’ Parking Places (Scotland) Act 2009

The Convener

We move to agenda item 2, which is post-legislative scrutiny of the Disabled Persons’ Parking Places (Scotland) Act 2009.

The committee will take evidence from a private car park operator and a supermarket. I welcome Tony McElroy, head of devolved Government relations and communications for Tesco plc, and Duncan Bowins, managing director of NCP. Thank you for coming. We will go straight to questions.

I thank the witnesses for coming. You are from different sectors, so I ask the same question of both of you. Do you monitor the misuse of disabled spaces in your car parks? If so, how widespread is the problem?

Duncan Bowins (NCP)

The context is that we have 15 car parks in Scotland, which is about 5,000 spaces. We monitor and enforce disabled bay use. Over the past two years, on average, 4 per cent of all penalty charge notices issued were for disabled bay abuse—that is about 900 notices. That compares with 2 per cent across the rest of the UK. Those figures are for abuse, not for non-payment. We monitor and track all the data and records, going back three or four years.

Tony McElroy (Tesco)

Similarly, I will give a bit of context. We have more than 200 Tesco stores across Scotland from the Highlands and Islands to exceptionally urban locations such as Princes Street and Sauchiehall Street. We have about 39,000 parking bays, of which about 2,100 are disabled bays. In the previous financial year, we issued about 500 fines for disabled parking bay abuse in our stores in Scotland. Monitoring is currently done through a mixture of fixed cameras and marshals, albeit our business is moving away from the marshalling approach as the dawn of new technology enables us to offer a store-by-store opportunity to empower our colleagues to enforce parking by harnessing the step change in technology. Every store will be equipped to monitor and enforce its disabled bays, whereas the historical approach was intelligence led, in that we put in marshals where there were customer complaints or colleague feedback about abuse.

Do NCP car parks have barriers?

Duncan Bowins

Some car parks are surface pay-and-display sites, which are patrolled. The barriered sites are still patrolled, but they have barriers on the front.

Do disabled drivers have to pay at those barrier sites?

Duncan Bowins

Yes, they have to pay—the car parks are still patrolled. The numbers that I gave are not for non-payment; they are for manual contravention notices for people who have not displayed a blue badge while parking in one of those spaces and who have been spotted by an individual on patrol.

One of our sites in Glasgow is an automatic number plate recognition site. That is the latest technology, which Tony McElroy talked about, but it cannot monitor every space, so we patrol to check for such abuse. The cameras are normally for non-payment.

So at those barrier sites, disabled people have to pay the same as everyone else and your company takes enforcement action if non-disabled drivers use disabled spaces.

Duncan Bowins

Absolutely. We have spent a lot of time as a business on disabled parking. We were pretty much a founder member of Disabled Motoring UK’s disabled parking accreditation scheme. We spent a lot of time consulting with Helen Dolphin MBE, who leads on that, and with People’s Parking. We hold 15 accreditations across Scotland. We were given a lot of advice on friendly enforcement and the charging of disabled customers. A paramount point that we learned from that advice and the counsel that we got from Helen Dolphin is that it is not about the charging or non-charging of a disabled customer; it is more about the enforcement of the spaces and having the right facilities. We spent a lot of time working with those bodies. We had people come in to all our front-line conferences to talk to the front-line guys who patrol about how to enforce and why they are enforcing. Most of our route to develop our approach was therefore through consultation with an expert third party.

Graham Simpson

I hear what you say about your company, which sounds fine. When the committee discussed the issue previously, I described another quite big company—I did not name it and I will not name it today—which, in my experience, does not appear to take enforcement action because its disabled spaces are routinely abused. Is there an industry body in Scotland that monitors that?

Duncan Bowins

All large professional parking operators should be members of the approved operator scheme of the British Parking Association. The BPA should give guidance on legislation.

There is legislation on disabled parking, but it is also about how the company approaches it. Issuing a penalty charge of any description is always quite an emotive thing for someone to do, because it can be confrontational and difficult. As a business, we challenge the guys issuing the penalty charges to take a certain approach—it is about learning why it is important to issue a ticket for abuse of disabled spaces. They follow what is more of a company guideline, although there are some legislative rules around it. It is down to the individual company to decide whether to take enforcement action on disabled spaces. Some do not charge.

I have one final question, which is for both witnesses. Do you display notices in your car parks saying that enforcement action will be taken against people who abuse these spaces?

Tony McElroy

Yes, we do. An additional benefit of the technology roll-out is that a signage refresh is part of that. As a business, we absolutely want to distinguish ourselves on customer service. It is about making sure that our car parks offer a full suite of opportunities for our customers, whether that is clearly marked disabled bays that are close to the front of the store and have a short flat access to the front of the store or the parent and child parking that we offer, which again is clearly marked. In fact, we are in the process of trialling mum-to-be parking as well. We are constantly innovating in the area as we continue to speak to our customers about what they want and expect in order to have a fantastic shopping trip.

The Convener

How much money is raised from enforcement? What does enforcement mean? What is the level of fines, how are they collected, how are they escalated and where does the money go? It would be good to get the context around enforcement before we move on to the next section of questioning. Mr Bowins, can you answer that?

Duncan Bowins

Over the past two years, we have issued 981 penalty charge notices for disabled bay abuse. The charge is £100, or £50 if it is paid within 14 days. That revenue goes back into the company.

Does the revenue function as cost recovery for patrolling or enforcement?

Duncan Bowins

Yes. You can imagine the costs for patrolling, and we spent more than £200,000 on signage alone when we redrafted all our terms and conditions three years ago.

On the previous question, all our car parks are fully signed to deal with abuse of disabled parking spaces, and the signs clearly state what the charge will be if people who are not disabled use the space. The cost goes back into the business to ensure that we can operate more patrols and provide more signage.

The Convener

The question of what should happen to that money, given that I am sure—or I hope—that your company makes a significant profit, is maybe a debate for another day. I will just put on record that there are perhaps queries around how that money could, in theory, be used. We are not exploring that issue today, but thank you for letting us know about it.

Tony McElroy

At Tesco, there is a £70 charge, which is reduced to £42 if it is paid within 14 days. All the revenue that is generated through that charge is absolutely reinvested in parking enforcement across our store estate. We certainly do not generate enough revenue through fines to recover the cost of things such as refreshing bay markings and signage, employing marshals and cameras.

At present, the revenue that is raised is reinvested in technology, in particular in a tech roll-out that we hope will lead to enforcement rates going up. We hope that, as enforcement rates go up, there will be a diminishing return because we will generate less money as people see that there is a higher degree of enforcement taking place. There would probably be less money involved than there is at present.

The Convener

As I said, it is good to put that on record, but it is a debate for another day—it is not what we are looking at just now, although it is important that we understand how those revenues are used, so thank you for that.

Elaine Smith wants to come in next.

Elaine Smith

Yes—I have a short follow-up on that line of questioning. The ethos of the 2009 act is to ensure that, as far as possible, disabled parking spaces are left free for people who are entitled to use them because they have disabilities and a blue badge. However, if those people happen to make a mistake—for example, if their badge is displayed upside down or it falls down on to the seat—would you take that into consideration? If you have issued a notice, can you cancel it if, for example, the person sends you a copy of their blue badge?

Duncan Bowins

We review every penalty charge notice in every case if there is an appeal. There is an appeals process for all notices through the POPLA—parking on private land appeals—service, which is independent.

We take a commonsense approach. If someone parks in a disabled space and they do not have their blue badge but they are evidently disabled, one of our colleagues will not say, “You’re going to get a ticket.” That is one approach. Someone would certainly not receive a penalty charge for displaying their badge upside down. In addition, if a badge genuinely falls off and the person appealed by sending in a photograph, we would normally use common sense.

We are looking for blatant abuse. Disabled parking at airports is one of our biggest challenges; 27 per cent of all our tickets are issued at airports, because people just want to drop off and pick up. That is where the highest level of enforcement takes place. However, every appeal against every ticket, whether or not it is related to disabled parking spaces, goes through the appeals process.

Elaine Smith

I want to put the same question to Tony McElroy, because I have dealt with many cases in which disabled drivers have displayed their badge upside down and been issued with a notice, especially in Tesco car parks. As their MSP, I have faced a bit of a fight to get those penalties overturned.

Tony McElroy

There is an appeals mechanism and process in place. If somebody could prove that they were a blue-badge holder and they had been issued a ticket in error, we would be able to deal with that.

The technology that is being introduced across our estate enables us to take out some of the third-party operatives—who, frankly, are incentivised not on customer service but on the volume of tickets that they issue—and to put the power to enforce disabled parking into the hands of our colleagues who are trained to Tesco’s standard of customer service. As a business, we want great customer service, and we want to enforce disabled parking. It is about striking the right balance, and our view is that the enforcement is best done by Tesco people rather than third parties. That is the trajectory that we are on.

11:15  

Mr Bowins, can you tell us more about the BPA, which you mentioned earlier? Does it cover Scotland and, if so, is it more about the companies than the customers?

Duncan Bowins

I do not actually know the BPA’s coverage. We are a member of it, but it will represent itself. I can say that it is the governing body of all professional parking. Under the legislation, anyone who issues a penalty charge notice of any description needs Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency access to get keeper information. If you are not a member of the approved operators scheme, you cannot get that access. I do not know who in Scotland is a member of the BPA—which is, as I have said, the governing body—but I can tell you that we are.

Thank you.

I should put it on record that we invited the BPA to this session, but it was unable to make it. It did not decline our invitation because it did not want to attend—it just could not make it.

Alexander Stewart

Gentlemen, you have both talked about accessibility of disabled parking bays and ensuring that they are located in your car parks or outside your stores to make it easy for individuals with a disability to use them. Mr McElroy, you encourage people to come into your stores; indeed, you have also done a lot of things inside your stores to provide more disabled access and to make progress on that issue. However, I want to ask about repeat offenders. Have either of you looked at how you might tackle such individuals and the best way of managing what continues to be an issue across both of your sectors?

Tony McElroy

From our perspective, there is a hard core of repeat offenders, but I suspect that their activity is not unique to Tesco. Indeed, I suspect that they are repeat offenders whether we are talking about on-street parking, off-street parking or whatever. With the roll-out of hand-held technology, we can more easily and in a targeted way capture and identify patterns of behaviour with regard to antisocial drivers and antisocial parking. Increasingly, we can build an evidence base on those repeat offenders.

A huge amount of effort goes into thinking about the design of our car parks, which you referred to. For example, we try to ensure that cash machines are not overly close to disabled parking bays, because that might incentivise people to think, “I’ll just nip in here and take out some cash.” There will be cash machines accessible to our disabled customers and colleagues, but on the whole we are extremely choiceful in the way in which we lay out car parks and make them as accessible as possible for disabled customers and, as I said, colleagues. We can discuss that issue later, but I should say that, as the largest private sector employer in Scotland, we are fundamentally committed to having diversity in our employment base, and we are an active recruiter of colleagues with disabilities.

Alexander Stewart

Do they feed into how parking is managed and operated and how the whole process works from the beginning? After all, some of your stores are open 24 hours a day, and there will be peak times when individuals using disabled bays will require more support and assistance.

Tony McElroy

Yes—I think that that is right. Given our business mission of serving Scotland’s shoppers a little better every day, we want to—

I suppose that we should put on the record that other supermarket chains are available, as are small corner shops. [Laughter.]

Tony McElroy

To my mind, that mission means ensuring that disabled customers can access the car park, that there is a clearly identified bay in the car park that is a safe and secure environment for them to park, that there is level access to the front of the store and that our stores meet customers’ specific support needs. For example, in the past year, we have purchased around 1,000 specialist trolleys for disabled children in order to help to make shopping trips a little easier for parents who have children with special needs.

We are also rolling out disability awareness training to help our colleagues to understand the special needs of disabled customers.

Thank you.

The Convener

Mr Bowins, the original question was about repeat offenders. That might be the wrong term, but it was about those who are not disabled but who persistently park in disabled bays. Can your company track them?

If your company has a tag line, feel free to put it on the record, as well. [Laughter.]

Duncan Bowins

That was good marketing.

Repeat offenders are a challenge, but we have data and we monitor it. Every time a ticket is issued, we know who it is issued to. This is getting a lot more sophisticated. It is something that we can be a lot cleverer about, especially if we share between businesses information on who the repeat offenders are.

We get to the point where we issue banning notices. That is the point at which we inform the client that, because of their repeat offending, they are banned from the site. However, enforcing that is very difficult. In a 24-hour car park, how will we know whether the person is in or out? Also, they could use a different vehicle. However, we do take steps to say, “You are now banned from this car park.”

The answer to the question is that we try to do that, but enforcement can be very difficult once people have been banned.

I wanted to give you an opportunity to put that on the record.

Andy Wightman

The thrust of the 2009 act is to create enforceable parking places for disabled people that are then policeable by public authorities. We have had quite a bit of evidence from public authorities expressing their frustration at their inability to reach agreements with private operators of off-street sites in that regard. Do you have any views as to why that might be?

Duncan Bowins

We have no record of any approach from a local authority to patrol any of our car parks in the past two years. We checked with our management team in Scotland. If there has been such an approach, we have no record of it. We patrol anyway, and you can see from the data that we do enforce.

Andy Wightman

This is not to do with the powers of local authorities to patrol. It is to do with bringing the disabled parking places that you provide within the enforceability of local authorities, as opposed to their being enforceable by civil action in the private sector. Have you had any approaches from any local authorities in Scotland—

Duncan Bowins

No. I spoke to my team in Scotland and we have nothing on the record.

I am sure that that is accurate, but it would be very helpful to us if you were able to interrogate that a bit further.

Duncan Bowins

Absolutely. I am happy to have discussions if that would help.

Andy Wightman

That is fascinating, because local authorities are under a duty, at least every year or two years, to attempt to create these enforceable places.

Mr McElroy, do you want to comment?

Tony McElroy

Given our volume of stores—I think that we touch every local authority—I could not be as absolute on levels of contact. However, I suspect that the local authorities adopt a risk assessment as to whether businesses in their communities are enforcing disabled bays. I would certainly like to think that any local government official or member of Police Scotland who approached one of our stores would quickly see that it, like all our stores, has a parking plan and an enforcement plan for its disabled parking bays. I suspect that that is the approach that local government takes but, obviously, I cannot speak on its behalf.

Andy Wightman

Police Scotland and the local authorities do not have any powers to enforce disabled bays on private land—that is the whole point of this act. It mandates them to try to make disabled spaces enforceable under the statutory regime, rather than under private civil law. There are many private operators out there—general practice clinics and all the rest of it—but is your argument that, at least from your point of view, there is no need for statutory enforcement?

Tony McElroy

From my perspective, I say that you should look at the evidence of what Tesco is doing. We want to set ourselves apart from our competitors by offering great service for our customers—we want customers to choose Tesco. Therefore, if having access to the car park and to a disabled parking bay is an important part of our customers’ shopping trip, we want them to choose Tesco for exactly those reasons. The fact that it becomes a competitive element among retailers is probably quite a good thing for disabled motorists.

Andy Wightman

That is not the evidence that we have heard from disabled interests—that it should be left to the market and competition. It is about having the right and the expectation that disabled parking places will be available and that they are properly enforceable, wherever anyone chooses to go.

Tony McElroy

They should get that at Tesco.

The Convener

Can I take that a little further? I appreciate that both witnesses are giving evidence based on the experience of their companies. Mr Bowins, you have pay-and-display surface sites rather than in-the-sky sites with barriers. I can see that a commonsense approach would be for a local authority to make a traffic regulation order to bring disabled bays in line with every other disabled bay in a town, village or city, so that they are enforced by local authority wardens. Whether there would be a financial accommodation between your company and the local authority on that, I have no idea. Common sense is a dangerous thing in politics, but that would seem to me to be a commonsense approach.

In the case of Mr McElroy, it depends on which Tesco store. In my constituency, I can think of one large 24-hour Tesco store that sits away from everywhere else, so it might not be common sense to have local authority wardens patrolling the bays at that store, but I can think of another store in a different urban setting where the local authority wardens would be out and about anyway. Given that there are statutory duties on local authorities to approach your companies every couple of years about parking, would it not be reasonable, whether or not you put your bays over to be enforced by the local authority, that at least a partnership agreement should be struck between each local authority and your companies.

Duncan Bowins

We already have partnerships with local authorities across the country. We have contracts with St Albans and Manchester whereby all our penalty-charge notices are served by the local authority under a TRO, depending on the mechanics of the agreement. It is possible and we already do it. I am not sure whether that would make enforcement better, because we track our own rates and know that the percentages are normally better than those of the local authorities. I think that that is because of our closer manpower—they are on site all the time, rather than patrolling eight or nine sites. However, we do have enforcement under TROs with some councils already.

Are there any examples in Scotland?

Duncan Bowins

No, not in Scotland.

The Convener

This is a question for local authorities rather than your companies, but it seems a little bit odd, given the statutory duty on local authorities to approach each of your sites every two years, that that has not been progressed. What is your experience, Mr McElroy?

Tony McElroy

The point that I will make about local authority enforcement draws on our experience of having had third-party operators patrolling our car parks. We have moved away from having third parties patrolling our car parks, so that we can set the standard on what great service looks like and set the standard on how we work with our customers to enforce the bays. Private operators still patrol Tesco car parks, but they are probably the same private operators that local authorities use. We want to move away from that, bring things in-house and have Tesco set the standard for what great service looks like.

11:30  

The Convener

This is not a reflection on Tesco, but the law of the land should set the standard for what great service looks like—that was the point of the 2009 act. If any private company with its own land can go beyond that and provide an even better service, that is fantastic.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to approach companies every couple of years. Does Tesco have any recollection of being approached by a local authority? I think that Dundee City Council has tried quite hard, and I am sure that there are Tesco stores in Dundee. What is Tesco’s experience of having that discussion with local authorities in Scotland?

Tony McElroy

I would not be able to comment specifically on that. I am not aware of individual local authority agreements or conversations that we have had.

We deal with local government officers—from licensing standards officers through to community workers—in our stores, probably daily. Our store in Alloa even shares its car park with the council offices. The nature of our business is such that we have a near-daily relationship with local government. I am absolutely confident that a local government officer approaching one of our stores would quickly see that every store has a parking plan and every store manager is committed to offering our customers a great, safe place to park.

The Convener

Next week, local authorities and Police Scotland are coming to the committee to talk about enforcement and their statutory duties. This is post-legislative scrutiny. If there are ways to improve the 2009 act to better formalise the relationship between private companies, private land and the law of the land—local authorities’ statutory duty—by all means we should look at that.

We have had some evidence that the take-up by large private companies has been pretty poor. What I am hearing today suggests that local authorities’ proactive approach may not be all that it should be either. Is there any partnership agreement? Mr Bowins helpfully said that he is not aware that his company has any partnership agreement in Scotland. Has Tesco entered into any partnership agreement with local authorities?

Tony McElroy

I am not aware of any formal agreement but, as I said, we have a regular relationship with local government at all levels.

It may be that nothing formal has been created but there are informal discussions.

Elaine Smith

One of the main reasons for inviting the witnesses was to explore with them how they feel about enforceable parking bays in their areas. We will leave that to one side for the moment, because it has been explored by the convener and others. The other side of that is how the witnesses enforce their own situations. I can understand that barrier parking would be easier to enforce, Mr Bowins. If Tesco gives notices or tries to charge customers for parking in disabled bays when they should not have done so, what is to stop people ignoring that, given that it is contract law?

Tony McElroy

Potentially there is an issue with repeat belligerent offenders, but you tend to find that there is far less ambiguity with blue-badge issues, given their nature, than there is with people overstaying a three-hour time limit in one of our car parks. Somebody could overstay in one of our car parks for perfectly good reasons, and you could have a conversation with them and be able to fix the problem. There is less ambiguity with the blue-badge scheme, so the conversation with the customer is—

Elaine Smith

If someone parks in a disabled bay, they are sent a notice by one of the operators that are enforcing the laws for you and your car parks, and they simply bin it because they happen to know that it is contract law and that it is highly unlikely that you will pursue them all the way to court. Would it not be better for you and your customers, particularly your disabled customers, if enforcement were provided by the councils and the law rather than by contract law?

Tony McElroy

That might have been the case historically. I would be quite happy to talk you through the hand-held equipment that colleagues have. The evidence that that creates is such that, if somebody is a repeat offender, we are in a position to pursue a prosecution.

How would you pursue it? Would you take the case to court under contract law?

Tony McElroy

I think that we will increasingly have the evidence to enable us to do that. I am not a lawyer, so I cannot go into specific detail of how we would pursue a prosecution. The technology can now capture in a far better way the people who are abusing disabled bays. Historically, the warden would walk up, issue a ticket and move on to the next job. We now have the power to give our colleagues an enforcement role and to build up evidence so that we can challenge repeat offenders in a far more targeted way.

Elaine Smith

I am sorry to keep on about this, but the bottom line is that you have talked about your customers and you might have a customer who says to one of your colleagues, “I’m parking here because I’m going into your store to spend £100 on my week’s shopping. If you don’t like that, I am going to take my custom elsewhere.” That might put your colleagues in a difficult position. However, if the local authority was enforcing for you, it would take that away from you and it would also take away the fact that you are relying on contract law and, unless you have a barrier, as Mr Bowins has in some of his car parks, you will find it rather difficult to prove that the person saw that the space was a disabled space when they came into your car park. It is up to you, but we are asking whether you are considering the option of local authority enforcement under the legislation instead of relying on what is basically contract law and having to prove that someone broke some kind of contract with you.

Tony McElroy

There is no ambiguity for our customers as to whether they are parking in a disabled bay. The bays are clearly marked, there is clear signage and the purpose of the bays is quite obvious.

Our colleagues are perfectly well equipped to have that difficult conversation with customers. In exactly the same way as our customers are appalled by people who park in disabled bays when they should not, our colleagues are appalled by such antisocial behaviour. They know that it could deprive a disabled motorist who needs to access that space. This is a customer service initiative in Tesco. It is not a commercial thing. It is about offering our customers great service because that is the point of differentiation for us.

The Convener

Mr Bowins, I will bring you back in soon. We seem to be focusing on the supermarket sector at the moment and Elaine Smith is exploring a worthwhile line of questioning. Mr McElroy, do you have any information about how many fines go unpaid?

Tony McElroy

For disabled bays, the figure is reasonably low compared with the figure for overstays. There is a far broader spectrum of reasons why somebody might overstay. As I said, the blue-badge bays are less ambiguous, as a person either has a blue badge or they do not.

The Convener

You are talking in general terms. If that information exists, it would be quite helpful for the committee to get it. That is not targeting Tesco; you just happen to be the supermarket chain that was kind enough to agree to give evidence to the committee today, and we thank you for that.

I understand why a large commercial retailer would want to keep a degree of control over the customer service that it provides to its patrons using its car parks and what those standards look like. I get all that. However, if there was a way of squaring the circle—via a new form of TRO or whatever—without losing the flexibility that supermarkets and others have, and if it could be enforced under the law of the land in partnership with local authorities to create at least a minimum standard, that would surely be a good thing. Would Tesco be willing to explore that with local authorities across Scotland, as well as considering whether the legislation needs to be tweaked or amended to give the assurances that your sector needs in order to sign up to some of this stuff?

Tony McElroy

Yes. Looking at it through the prism of what Tesco does in enforcement and customer service, it is very much about raising public awareness of the unacceptability of someone who is not a disabled motorist parking in a bay that is identified as being for a disabled motorist. It is about changing the behaviours of people who are, for whatever reason, inclined to park in disabled bays.

As a business, we will continue to enforce the disabled bays to the best of our ability—we are undergoing a step change in how we do that—but, if the committee is thinking about where we go next with the legislation, my steer is that we should reinforce the social unacceptability of parking in a disabled bay, because that will reinforce the enforcement mechanisms that we have and the actions that we are taking to ensure that people do not park in disabled bays when they are not entitled to do so.

The Convener

The committee is trying to tease out not just the social unacceptability aspect but the consistency of the approach that is taken across the country on public highways and on private land, where supermarkets and car park operators are significant players. One way of ensuring consistency would be compulsion, which has been shied away from. That might involve local authorities approaching private sites every couple of years to see whether a TRO could be developed to bring about a consistent level of enforcement.

What I am saying is that, rather than Tesco, Asda, Morrisons or whoever having wonderful corporate policies—they might or might not be wonderful; I have no idea—for consistency, there must be a minimum standard and equity for people with blue badges right across the country, which must surely involve partnership working between local authorities and the private sector. That is not happening just now. That is not to say that there is not good practice out there—you are hinting that there is, Mr McElroy, and Mr Bowins is doing likewise—but would you be open minded about working in a more formal partnership with local authorities to see how we could improve the legislation? Surely, that would be better than finding those supermarkets or car park operators that are—I was going to say the cowboys of the sector, but I do not mean that—performing poorly and introducing a degree of compulsion for everyone in order to get consistency. I would like to think that Tesco and NCP would be open to new models of working. Do you have any comments to make on that issue? I will then bring in Mr Wightman, who wants to follow up on what has been said.

Tony McElroy

As I say, we work with local government across the huge number of areas in which we operate. Whether that is to reach a formal agreement or an informal agreement, we are always happy to have that conversation to ensure that we are working in partnership with local government. Our ambition is always to set the standard for customer service, and, as long as nothing happened that prevented our setting the standard, we would always be happy to have that conversation.

The Convener

I think that I almost got you there, but not quite. We are trying to set the standard for disability rights in Scotland. If Tesco and others want to go beyond that, that is fantastic, but there has to be a partnership with local authorities whereby we set the standard for disability rights in Scotland in the first instance, separate from corporate and commercial concerns. I am glad that we heard a little about how we can take some of that forward.

11:45  

Duncan Bowins

We are absolutely happy to have that discussion. As I said, we already work with Disabled Motoring UK, People’s Parking and the disabled parking accreditation scheme. We have local authority joint ventures, and we already have TROs in some of our car parks. We are having discussions with local authorities about parking joint ventures. That is just another discussion to have, and it is one that we would be absolutely happy to have.

That was really helpful.

Andy Wightman

I would like to follow up on my previous question. Glasgow City Council and the City of Edinburgh Council have confirmed to us that no TROs have been issued since the act came into force, and you have hinted that you have had no discussions with them on the matter. Could you supply in writing to the committee a record of any correspondence that you have had with local authorities about the duties under the act that would help us in our post-legislative scrutiny?

Duncan Bowins

We could give you a response that said that there was nil response. Over the past week, I have spoken to the last three senior managers who have run the Scottish portfolio, and apart from one telephone conversation in—I think—2009, when someone had a conversation about arranging a meeting that never took place, there has been nothing. We can respond to confirm that we have had no such contact.

Andy Wightman

That would be helpful because, on the face of it, there is a contradiction between what local authorities say that they have done under the act to secure enforceable bays and what you are saying, which is that you have heard nothing.

Mr McElroy, could you do likewise?

Tony McElroy

I can try to provide some clarity on that for you, although there is a caveat—the number of sites that we operate means that I would not be able to capture local conversations that have taken place. I can try to capture any such information that exists centrally.

We are interested only in any approaches that you have had from local authorities about their powers under the act; we are not interested in approaches on anything else.

Tony McElroy

I will be able to capture any such approaches that have been made to our head office, but contact that has been made in a localised environment—in our store in Fort William, say, to pick an example out of thin air—is a bit trickier to capture. However, we will do what we can.

Fair enough.

Duncan Bowins

The challenge relates to the point of contact. Today’s meeting was identified—we picked up the invitation straight away and said that we would be happy to come. That is because the approach was made to the right place. As Tony McElroy said, when it comes to contact with lots of local people, they might not know what to do, they might not be aware of the issue and the contact might not go anywhere. At national level, it is easy to identify proper conversations.

Mr McElroy, would it be difficult to email all your store managers to inquire whether their local authority has approached them under the duties that exist under the act? Would you be able to do that?

Tony McElroy

We could do it, but it is uncertain whether the managers will have captured in writing any conversations that might have taken place over the past few years. The process of asking colleagues is straightforward, but capturing the data in a form that is meaningful for the committee will be a bit of a challenge.

Elaine Smith

We would be grateful if you could try, because, if your stores received email approaches or letters from local councils, it would be of interest to us to find that out. I presume that the people who would know whether an approach had been made by the local authority would be the store managers. I am conscious that Tesco is the only supermarket that we are asking to do that, but we might want to make the same request to other operators. We are not putting you on the spot; it is just that you happen to be with us today. We would be interested in finding out that information.

Tony McElroy

I am more than happy to try to harness any information and data that I can get for you; I am just not sure whether colleagues in stores will have captured that, particularly if we are talking about an informal conversation or an informal agreement. In some cases, obtaining such information will be slightly trickier, but I have committed to do what I can to help the committee.

We will finish the evidence session shortly. Do any other members wish to come in?

Elaine Smith

I would like to have clarification of something. Mr Bowins, you mentioned at the beginning of the meeting that people can make an independent appeal to POPLA, but my understanding is that POPLA operates only in England and Wales. Am I right?

Duncan Bowins

Yes. That was an example of how people can appeal. They can also appeal to us. The commonsense approach is that they write to us in the first instance and, if they are in England, we refer them to POPLA. However, we always make a case-by-case decision.

For clarity, is it the case that, if someone is in Scotland, they cannot appeal to POPLA, because POPLA does not cover Scotland?

Duncan Bowins

Yes.

Thank you. I wanted to have that clarified for the record.

The Convener

It is reasonable to say that it is a two-way process. Mr Bowins and Mr McElroy have come in as representatives of large-scale operators in the private sector so that we can hear their experiences of trying to improve disability access in the services that they provide in towns and cities in Scotland. Local authorities will come to next week’s meeting so that we can hear what they are doing.

Mr McElroy—I take on board what you said about store managers not necessarily capturing the information that we are asking about, and perhaps the guidance should say that local authorities should make direct representations to the corporate head of an organisation rather than to a store manager, who has a 1,001 other things to do. That should link in with companies’ corporate policies.

There is a two-way process. We have to get the guidance and the legislation right, and we have to make sure that there is an acceptable minimum standard, even if companies assert that they follow good practice and can demonstrate that. We have to ensure consistency and quality of service for everyone in Scotland who is disabled, whether they are on the public highway or not.

I thank everyone for coming along. We have a few minutes left, so, if there is anything else to put on the record, there is an opportunity.

Tony McElroy

I briefly touched on what, to my mind, is the next phase, which is to reinforce to the general public that parking in a disabled bay when you are not entitled to do so is unacceptable. Businesses and councils are proactively taking action to deal with that, but we need some kind of targeted public information campaign. I do not know whether that is to be done by ministers or Police Scotland—which, as you said, the committee will see next week. If there were a campaign that reinforced messages about socially unacceptable parking, we would get behind that.

Duncan Bowins

We are quite proud of the work that we have put into disabled parking so far. We are very happy to have conversations with local authorities, as we are already doing in other parts of the country, because the issue is never about revenue generation; it is about doing the right thing with disabled parking. If there is anything that can make that better, we are happy to have conversations about it.

The Convener

Gentlemen, I thank you both again for your time here this morning. That ends agenda item 2 and we now move into private session.

11:53 Meeting continued in private until 12:24.