COUNCILS must be raking in the cash from all the parking tickets issued by traffic wardens, you probably think.
Actually, the opposite is true. Since Devon County Council took over responsibility for traffic wardens from the police a few years ago, the service has consistently cost a lot more to run than it has brought in.
In fact, over the last four years, the county council has spent about £600,000 more on it than it has earned from parking tickets each year, the BBC reported earlier this month.
While the county council is in charge of the operation, every district council runs its own team of traffic wardens and collects the fines on behalf of the county.
I think it says a lot about the business abilities of councils that they've managed to lose money in a situation most people would think was a licence to print it.
All of which makes it timely to read the response from Mid Devon District Council to a Freedom of Information request from a chap called Tony Worsdall, who has made similar requests to other councils.
He asked Mid Devon for statistics relating to parking enforcement and fine collection for the financial year 2010-2011.
He wanted to know how many penalty charge notices (parking fines) were issued. The answer was 2,349.
How many were paid? Answer: 1,579, or 67.2 per cent of those issued.
Anticipating this he also asked the council to tell him how many fines were cancelled or written off. Answer: 619, or 26.4 per cent of those issued.
So Mid Devon District Council is, for unknown reasons, cancelling or writing off more than a quarter of all parking fines its traffic wardens issue.
I guess there will always be some cancelled. For example, the person who gets a ticket while stopping for five minutes where they shouldn't to go to help their elderly relative out the house and into the car, might write to the council and explain.
I'm sure the council gets lots of letters about situations like that from people wishing to have their fines waived. Quite rightly, the council is able to use its discretion to do so if it believes the person is telling the truth.
But to write off or cancel more than 600 parking tickets in one year?
It seems highly unlikely that many were waived on compassionate grounds. Perhaps the council could explain?
Anyway, the result of all this, and the bit of the Freedom of Information request most relevant to the apparently inexplicable ability of the county council to turn a goldmine into a money pit, is the following. Mr Worsdall asked how much Mid Devon District Council spent on running the parking enforcement service that year. Answer: £102,134.18.
And how much did it earn by way of fines? Answer: £55, 455.
So Mid Devon made a loss of £46,679.18. If the other district councils followed suit, there lies the problem.
As Lib Dem county councillor Gordon Hook told the BBC in response to this: "If Devon County Council and the district councils were run as businesses they would have been in the bankruptcy court years ago."