Camden traffic wardens in Unison union protest in north London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Striking Camden parking wardens want a pay rise to bring them up to £15.90 an hour. That’s a modest sum when you’re working in the centre of one of the most expensive cities in the world.

NSL parking bosses in the north London borough say they can’t afford any more than £13.27. They insist that any more would drive the outsourcing giant bankrupt.

But is that true? NSL makes its cash out of other people’s misery. It doesn’t just issue parking fines for local authorities across Britain. It also turns the screws on people behind on their council tax and overdue on their energy bills.

Can’t pay your water bill? Then NSL will send its bulldog-faced agents to bang on your door. Fallen behind on your car payments? Then the firm will come and steal your wheels away.

But the trail of money flowing into the multimillion-pound company is deliberately obscured—perhaps so its workers don’t know how much the firm is coining-in.

NSL takes in a staggering £188,841,000 a year in revenue from its parking services alone. The company is a subsidiary of Marston Holdings. Marston grabbed nearly £20 million in profits in 2019-20, but suffered a Covid-related dip the following year, making just under £1 million.

But now as Marston “bounces back” the directors have seen fit to reward themselves. The highest paid director now trousers £412,000, a giant 59.7 percent pay rise since last year’s £258,000. A parking attendant would have to work more than 31,000 hours—or roughly 16 years—to make that kind of money.

During 2020, when parking and bailiffs were restricted by Covid, Marston made up for it with an over £2 million handout of public money in furlough payments.

Behind Marston stands a firm in the shadows—Magenta Bidco, a company with only eight employees, including directors. It owns Marston, and therefore NSL. 

In the year to 2022 it had a turnover of more than £5 million and a whopping £217,091,000 in reserves. So who says NSL can’t afford £15.90 an hour?

Camden council’s Labour leadership are trying to wash their hands of the dispute. Their spokesperson says, “We continue to support both parties, and urge them to come to an agreement and to resolve this dispute as swiftly as possible.”

But it was them that awarded NSL—and its publicity-shy owners—the parking contract. And Camden council normally makes around £40,000 a day from parking penalty charge notices. That’s a surplus that is supposed to be put back into running the parking service. But none of that cash is going near the wardens.

Marston Holdings likes to talk big about its “Investors in People” status, but that must ring hollow to those pounding the streets of north London issuing tickets.

Instead, the overwhelmingly black and migrant workforce would be right to think that it’s them that is paying the penalty.

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