If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 23 August 2010

Pay and Dismay

I see from the Telegraph that local councils are considering introducing workplace parking levies of around £250 for people who park their cars at work. It looks as though it will be a charge on the employer, who may or may not pass that charge on to the employee.

The power to introduce these levies was given to councils by Labour ten years ago, but none have considered using it so far. Now the squeeze is on, councils are starting to regard these levies as a legitimate revenue stream. The original purpose of the powers was to combat congestion, but hey, we're in tough times, you know?

They might have the power, but what in hell's name makes them think that this is just or fair? If a company owns land and allows its employees to park there, it is no business of anyone else that they should do so. Levying a sum like £250 per employee will be a significant drain on a business's finances, just as we are in the middle of the worst recession for 50 years. If the company chooses to pass this cost onto employees (and I am sure that in the current climate they will), then that is equally unjust. If I take a job with a certain employer on the basis that I will be allowed to park my car free at my place of work, then that is the basis of my contract. How any council can think that it has the right to decide to intervene in a private arrangement between worker and employee is beyond me.

It's one thing in a city with good public transport, but here in Pembrokeshire there is often no alternative to the private car for most people. In a previous job, one of my responsibilities was transport planning, and I worked with a consortium of local authorities and transport companies to try to reduce congestion in the area and tackle vehicle emissions. It was very notable that the local authority people were most interested in 'forcing' (their term) people out of their cars, an approach that I resisted strongly. There was one lady (sandals, humourless, you get the picture) who was extremely anti-motorist, and I challenged her to use all her resources, including some very clever software, to design me a route to work, five days a week, using public transport. I gave her a week, but she had to admit it wasn't possible. (And she wasn't keen when I asked her what her view was on the council's recent purchase of some prime town centre land to provide a free car park for council workers, either).

In a rural county like this one, a parking levy will be another tax, nothing more. No-one will be able to choose not to pay it.

If bike parking is exempt, and this measure encourages some people to use two wheels rather than four, then it may do some good, but I doubt if that is the intention. Not if it's a 'revenue stream'.

Councils - if money is tight, try cutting a few diversity co-ordinators and play strategy outreach workers before you land the poor bloody workers with yet another reason to hate you.

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