THE SNP’s hated car parking tax will not be introduced in most parts of Scotland after a revolt by councils

  • The Scottish Mail on Sunday
  • 13 Oct 2019
  • By Max Aitchison

 

The Workplace Parking Levy – dubbed the ‘poll tax on wheels’ – would force motorists to shell out hundreds of pounds a year simply to park at work.

 

But we can reveal only two of Scotland’s

 

32 local authorities – Glasgow and Edinburgh – are considering implementing the proposals.

 

Of the others, 21 said they had no current plans to introduce the levy, while a further six have already ruled it out. Two councils – Orkney and Perth and Kinross – remain undecided. Only one, Dumfries and Galloway, failed to respond.

 

The tax gives councils the power to force companies with 11 or more parking spaces to pay a levy – likely to be around £415 per parking space per year – with the option to pass the charge on to staff.

 

Aberdeen City Council, a Labour-Conservative coalition, branded the law a ‘regressive tax on working people’, while North Lanarkshire Council called it ‘illtimed and ill-thought-out’.

 

Angus Council described the law as an ‘immoral tax’ and said it would not even discuss it.

 

Even five of the six SNP minority-controlled councils have snubbed the new law – with Renfrewshire ruling it out in February.

 

The plans were drawn up between the SNP and the Scottish Greens to secure support for the Budget this year. On Thursday night, Nationalist and Green MSPs forced through the levy as part of the Transport Bill in a vote at Holyrood.

 

Scottish Tory local government spokesman Alexander Stewart said: ‘We have consistently said the hated car park tax is unwanted and unnecessary. Clearly, in yet another humiliation for the SNP, the vast majority of councils agree with us that it is simply unacceptable to tax people for driving to work.

 

‘Had the SNP carried out any consultation prior to forcing it into the Transport Bill, they would have known this punitive and regressive tax is utterly unwelcome.’

 

The tax is likely to be modelled on a similar scheme in Nottingham, the only UK city to have implemented a workplace parking levy.

 

In 2012, all employers in Nottingham with more than ten spaces were charged £415 a year for each space – with 80 per cent passing the cost on to their employees.

 

Jenny Laing, co-leader of Aberdeen City Council, said: ‘While we welcome the powers being given to councils, a workplace parking levy is a regressive tax on working people – and it is not one the administration will support.’

 

Angus Council leader David Fairweather said: ‘Whatever we have to do to safeguard our staff from what I believe is an immoral tax, we will do.

 

‘As an administration, when this was first mooted by the SNP we

‘An ill-timed and ill-thought-out policy’

 

spoke about it and were in agreement it was not something we would consider introducing. If we have to look at other areas where savings can be achieved we will do that, but this tax will not even be a consideration in our budget discussions – not on my watch.’

 

But Anna Richardson at the SNP-controlled Glasgow City Council said: ‘The council supports the introduction of a non-residential car parking levy in principle.

 

‘There are benefits, such as encouraging a switch towards more sustainable transport and a reduction in congestion and emissions, as well as the creation of funding for major transport improvement schemes.’

 

The SNP’s Lesley Macinnes, the transport convener at City of Edinburgh Council, said: ‘While the council has not yet taken a decision to implement this power, in Nottingham this is bringing significant benefits to the public and local businesses and has seen major improvements in infrastructure. Ultimately, the decision as to whether this should be applied here must take into consideration the city’s unique characteristics and will involve consultation with citizens and business partners.’

 

Even before the Bill became law, six councils ruled out the idea until at least the next local government elections, due to be held in 2021.

 

In April, North Lanarkshire Council passed a motion that stated: ‘The workplace parking levy is an ill-timed and ill-thought-out policy that, if introduced, would penalise working people.’ But the new tax was hailed by environmental campaigners, who said it would help ‘combat congestion and air pollution in city centres’.

 

The parking levy is part of a package of reforms to transport, which include a shake-up of bus services and the introduction of low-emission zones in cities.

 

Older petrol and diesel cars are set to be banned from city centres, while other measures include a ban on parking on pavements and double parking.

 

‘It would penalise working people’

 

THEY will arrive in their thousands, energised by the conviction that their mission is almost complete. As the SNP’s annual conference opens in Aberdeen today, party members have never been so certain that the Union is on its deathbed.

 

One last heave, they reckon, and their dream of an independent Scotland will be a reality.

 

But while loyal SNP foot soldiers keep the faith, trouble is brewing at the top. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, once fully trusted by colleagues to finish the job begun by her predecessor, Alex Salmond, is becoming a divisive figure.

 

Loyal to her are those elected members who believe independence will only – if ever – be achieved through another referendum.

 

Less impressed by Ms Sturgeon’s strategy are those who seek a more radical approach and believe an SNP victory in the 2021 Holyrood elections should be a mandate for the Scottish Government to begin independence negotiations.

 

Readers of a certain age will recall a time when the SNP was hopelessly split on strategy.

 

On one side were the gradualists preferring a steady-as-she-goes approach to breaking up the UK. On the other were the fundamentalists – the fundies – who backed a more aggressive strategy.

 

By 2004, when Mr Salmond returned for his second spell as leader of the SNP, the gradualists had won that battle.

 

The party would first make a pitch to be allowed to govern the devolved administration and then, based on what it hoped would be a strong record of competence, it would campaign for the right to hold a referendum.

 

This approach worked brilliantly – until the Yes campaign lost the 2014 referendum.

 

In the aftermath of that defeat, Ms Sturgeon was elected, unopposed, as Mr Salmond’s successor.

 

In the early days of her leadership, it appeared she might grow to become an even more popular leader than her mentor.

 

Ms Sturgeon was spun as a less divisive figure than Mr Salmond. Voters who rejected independence in the referendum would warm to her, when he had left them cold.

 

It was not a matter of whether Ms Sturgeon would finish the business started by Mr Salmond, but when.

 

Today, it is not the support or otherwise of Unionists that Ms Sturgeon must worry about, but the support of her own colleagues.

 

MP Angus MacNeil, senior councillor Chris McEleny and MSP Alex Neil are among those who believe that, while Westminster continues to block a second independence vote, as it is entitled to do, Ms Sturgeon must put forward a plan B.

 

Mr Neil, formerly a member of Ms Sturgeon’s Cabinet, suggests this plan might lead the SNP to assert that, in lieu of the right to hold another referendum, election victory would be enough for the party to declare independence.

 

Ms Sturgeon, correctly in my view, thinks this a very bad idea. Her position remains that, for independence to be legitimate, only a legally sound referendum will do.

 

It is, no doubt, hugely frustrating to Ms Sturgeon that the UK Government refuses to grant a Section 30 order to enable the Scottish Government to hold such a vote – but she is wise to stick to her belief that neither a unilateral declaration of independence nor an illegal referendum is the solution.

 

Clearly irritated by the growing clamour in her party for a guerrilla strategy, Ms Sturgeon last week explained why she is right and her critics wrong during an interview with the BBC.

 

The First Minister said there could be no shortcut to separation, making the point that if Scottish independence was to be seen as legitimate in the UK and abroad – particularly in Europe – then it could be done only through a referendum that was recognised by all as legitimate. If there was a shortcut to independence, she would already have taken it, she said.

 

Ms Sturgeon has no right to be surprised that some in her party have started to question her strategy. Since taking over from Mr Salmond five years ago, she has relentlessly encouraged SNP supporters to believe independence is just a step away.

 

She has told them this event or that electoral result is proof that support for breaking up Britain is growing, momentum is with them.

 

This has, undoubtedly, geed up the faithful, but time and again they have been disappointed by their leader’s failure to deliver the referendum for which they yearn.

 

Her insistence on living in the real world, where independence remains the preference of the minority, and where other factors must be considered, is a pain in the fundamentalist neck.

 

Chief among the other factors now guiding the SNP leader’s thinking is the forthcoming trial on a number of very serious charges of Mr Salmond, all of which he denies. She and other senior Nationalists know that to think about planning a referendum while this looms would be madness.

 

No one yet knows what the fallout from this trial will be, or even if it might play a part in bringing to an end Ms Sturgeon’s leadership, but she and those close to her know it will be, to put it mildly, a huge distraction.

 

The early days of the first SNP administration at Holyrood were built on the spin that the party could be trusted to deliver stable government. Mr Salmond, Ms Sturgeon and their legion of advisers believed the chance of winning independence would be maximised by building a record of competence before asking the public to take the giant leap into the unknown of independence.

 

For a while, this strategy seemed to be working. The truth, however, is that the first years of the SNP Government were about caution rather than stability. Yes, there were eye-catching policies such as free prescriptions and the abolition of tuition fees but, when it came to policy, there was little.

 

In key areas such as health and education, the Nationalists were satisfied to maintain systems already put in place by the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat administration. A consequence of this timidity is that the need for reform was neglected.

 

When the SNP did decide to act, the results were often not good.

 

The creation of a single national police force – sold to the public as a necessary modernisation but actually a cost-cutting exercise – was followed by scandal after scandal, from the routine deployment of armed police on the streets to the disgraceful case where victims of a car crash lay undetected in the wreckage for three days.

 

Promises to cut waiting times and ensure proper staffing levels in the NHS have gone unmet, with devastating consequences for the sick.

 

Despite Ms Sturgeon claiming education was her key mission, standards in literacy and numeracy among young people remain low.

 

SNP politicians who brag about the party’s competence are standing on ground as shaky as the new children’s hospital in Edinburgh, still unopened following the discovery of a series of major flaws.

 

When Ms Sturgeon became First Minister, she promised to govern for all, regardless of their views on the constitution. The UK-supporting majority may feel she has not lived up to that pledge, while the pro-independence minority feels she has failed to keep her promises on another referendum.

 

Rather than bringing the country back together after the divisive 2014 referendum campaign, Ms Sturgeon has helped to deepen that split. The split she has nurtured in the country is now mirrored by the split within her party.

 

While she will be rapturously received when she makes her keynote speech on Tuesday, behind the applause there will be doubt. Will she ever deliver the referendum she promised? Can the SNP under her leadership win enough seats in 2021 to have a credible claim to a fresh vote on leaving the UK?

 

Belief in victory remains strong, but not belief that Ms Sturgeon can deliver this.

 

She was once the seemingly unstoppable rising star of Scottish politics. But as the SNP gathers for its conference, she is damaged. She sits in the sights of rivals who believe her approach has failed.

 

Might this be Nicola Sturgeon’s last conference as leader? Many in the SNP believe it might be. A growing number hope it is.

 

Once trusted by colleagues, she is now becoming a divisive figure

 

Is this her last conference as SNP leader? A growing number hope it is

 

There you have it, even their own councils refuse to bring it in, and call it what it is, an immoral tax on workers.

The SNP are the problem, not the solution.

 

 

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