Car Park Tax fiasco shows SNP is past its-sell-by-date

Car Park Tax fiasco shows SNP is past its-sell-by-date

by Murdo Fraser
article from Friday 8, February, 2019

YOU CAN ALWAYS TELL when a government is past its sell-by-date. It appears out of ideas, it starts making elementary mistakes, and it gives gifts to political opponents.

And so it is with the current SNP government at Holyrood, and with the workplace parking levy announced last week as part of its Budget deal with the Greens, or as it has become known, the “SNP Car Park Tax”.

The principle behind this is that local authorities will be given the power to introduce car parking charges at places of work, as has been done by Nottingham Council, south of the Border. This would help alleviate some of the budget pressure on local authorities, generated as a result of the SNP’s savage cuts to their core grant in this year’s Budget settlement.

But the proposals have already generated a hugely negative reaction from businesses, from trade unions, from motorists, and from the public. It is self-evident that people do not like paying more taxes, and when these taxes are regressive and hit the lowest paid the highest, that is particularly the case.

SNP Ministers have struggled to provide any detail on what is being proposed. Quizzed at the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee meeting on Wednesday, the Finance Secretary Derek Mackay could not answer even the most basic questions about how the tax would operate, what level it would be set at, or even who would be eligible. It has all the hallmarks of a policy drawn up on the back of a fag packet.

Jackson Carlaw, on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, took up the cudgels at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, directing his ire at the Deputy First Minister John Swinney, standing in for Nicola Sturgeon, who had departed on yet another overseas jaunt at our expense. Interestingly, Swinney made very little attempt to defend the principle of the policy, but rather sought to position it as an example of localism, giving more power to local government. This ignores the basic point that the Scottish Government has already decreed that NHS properties will be exempt from the tax, rather than trusting local councils to make this choice for themselves.

There is, as I pointed out subsequently at FMQs, simply no logic in excluding NHS consultants and other staff from this charge whilst other public sector workers, such as teachers, police officers, and local government clerks, are to be charged. Nor should the tax hurt those in the private sector, many of whom are lower paid than their equivalents in the NHS.

And, if this really is a policy of localism, will councils equally be given the power to subsidise workplace parking, as well as taxing it?

What the Scottish Government does not seem to have considered is the impact this charge of potentially £400 a year might have on deliberations around the current teachers’ pay deal proposals. Swinney has been involved in delicate negotiations with the teachers’ unions around what is quite a generous package of pay uplifts. But if teachers believe they might have to pay £400 a year for the privilege of parking at the schools they work in, are they not likely to hold out for larger pay increases? He may, inadvertently, have scuppered his own negotiation.

There is little doubt that many SNP politicians hate this proposal. Both Bruce Crawford MSP and John Swinney himself are on record as questioning such a policy in the past. Only recently, Richard Lyle MSP spoke out against it. And Joan McAlpine MSP was on Borders TV just this week saying that such a tax should not apply in rural areas such as the South of Scotland, which she represents. It is almost impossible to find a single SNP representative in the Scottish Parliament prepared to defend this policy and no wonder, because they are all being bombarded by messages from constituents complaining about the unfairness of it all.

The fear is that if this power is introduced, some local councils will feel they have no alternative but to bring in this new car park tax, in order to try and make up for the budget cuts imposed by the Scottish Government. It is all turning into a disaster for the SNP, and they are all too aware of it. 

It may not be too late to dump the deal with the Greens, and ditch the hated car park tax. If the SNP don’t take this chance, they will pay heavily for it at the next Election.

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