Questions just keep piling up on the car park tax

Questions just keep piling up on the car park tax

by Murdo Fraser
article from Friday 22, February, 2019

IT HARDLY SEEMS POSSIBLE that even more confusion could be created around the proposed SNP-Green “Car Park Tax”, but events this week have just muddied the waters still further.

The new Workplace Parking Levy, proposed as part of the Budget deal between the Scottish Government and Patrick Harvie’s party, is due to be introduced as an amendment to the Transport Bill. It will give local authorities the power to introduce a new tax, which could cost up to £500 a year. Beyond that, we have very little detail of how it might operate in practice, and the one example we currently have to go on is that of Nottingham City Council, the only local authority elsewhere in the UK to have gone down this route.

Last weekend, the First Minister even got involved, complaining that Conservatives in Perth were protesting against the tax. She claimed that as the Conservatives were in administration at the local council, they would be able to rule out the tax themselves, so what was the point of protesting?

But this rather misses the point, as Jackson Carlaw for the Scottish Tories told the First Minister at Holyrood on Thursday. There are tens of thousands of Scottish residents who commute every day from their home local authority area into a different one to work. Many of these individuals have simply no reliable, affordable public transport alternative. 

Even if a commuter’s local authority rules out the car park tax, the one they work in might take a different approach and tax them.

Already we have seen SNP-run councils win both Edinburgh and Glasgow indicate an interest in introducing the new tax. Indeed, the SNP leader of Edinburgh Council, Adam McVey, has indicated that he would like to see this tax paid for by employees, not employers. For all those residents in neighbouring areas such as the Borders, Mid, East and West Lothian, Fife, and further afield such as Perth and Kinross, that means them facing a £500 annual charge for parking, notwithstanding the decisions taken by their own local Council areas.

Matters got more confused still in the Scottish Parliament when the Health Secretary Jeane Freeman was asked by my Conservative colleague Miles Briggs why GP practices were not exempted. Ms Freeman responded by insisting that that all NHS workers would be exempt. But that is not what the Finance Secretary Derek Mackay previously told Parliament, which was that it was NHS buildings that would be outwith the admit of the new tax. And, as anyone with even a limited knowledge of the Health Service understands, most GP practice buildings are privately owned, and not part of the NHS estate.

I had the opportunity to put this to the Scottish Government during the Budget debate on Thursday afternoon. I invited Cabinet Ministers to tell me who was correct on this issue: was it Derek Mackay, the Finance Secretary, or Jeane Freeman, the Health Secretary? Not one member of the Scottish Government could provide the clarity that I asked for. When even Scottish Government Ministers don’t know how this tax will operate, how can anyone else be expected to?

We already know that a range of SNP figures have serious concerns about the proposed tax. Education Secretary John Swinney is on record as expressing his concern that such a workplace parking levy will simply displace workers’ cars to residential areas. Both Bruce Crawford and Fergus Ewing have previously raised their own concerns. And, much more recently, the SNP backbencher Richard Lyle MSP told the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, “I am not for your parking charge levy, and I speak on behalf of thousands of motorists who have been taxed enough”. Whether this will lead Mr Lyle to vote against the measure when it comes to Parliament remains to be seen.

Right across Scotland, people are deeply concerned about this new tax. If it is exempting NHS buildings, why should other public sector workers, such as teachers, police officers, or social workers not also be exempt? For that matter, why should low paid workers in the private sector have to pay the charge when others, better paid, in the public sector can avoid it?

And it is a tax that is regressive, not linked to the ability to pay, and hitting hardest on the poorest in society. The SNP has made great play of its income tax changes, which deliver a £20 a year tax reduction to lowest paid workers. But if those same workers, who have no option but to use their cars as a method of getting to work, now face £500 a year just to park at their workplace, then overall they are going to be much poorer as a result, and in a considerably worse place than people elsewhere in the United Kingdom. 

The whole thing has turned into a total muddle. It has all the hallmarks of a policy drawn up on the back of fag packet, with absolutely no thought being given to how it might work in practice. That it is doing the SNP political damage is beyond doubt. The only question is whether they can find a way to wriggle out of this hated car park tax, and ditch the Greens in the process. If they have any sense, they will do so.


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