Car parking at work tax drives Labour and Tories round the Holyrood bend

Everyone has their say in the great parking at work tax debate at Holyrood – Jackie Bailie (Labour), John Swinney (SNP) and Jackson Carlaw (Conservative).

By Bill Heaney

Dumbarton and Lomond constituency MSP, Jackie Baillie, has called on West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute Council to rule out introducing a workplace car parking levy following the SNP Government’s budget announcement.

The deal agreed between the SNP Government and the Green Party in order to get their annual budget passed will allow councils to introduce a workplace parking levy.

This would see employers pay an annual tax to the council for every parking space they provide for employees.

Employers could then choose whether to pass on the cost to their staff.

A similar scheme was introduced in Nottingham in 2012 and sees employers who provide more than 10 parking spaces for their staff pay about £400 every year to the city council for each space, with the charge increasing each year.

The MSP believes that the levy will hit hard pressed working people whose pay has not kept up with inflation.

Jackie Baillie said: ““The introduction of a workplace parking levy has the potential to adversely impact on hard pressed working people who are already struggling to meet the cost of everyday living as their pay has not kept up with inflation.

“Workers at companies such as Chivas, Aggreko, HMNB Clyde at Faslane and the Councils themselves could all be impacted by the introduction of the levy.

“Introducing a car parking levy when public transport, especially the train service, is so poor is simply wrong headed.

“Working people are being penalised, again. The Scottish Government should have used their budget to properly fund local authorities instead of squirreling away money in government reserves.

“This is nothing more than a stealth tax on working people and I hope both Councils rule out its use locally.”

First Minister’s Question Time was without Nicola Surgeon of Ruth Davidson and their deputies, Jackson Carlaw and John Swinney, took over.

Mr Carlaw said ordinary Scots were “deeply alarmed about the Scottish National Party’s plans to charge them for taking their own car to work.”

He quoted what one man had to say to him in an email: “I am a young apprentice from … South Lanarkshire … I know £2 a day doesn’t seem like much, but this off an apprenticeship wage is a lot, while many in a similar age group are paying rent, council tax, road tax and other utility bills, and some also trying to save for their futures, this is a tax that will hit the lowest and least represented of employment groups in the country.”

Mr Carlaw added: “Let me make this promise to him and thousands of others like him across Scotland: Scottish Conservatives—all of us here—will oppose a workplace parking levy. Will the SNP make him the same pledge?”

Mr Swinney declined to do so. He said: “It will not come as a surprise to anybody that in a Parliament where the Government does not command an overall majority we have to talk to and reach agreement with other parties about specific issues.

“It is important that Parliament is clear about what is proposed. There is an agreement to bring forward an amendment to the Transport (Scotland) Bill that will enable local authorities to exercise a judgment as to whether they wish to apply a workplace parking levy.

“It will be up to local authorities to take that decision. It is an example of localism in practice, and I would have thought that the Conservatives would have welcomed that.”

Mr Carlaw replied: “So, almost unbelievably, the short answer is no: Mr Swinney will not be backing these people or thousands of other workers like them. What an absolute disgrace.”

He said the Tories had done their homework – “A £400 annual charge would be equivalent to increasing the basic rate of tax paid by a worker on the real living wage from 20p in the pound to 30p in the pound.

When John Swinney promised not to increase the basic rate of income tax before the previous election, did he imagine that he would be voting to thump those same workers with a new levy that is equivalent to a tax hike of 10p in the pound?”

Mr Swinney hit back: “What is actually proposed is the awarding to local authorities of a power to apply a workplace parking levy if they judge that to be the appropriate thing to do, once they have made the appropriate assessments of such a commitment.”

Mr Carlaw said: “This isn’t ‘Blue Peter’, and one pathetic excuse that Mr Swinney made up earlier ain’t gonna wash.

“For the past 12 years, I have marvelled at Mr Swinney and the full theatrical performance that we get from him when the Scottish National Party is in real trouble—out he comes, swinging—but the fact of the matter is that, this morning, the SNP leader of the City of Edinburgh Council said that it would be a missed opportunity if employees did not have to pay the levy.

“Mr Swinney may support charging low-paid workers. Happily, some of his colleagues are made of sterner stuff. Just three months ago, his colleague Richard Lyle made his opposition to the proposal plain when he said ‘I am not for your parking charge levy, and I speak on behalf of thousands of motorists who have been taxed enough’

John Swinney countered: “As Jackson Carlaw goes purple faced, it is a bit rich for him to accuse me of theatrical performances.”

And he accused the Tory deputy leader of “rank hypocrisy” – “The Conservatives need to be reminded that, if we had listened to them on the budget and had not reached an agreement with the Greens, we would have had to contemplate taking £500 million out of the Scottish Parliament’s budget, which would have punished families and public services and reduced staff numbers. The Scottish Government would not countenance that, but that is what the Tories wanted to inflict on Scotland.”

Mr Carlaw said the SNP claimed that the Tories had no credibility demanding tax cuts and higher spending – “but it was a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, who wrote the cheques that he is spending—the additional £148 million that Derek Mackay concealed from Parliament the week before he announced his budget.

“When Mr Swinney has spent it to settle the mess that he is making of teachers’ pay, I hope that he will send Philip Hammond a thank-you note for bailing him out of his own problem.

“It is sad to see Mr Swinney defend things in which he clearly does not believe. It is sad to see him defend a rise in the basic rate of income tax when he once said that a tax rise would be a punishment for low-income workers. “It is sad to see him defend an inflation-busting rise in the council tax when, in 2016, he and the First Minister [Nicola Sturgeon] stood on a manifesto promise not to do so.

“It is sad, too, to see him now demand that ordinary people be charged for driving to work when once, as the champion of middle Scotland—the Nat you could trust—he claimed to be the voice of enterprise. Is it not time that he admitted that he got this wrong?

“Come on, man, simply drop this unwanted and unworkable plan.

“If you will not, will it not be clear to everyone—despite the fact that you have tried to spin it otherwise today—that tens of thousands of Scottish workers are to be fleeced for hundreds of pounds a year, just because Derek Mackay, John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon cannae say no to six dismal Green MSPs?”

But Mr Swinney said: “I take it from that that, through the tax cuts that he wants to apply in the budget, Jackson Carlaw wants to continue to inflict on the people of this country a cut in public spending of £500 million, which would reduce the number of nurses in our hospitals by nearly 20,000. Is that seriously what Jackson Carlaw is arguing for?

“He has been found out today. He goes around the country arguing for more powers for local government. “However, when we deliver them, he comes here in an act of rank hypocrisy and criticises us.

“The people of Scotland can see through the hypocrisy of the Tories. They can see what the Tories are about: their spots have never changed. They want to cut public spending and they would do it in a hypocritical way.”

Will this tax be applied in West Dunbartonshire. The Council nor the SNP council leader, Jonathan McColl, refuse to speak to The Democrat.

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