Ross gives commitment that Tory councils will swerve controversial workplace parking levy
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said no Tory-led council in Scotland will introduce the workplace parking levy when it comes into force next month after the party said earlier this week that the prospect of the charge was “frightening the life” out of businesses.
The levy, which was first proposed in 2019 and will come into effect on 4 March, is a scheme devolved to local authorities, with councils being given the freedom to choose whether to impose a charge on employers who provide on-site car parking.
It was introduced in co-operation with the Greens as a means of helping local authorities meet their net-zero emissions targets. It is, however, proving controversial as critics say the cost could be passed onto employees and transport minister Jenny Gilruth confirmed earlier this week that councils would be responsible for setting their own levies, with no upper limit being dictated by government.
During First Minister's Questions, Ross called the levy a “costly workplace parking tax” and questioned why the SNP government is in favour of introducing the charge at the same time as rail services are being cut.
He said it would be councils led by the SNP and Labour that would introduce the charges, adding “I can assure [the First Minister] that Scottish Conservative councils will not”.
Glasgow City Council, which is led by the SNP, and Edinburgh City Council, which is run by an SNP and Labour coalition, have so far shown an interest in introducing the scheme. Though the political make-up of Scotland’s 32 local authorities could change following the local elections in May, the Conservatives currently have control of councils in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Angus, Argyll and Bute, Perth and Kinross, and the Borders, either in a coalition or via a minority.
Calling the First Minister “anti-driver”, Ross said that Nicola Sturgeon “doesn’t seem to understand that for many people, particularly those living in rural areas, they need their car to get to work”. He added that “instead of delivering better public transport” to make up for trying to encourage fewer people to drive “her government is going to nationalise the railways and make no improvements to services”.
Earlier in the debate Sturgeon had refused to commit to cancelling impending cuts to 250 rail services when the Scottish Government takes over the running of ScotRail next month. She said instead that the government would keep service provision under review.
“It is the case that travel patterns and the numbers of passengers have changed substantially and significantly in the course of the pandemic and the pattern of rail services needs to reflect that,” she said.
“But we also need to keep that under review so as we see people begin to go back to the office, though we are still in a period of hybrid working, as we see passengers increase on our railways then we need to ensure that the timetable and the routes that are serviced by ScotRail remain fit for purpose.”
In terms of the workplace parking levy, the First Minister said she wanted to “remind Douglas Ross” that it gives a “discretionary power to local authorities” and that they “do not have to use it if they don’t want to or if they don’t think it fits their local circumstances”.
“This is simply giving local authorities in Scotland a power that local authorities in England have had for a decade and more,” she added.