Cities are the engine rooms of the 21st century economy. In Scotland and the rest of the UK, the biggest urban areas are growing in size and increasingly dominating when it comes to job creation.
The days when most workers lived a short distance from their place of employment are long gone. So how do people reach their jobs? For many, it means getting behind the wheel and driving.
You don’t need to be a regular visitor to Glasgow at rush hour to realise more drivers means ever worsening congestion. The motorways and A roads linking Scotland’s two biggest cities are not for the faint-hearted before 10am on a weekday morning.
Then there’s the growing concern about air pollution and the health impact on those living in built up areas.
Ministers have long indicated they want fewer Scots to drive to work. But encouraging more people on to public transport is easier said than done - one reason why the controversial idea of workplace parking levies has reared its head north of the Border.
What is the parking levy now?
The Scottish Government announced on January 30 it had reached a deal with Green MSPs to support its annual Budget. Crucially, this included a pledge to hand Scotland’s 32 local authorities powers to introduce a workplace parking levy if they so wish.
While the hard details have yet to be worked out, such levies generally see employers pay an annual tax to their local council for every parking space they provide for employees. Smaller firms, with fewer than 10 staff for example, are typically exempt. The Scottish Government has also stressed that NHS workers wouldn’t be expected to pay.
It’s up to employers to then choose whether to pass on the cost of the levy to their staff. In Nottingham, the cash raised is then invested back into public transport.
The Tories claimed the tax is a “knee-jerk experiment dreamed up in a hurry” without a proper plan.
How would a parking levy work?
The Scottish Greens point out it would be up to councils to decide whether or not to introduce a levy and how it would work.
All local authorities in England already have the powers to introduce a workplace parking levy. So far, only Nottingham City Council has developed and then rolled-out such a scheme.
Cambridge and Oxford, as well as some London boroughs, are currently in the process of either examining or introducing a similar scheme in their respective boundaries.
Scottish Greens transport spokesman John Finnie MSP told The Scotsman: “Ultimately the extent, operation and cost of any scheme depends on the councils which design and implement them. Nottingham has put forward a model which brings tangible benefits to the city and its residents.
“Greens will bring forward an amendment to the Transport Bill, and our deal with the Scottish Government means NHS premises will be exempt. The introduction of this levy could bring huge health and environmental benefits to communities.”
What are the benefits?
Transform Scotland, which campaigns for sustainable transport alongside organisations from the private and public sectors, has welcomed the move.
“Nottingham has seen a significant increase in public transport use, walking and cycling, reductions in climate emissions, and over £53m for investment in the city’s transport infrastructure,” said Transform Scotland director Colin Howden.
“With council budgets under pressure and sustainable transport funding limited, a parking levy can help fund improved transport infrastructure at the same time as tackling air pollution and congestion.
“Local authorities in England and Wales already have the powers to put in place workplace parking levies (WPL), should they be locally appropriate. Are the opponents of WPL seriously saying that Scottish local authorities should be deprived of the powers that have already been granted to councils south of the Border?”
What do critics say?
Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, has claimed that if schools were not exempted from the plans, teachers could find themselves having to pay extra fees to park at school, making the profession less attractive.
Motoring groups have also expressed concern.
A spokesman for the Alliance of British Drivers, a pro-car lobby group, told The Scotsman: “If you give councils the ability to raise money they will inevtiably grab it with both hands. Motorists are an easy target.
“Levies would lead to businesses relocating away from areas where they are introduced. If councils want to create ghost towns, this would be one way to do it.”
Stuart Mackinnon, from the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, told the Scottish Sun: “Many of the small business community will have lots of questions for both the Scottish Government and their local authority about how this will operate in their patch.
“It’s all well and good for these well-meaning policy initiative to come out but if you’re a business who is facing an uncertain time at the moment, you might be alarmed that there’s so little detail about this proposal.”