Scots drivers ‘fill gaps’ in council budgets as parking charges top £70m

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Motorists have faced an inflation-busting £5.6 million hike in parking charges imposed by cash-strapped councils across Scotland.

Drivers collectively paid more than £70 million last year alone, according to figures obtained through Freedom of Information, leading to fears that drivers are being used to “fill the gap” in local authority budgets.

Edinburgh Parking Meters. Picture: Andy O'Brien.

Edinburgh Parking Meters. Picture: Andy O'Brien.

Edinburgh is Scotland’s biggest earner from parking with £26.7m in 2016/17, up £2m on the previous year. In Glasgow, charges topped £20m, and further hikes are on the way in both cities.

The cash raised comes from parking fines, on-street and off-street charges, and residential parking permits.

READ MORE: Edinburgh, Glasgow the worst for parking fines outside of London

The sharpest increase has been in parking enforcement fines across Scotland which have gone up by £1.5m to £15.9m in 2016/17. This marks a 10 per cent increase - around four times the rate of inflation.

RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: “Motorists in Scotland must feel short-changed by these findings as councils appear to be using them to try to fill the gaps in their budgets.

“This must be particularly galling for drivers who regularly have to battle their way through pothole-ridden roads that are causing unnecessary wear and tear to their vehicles which will soon – if they haven’t already – lead to expensive garage bills.

“We know from RAC research that eight out of ten motorists are dependent on their cars so this really seems like a stealth tax as few people have a realistic alternative to owning and running a car.”

The overall cash raised across fines, charges and permits is up £5.6m to £70.5m, an 8.6 per cent increase, more than three times inflation. There has been an £8m increase since 2014/15 when £62m was raised.

The cash taken in by councils from on and off street parking charges has jumped by £3.7m to £49.6m 2016/17. Edinburgh again took in most cash with a record £18.3 million taken from drivers through pay-and-display and the phone app RingGo. The app overtook cash payments for the first time, as £9.3m was paid out by drivers electronically in the city.

READ MORE: Probe finds Scots being ripped off by private parking firm fines

Glasgow also saw a £1m increase in money raised from charges during this period. It coincided with drastic rises in the level of fees charged, while Glasgow introduced wide-reaching new parking restriction across the city’s West End.

Edinburgh councillor Lesley Macinnes, who convenes the city’s Transport and Environment Committee, insisted that parking fines are “critical” to keep streets as safe and accessible.

“Short stay on-street parking boosts the local economy by increasing turnover of parking spaces and promoting higher footfall to the city’s many businesses,” she said.

“Any and all resulting income is reinvested in road maintenance and transport infrastructure across Edinburgh.”

A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council insisted that the city provides “affordable short term parking” for shopping and business needs.

“Parking restrictions are designed to protect local businesses and residents from the indiscriminate and all day commuter parking that can occur in areas where restrictions are not in place,” she added.

“Any surplus generated from parking activities is ploughed back into providing and maintaining transport related projects.”

Aberdeen has the third highest overall take of charges on motorists, with £7.3m in 2016/17, although this is down marginally from the previous year.

There was a £400,000 increase in cashed raised from residential parking permit in 2016/17, with big rises in both Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Tory local government spokesman Alexander Stewart said: “Scotland’s motorists have to put up with terrible road surfaces, delays due to congestion and roadworks and lack of alternative public transport.

“The SNP must fund local councils properly so that they can provide essential services, including reasonable parking so that those needing to use the road network are not met with fines.”

But a spokesman for finance secretary Derek Mackay said: “We have treated local government very fairly, and the £10.7 billion local government finance settlement in 2018/19 will provide a real terms boost in both revenue and capital funding.”

The figures were obtained through Freedom of Information from all of Scotland’s 32 councils. More than 20 provided figures, with others, such as Shetland and Midlothian, responding that they have no charging regime.

Neil Greig, director of policy and research at IAMRoadsmart, said: “Inflation busting increases in parking charges cannot be justified unless the overall customer service has improved for Scottish drivers.

“In reality it has not, with no major improvements in supply of spaces, new machines or signposting and markings.

“Councils need to treat parking as a key attraction for visitors to their areas rather than a cash cow.”