MSPS have refused to annul regulations allowing councils to introduce workplace parking levies – despite concerns being raised over “double taxing”, a lack of impact modelling and accusations SNP ministers are refusing to widen exemptions to the scheme.
Tory transport spokesperson Graham Simpson attempted to annul the regulations that set out specifics for the scheme being adopted by local authorities in Scotland. But he was told that the only way to halt the workplace parking levy going ahead would be though new primary legislation to supersede the 2019 Transport Act, which set out the new powers.
SNP Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth warned Mr Simpson that he was “attempting to deny Scottish councils the same powers that are provided by his Westminster colleagues to English councils”.
She told Holyrood’s Net Zero Committee that the Conservative attempt to annul the regulations was “misplaced, inconsistent and is at odds with policy which has been already agreed by parliament”.
Ms Gilruth warned that it was important to give councils the “appropriate regulatory tools” to implement the workplace parking levy, through the regulations.
But the minster, who took over from Graeme Dey last month, confirmed she and her officials have had “no conversations with the STUC in regard to the specific regulations”, despite concerns raised by Labour MPS Monica Lennon.
Ms Lennon said the lack of dialogue with union leaders was “a point of concern”.
Addressing the minister, she added: “You are struggling to give us some basic answers. It’s really, really important that this is right in terms of where we are right now.
“We have a cost of living crisis. They want to be taken on a journey that is fair and just.”
Ms Lennon said that “we have an opportunity to take a beat, to pause, to make sure we are getting this right” and make sure workers are not being pushed “further into poverty”.
Ms Gilruth insisted that the “liability” to pay the charge “sits with employers, not employees”, adding that “it’s not a tax on workers per se.”
Ms Gilruth has previously insisted that councils will have the flexibility to levy a level of charge they see as appropriate, with no cap imposed by SNP ministers.
But the minister confirmed to Conservative net zero, energy and transport spokesperson, Liam Kerr, that “there is no figure identified” as an appropriate charge that would ensure the behaviour change from car to public transport needed would materialise.
Mr Kerr also pressed the minister on whether the Scottish Government had “taken advice on whether it would be legally competent” to essentially “double tax” parking spaces, warning that “businesses already pay tax on parking spaces” through the rates system.
But Ms Gilruth’s officials told MSPs that they were “not aware of any issues with regard to that”, pointing to the fact the legislation has previously been passed.
Mr Simpson told the committee that “businesses are still recovering from the pandemic”, adding that “the last things they need now is an extra tax and this is an extra tax”.
He added: “it’s an attack on employers, it’s bad for employees, it’s bad for jobs. It’s the wrong time for businesses, it’s the wrong time for staff.”
The Tory MSP said that the regulations allow SNP ministers to impose exemptions to the scheme, adding that it could be extended to police officers and teachers, but suggested the Scottish Government “does not want to use” that power.
In response, Ms Gilruth said that “local authorities can design schemes that reflect their local circumstances,” stressing that councils should be “trusted” to roll out the scheme they they wish.
Mr Kerr said he couldn’t not “understand the urgency of pushing through an under-cooked and under-prepared scheme” and called on Ms Gilruth to “have a re-think”.
Greens MPS Mark Ruskell admitted the debate had been “a clear waste of time” pointing to the lack of impact any motion to annul the regulation would have.
He added that workplace parking levies are “an anti-congestion measure”.
Mr Ruskell added: “It’s about investing in the future. I think it’s high time we just get on and deliver.”
MSPs on the committee voted four to three to reject the motion to annul the workplace parking levy regulations.
Speaking after the meeting, Dir Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said “businesses will be incredibly disappointed” with the decision.
She added: “Rather than supporting Scotland’s economic recovery from the pandemic, this additional financial burden on businesses and their employees’ risks undermining growth.
“Businesses are just starting to recover from the severe financial impact of the past two years and employees are facing a rising cost-of-living crisis, neither can afford uncapped charges being placed on them for simply using their car to commute.
“Employers and employees in both rural and urban areas have expressed concerns over the impact the WPL could have on them. Businesses operating shifts in a range of sectors from food and drink, manufacturing to hospitality and retail have particular concerns over the availability and feasibility of employees getting to their place of work on public transport. Town and city centre recovery also relies on office worker footfall and WPL would further depress this vital part of our economy.
“Businesses will now be looking for guarantees from local authorities that they will support growth and ditch any plans to implement this damaging levy.”