... ouch

Tory councils accused of ‘parking stealth tax’

Tory councils accused of ‘parking stealth tax’

Labour is standing by car-parking statistics, dismissed by Eric Pickles as "bogus", which reveal its councils charge 20% less than Tory-controlled local authorities.

The opposition used freedom of information requests to get information about the amount each resident faces in parking charges and fines for 326 councils.

Of the 211 that responded, the data suggested Labour-controlled councils collect £19.59 a year per resident, compared to £24.21 for Tory-run councils.

In London, where 23 boroughs answered the survey, the gap was far greater. Conservatives in the capital hit motorists with £98.34 of fines and charges, compared to £48.35 from Labour.

The survey followed complaints from the Tories that it was the New Labour government which gave local authorities the green light to charge more.

But communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles rejected the statistics as "bogus" because they include off-street car parks in the Commons on Monday.

He argued: "The more off-street parking a council provides – the friendlier it makes it for motorists – the worse those figures appear, so frankly I regard them as bogus.

"They reflect the anti-car policies of the Labour party, which consistently cut the number of parking spaces and instructed local authorities to increase car parking charges."

But shadow local government secretary Hilary Benn commented: "David Cameron and Eric Pickles make a big fuss about how they want to keeping parking charges and fines down, but it now turns out that it is their own councils that are imposing the most charges and fines, increasing the cost to motorists and undermining our high streets and small businesses."

Car-parking charges are a local gripe across England but rarely crop up as a major topic of national debate.

That could change in 2015 as the total collected by councils exceeds an estimated £1.3 billion.

The three councils with the highest parking charges and fines per person are Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham – all Tory-controlled local authorities.

Hammersmith's Labour MP Andy Slaughter also raised the issue in the Commons on Monday, complaining that his local borough council had increased its take from moving vehicle penalty charge notices by 400% in four years.

"I am shocked to hear this," Pickles replied.

"Hammersmith and Fulham is an exemplary council: not many councils in this country have consistently reduced council tax by three per cent every year. I do not think, therefore, that its population is being ripped off."

Observers have suggested councils are pursuing high parking charges to offset the harsh spending cuts imposed by central government.

The biggest burden of deficit reduction has fallen on local authority funding, with cuts of 26% in 2010 and a further ten per cent in this year's comprehensive spending review for 2015/16.

Tory backbencher Stephen McPartland complained his Stevenage borough council in his constituency was "ripping off local people" by taking more than £3 million a year in car parking charges.

Of this over £1 million of profits was being diverted for "unrelated services", he claimed.

Pickles replied that he was "sorry to hear of the state of affairs in Stevenage" – but did not offer any change to existing rules about how councils use the money received from their car parks.