Councils warned not to use motorists as 'cash cows'
PLYMOUTH City Council is forecast to generate a half-a-million pound profit from parking charges and fines this year, according to fresh government figures, writes Parliamentary Correspondent Graeme Demianyk.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles warned local authorities not to treat motorists as "cash cows" to plug holes in town hall budgets as councils in the far South West are set to rake in £30million.
But Plymouth City Council hit back, arguing authorities are facing "significant budget cuts" and any surplus from fees and fines helps "lessen the effect of these cuts".
The council will make £481,000 from parking in 2013-14, an increase of £15,000 year-on-year.
South Hams District Council will make £1.7million (a year-on-year fall of £95,000) and West Devon Borough Council £348,000 (down £55,000).
Meanwhile, Cornwall Council, which covers the entirety of the county, is forecasting a £6.6million profit – down by £2.9million.
Nationally, councils forecast they will make £635million profit from parking charges and fines in 2013-14, and £34million more in net income from parking this year than in 2012-13.
The coalition says it has scrapped Whitehall rules that previously told councils to hike up parking charges and ministers are considering what further steps can be taken to ensure that town hall parking policies and practices support local high streets.
Councils can boost their income by pushing up the cost of hourly parking, introducing meters where parking was once free or extending the time when charges are enforced.
Mr Pickles, said: "The law is clear that parking is not a tax or cash cow for town hall officers."
"This £635million municipal parking profit shows why we need to review and rein in unfair town hall parking rules.
"Councils aren't listening, and local shops and hard-working families are suffering as a result."
A spokesman for Labour-controlled Plymouth City Council said the forecasted increase relates to fees for vehicle permits, as it expects more to be sold, which covers the administration costs.
She added: "Parking fees have not been increased in Plymouth since March 2011.
"Any surplus funds that we have after our costs are covered is reinvested into transport services such as highways maintenance.
"Like all councils across the country we are facing significant budget cuts, including a big reduction in our highways maintenance budget, which means we have far less to spend on roads and transport initiatives.
"Using any surplus we have helps lessen the effect of these cuts."
Plymouth City Council has faced criticism recently over bus lane cameras that have generated more than £1million in their first year of operation.
The cash pocketed from fining motorists snapped using them is also spent on highways improvements, such as pothole repairs.
The 22 car park local authorities in the far South West are forecast to have a surplus of £30million.
The three biggest earners in the far South West in 2013-14 are expected to be Cornwall Council, Exeter City Council (£4million) and Torbay Council (£3.5million).
Not every council is expecting an increase in what they make from parking fees and fines, however, which are supposed to be a tool for tackling congestion.
Those authorities that reckon they will squeeze more from motorists, despite traffic falling, include Exeter City Council (£516,000 more), Somerset County Council (£141,000) and Teignbridge District Council (£116,000).