Monday, 21 November 2011

Workplace parking levy

For those who don't live in Nottingham — or those who do live in Nottingham but haven't been paying attention — the good folk at Nottingham City Council are bringing in a 'workplace parking levy'. All businesses within the City administrative boundary must register all the parking places they provide; those providing more than 10 (excluding those for Blue Badge holders) have to cough up an estimated £279 per place as of April Fools Day, 2012. I say 'estimated', as the council don't seem quite sure yet, but they do seem sure that it will rise fairly sharply thereafter. (No surprises there, then.) The proceeds from the levy, say the council, "...must be invested into improving local transport for Nottingham. The WPL will provide funding for NET Phase Two, the extensions to the existing tram system, as well the redevelopment of Nottingham Railway Station (the Hub project) and is also intended to support the popular Link bus network. "

The employer is the one who has to cough up, and there will — of course — be council monitoring and enforcement. The employer also has to decide whether or not to pass the levy on to the employees, in full or in part. That's going to be a tricky decision.

Commuters approaching Trent Bridge from south of the city, followed by a Nottm City Council parking levy enforcement officer

I'm fascinated by how this is going to play out. As I don't live or work within the City boundary, it's not going to cost me diddly-squat, but I'm very far from disinterested. I've blogged before about cities being for people, not cars, and being all for public transport. And we're going to have to face it some time soon — most of us won't be able to afford to run cars for any distance on a regular basis, so we might do well to start rebalancing our economy towards a model in which people tend to live closer to work than they do at the moment, and ensuring that good public transport is available for them. And we know from experience that people won't give up their car unless they're hit in the pocket. So as far as all that goes, the WPL looks like A Good Thing. And, moreover, the plan was clearly laid out before the last council elections, so there's a democratic mandate for it.

And yet... and yet... unemployment in Nottingham is severe, and the last thing the city needs is for businesses to decide to move elsewhere, or for potential new employers to decide not to come after all. A Nottingham business with 50 employees for whom parking is provided is looking at a new tax of £15,000 a year unless they pass it on to the employees; many depressed areas are offering significant financial incentives to employers to move into their areas, and perhaps in some cases the WPL will prove the last straw and provoke a move out of the city. That would not be A Good Thing at all.

I suspect that whether or not the WPL is seen as a success or a failure will depend on two factors. Firstly, the ability of local employers to pass on the levy to their employees. If they can do this in full, or substantially, then it becomes something of an administrative headache, but no more, and probably won't result in many decamping. In these times of high unemployment, with people fearful for their jobs, employers are probably well placed to pass on the levy. If so, all might be well from a business point of view, albeit a pain in the arse for the employees concerned.

The other big factor is what will other local authorities do? If everyone followed Nottingham's lead promptly, there evidently wouldn't be any incentive for employers to move out to escape the levy here. But I bet everyone else is waiting to see what happens with great interest, but will let Nottingham take the initial brunt of complaints, bad publicity, challenges in domestic and European courts, etc.

So to summarise: Nottingham City Council's move is certainly brave. Whether it's wise remains to be seen. Meanwhile, here's a few predictions.

• Businesses currently providing 10 parking spaces, and wanting to employ more people, will be paying far more attention to the 'address' bit on job applications. "Well, Ms Smith hasn't got quite the qualifications, but obviously she could get here on the bus..."

• There will be job opportunities at the Council for those who would enjoy spending their day waving their badges at people and taking photographs of who's parking where.

• The market in forged Blue Badges (which I happen to know is already healthy) is going to explode. It would be nice to think that the job market for genuine Blue Badge holders would improve, but let's not be silly.

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