Tax on parking at work shifts power to the local level

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This article by Alison Payne first appeared in The Times on 8 February 2019.

Given the rhetoric emanating from some quarters you’d be forgiven for thinking the SNP is introducing a new tax rise in Scotland.  A First Minister’s Questions the acting Tory leader, Jackson Carlaw, accused the Scottish Government of trying to “thump” workers. In response, John Swinney, standing in for Nicola Sturgeon, called Mr Carlaw “purple-faced”.

The workplace car-parking levy has certainly led to a lot of debate inside and outside of Parliament about the merits of such a scheme: how it should operate; who should be exempt; what consultations have been taken.  And a lot of criticism has been directed at the government for wanting to introduce it.

However, many objectors overlook a key fact.  The Scottish Government is NOT introducing a new workplace car parking levy. Rather it is devolving power to local authorities to make decisions on the matter for themselves, taking local needs and circumstances into account. It will be up to individual councils and councillors to decide whether such levies are appropriate for their areas, and where and who they cover. Edinburgh may introduce one; Moray may not – or vice versa.  

Each Council will have different ideas about whether and how such a policy could operate in their area, but the merits of the individual schemes are a different discussion for a different day. The Scottish Government’s proposal is about devolving more power to local authorities to allow them to develop solutions for their areas and that has to be a good thing. Just as the British Government is not responsible for the increase in income tax in Scotland because it devolved the power to Holyrood, neither would the Scottish Government be responsible for introducing a workplace parking charge by devolving the power to local authorities. 

At the Finance Committee this week Derek Mackay, the finance secretary, said “this is not about a Scottish Government scheme; it is about empowerment of local government.” 

Reform Scotland agrees with empowering local authorities, which is why we welcome the proposals in the budget agreement.   However, if the Scottish Government is to truly embrace localism, as it suggests, then these proposals must be only a first step full towards full devolution of council tax and business rates.