Parking charges and penalties have been labelled as a stealth tax by motoring organisations after councils have made record profit of £867m in the 2017/18 financial year.

London councils topped the charts, averaging £1m per day. Just 39 of the 353 councils failed to make a profit or break even.

Record charges

A recent report has found that parking charges (on & off-street parking) and fines have raised over £1.6bn in revenue for local councils between 2017/18, of which, £867m is pure profit – an increase of over £50m from the previous financial year.

The law states that any surplus monies made from parking have to be reinvested in the local transport infrastructure, which includes the running of subsidised buses – it can’t just be added to the council’s coffers, to be used where they see fit.

The RAC Foundation carried out a similar study seven years ago, the latest findings show that the profit made by councils has increased by around 70% in those seven years; this is no longer about covering running costs, this is pure profit.

Stealth tax

We’re used to hearing the phrase ‘stealth tax’ being associated with the motorist, many of the large motoring organisations have argued that the parking charges are just that – a stealth tax – and are partly responsible for the closing of the high street as a commercial destination; drivers are voting with their wheels and preferring to shop at out-of-town retail parks, where parking is often free.

It may be no surprise that Westminster council topped the charts with parking charges and fines, raking in just over £1m per week, outside of London, it’s Brighton and Hove that top the list – pulling in £23.4m profit each year.

Councillor Martin Tett, the spokesman for the Local Government Association said: “Councils are on the side of the motorist and shoppers, they have to try and strike a balance when setting parking policy, for both on and off-street parking to make sure that there are spaces available for residents, and that high streets are kept vibrant, and that traffic is kept moving”.

But, Edmund King, President of the AA is clear: “At a time when the high street is under intense pressure, more parking incentives are needed to attract, not deter, potential customers. The cost of parking should cover the cost of providing the service, not become a stealth tax paid by a few thousand in each town”.

1 in 10

It would seem that statistics give credence to King’s argument; over the last few years, footfall in town centres has dropped by around 1.6%, while the out-of-town retail parks have seen a 1.5% increase in usage, and the high street is suffering as a direct result – over 10% of shops in town centres are currently vacant. With customers having to find more money to spend on parking, retail spend will be reduced, leading to further cuts on the high street.

While some councils are offering reduced or even free parking for certain vehicles, it’s worth remembering that a number of councils are hitting the diesel motorist even harder – adding a 50% surcharge to any parking rate.

Back in July of this year, we published a report of the most expensive places to park in the UK, and as part of that, we suggested that an investigation should be held to justify the differing amounts and parking charge policies – how can it be that some councils are trying to develop business interest on the high street – charging as little as £0.15 to park, while others can charge up to £8 for a single hour?

It would seem that with the publication of this report on ‘record profits’ that the councils are doing exactly as was suspected – propping up their ailing budget with a little help from the motorist, and yet with the money supposedly ringfenced for transportation needs, there seems little evidence that these profits are finding their way back to transportation.

How about you?

It seems that there is little that can be done regarding the parking charges. Yes, you could try an alternative form of transport, but that’s not viable for millions of motorists, and it isn’t addressing the bigger issue – that the motorist is all but virtually banned from driving in the city centre.

With councils clearing nearly £2.5m of profit each day from parking charges, it’s time that the motorist was given credit where it’s due, rather than continuing punishment for having the audacity to rely on the internal combustion engine. For some drivers who are disabled, they have no choice but to drive, and while most of the time they are able to park for free, it still seems unfair that all motorists should be punished for shopping and contributing to smaller high street shops.

What do you think about these record profits? Should something be done at a national level to curb the charges? Let us know how you feel in the comments.

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