Saturday, 3 August 2013

Pickles and parking.

By chiding local authorities for their parking charges, and suggesting that parking should be allowed on double yellow lines, albeit for only 15 minutes, our Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, breaks two Tory election pledges in one go.  The Tories promised to be the party of decentralising: in the words of David Cameron, to free local councils to "do whatever they liked so long as it's legal."  And they promised to be the greenest government ever.

Parking charges are, in most places, indeed high. That is possibly because, following the Thatcher government's introduction of rate capping, continued by Labour and the present government, and the removal of business rates from local authority jurisdiction, parking charges are now about the only tax over which local authorities have any control.  Even then they cannot use the money as they wish: it must, by central government diktat,  be devoted to road spending.  Maybe that includes public transport which wouldn't be so bad, but I don't know.

The current impotence of local councils with respect to parking, and the consequences of "outsourcing," are aptly described by this splendid paragraph from John Lanchester's, novel, "Capital."*

(His) morning's work began  with a visit to the offices of Control Services,  the company which supervised the borough's  parking.  The contract for  parking had been enforced with such lack of sensitivity, such aggressive pursuit  of the officially non-existent quotas  and bonuses, such a festival of clamped  and towed residents, such a bonanza of gotcha! tickets  and removals, such an orgy of unjust , malicious,  erroneous, and just plain wrong parking tickets, that in local elections  it had cost the incumbent council control of the  borough not once but twice.  And there was nothing the borough could do, because the terms of the contract were  set out by central government, so that there was no effective control, at local level, of this local service.  It was a local government classic: it was a total cock-up...

Sadly, both Labour and the Conservatives now regard local councils as agents of (and, in implementing spending cuts, scapegoats for) the central government, and there doesn't seem to have been as much opposition from Liberal Democrats in government  as might have been expected, given the size and importance of our local government base.

As far as greenness is concerned, surely we should be looking for ways of encouraging alternatives to the use of cars rather than further pandering to the convenience of car drivers and the inconvenience of everyone else: more cycle lanes, more pedestrianised shopping streets, better public transport, "walking buses" and dedicated yellow buses for the school runs, and charges for parking at supermarkets (with the revenues going to the local authority, not the supermarket.)

*This novel, (Faber and Faber, 2012) is a rivetting read. Among other things, it has a vivid section describing he experiences of  an innocent man held for 28 days without charge, on  totally unjustified suspicion of terrorism.

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