Workplace parking tax: Scottish government defends proposals
The Scottish government has defended plans that could see motorists taxed for parking at work amid claims that it will "fleece" workers for hundreds of pounds a year.
Proposals for a workplace parking levy were included in last week's budget agreement between the SNP and Greens.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney told MSPs that it would be up to individual councils whether to introduce it.
The Conservatives said the tax would hit low-paid workers the hardest.
Under the proposals, councils would be able to charge employers an annual tax for every parking space they provide for employees.
Employers could then choose to foot the bill themselves - or pass on some or all of the cost to their employees.
Councils in England have had the power to introduce a parking tax for about 20 years, but only Nottingham has done so.
The Nottingham scheme currently charges just over £400 a year for each parking space - and has been credited with cutting congestion and pollution while raising £50m for sustainable transport projects since 2012.
Finance Secretary Derek Mackay admitted on Wednesday that no economic analysis of the potential impact of the policy in Scotland had been carried out.
But speaking at Holyrood on Thursday, Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said a £400 annual charge "would be equivalent to increasing the basic rate of tax paid by a worker on the real living wage from 20p in the pound to 30p in the pound".
He went on to claim that "tens of thousands of Scottish workers are to be fleeced for hundreds of pounds a year just because Derek Mackay, John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon can't say no to six dismal Green MSPs".
Mr Carlaw questioned why the government had promised in its budget agreement that the levy would not apply to NHS workers - but there was no mention of teachers, police officers or other public sector workers.
He urged the Scottish government to "drop this wanted and unworkable plan", which he said the Conservatives would continue to oppose.
And he highlighted comments by SNP backbencher Richard Lyle, who told Holyrood two months ago that: "I am not for your parking charge levy, and I speak on behalf of thousands of motorists who've been taxed enough."
Mr Swinney, who was filling in for Nicola Sturgeon at first minister's questions because she in on a trip to the US and Canada, responded by insisting that the proposal was about "empowering" councils.
He said: "It will enable local authorities to exercise a judgment as to whether they wish to apply a workplace parking levy.
"The decision will be up to local authorities - it is an example of localism in practice and I would have thought the Conservatives would welcome that."
Mr Swinney also said that, as a minority government, the SNP had no choice but to talk to and reach agreement with other parties if its budget was to pass - and accused the Tories of being "conspicuously absent" from these talks.
He said: "Jackson Carlaw has been found out today, he goes around the country arguing for more powers for local government and when we deliver them, he comes here in an act of rank hypocrisy and criticises them.
"The people of Scotland can see through the hypocrisy of the Tories, they can see what the Tories are about, their spots have never changed, they want to cut public spending and they will take the hypocritical way of doing it."
The power for councils to levy a workplace parking tax is to be introduced via the Transport Bill, with Green MSP John Finnie planning to table an amendment which SNP members have committed to backing.
The bill is still in the early stages of the legislative process, and the rural economy committee was told on Wednesday that it was set to be delayed.
Convener Edward Mountain said ministers had requested a delay "partly on resource capacity within the Scottish government", and partly because of the parking levy amendment.
Members had stressed the need for extra time to conduct a full consultation on how the plans would work.
While the government confirmed the delay on Thursday, with the bill likely to be on hold until "early summer", a spokesman claimed the move was was "unconnected to the budget" and was instead because of Brexit.