Labour's car parking sums don't add up
A Labour analysis of civic parking charges which claimed a Somerset council was raking in the fourth highest sum per household in the country has backfired after the council showed the party had got its sums wrong.
Sedgemoor District Council in rural Somerset was said to be just behind Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Gosport councils, with an average cost per household of £208.82 for parking.
But when Sedgemoor's corporate relations manager Claire Faun checked Labour's claim yesterday she found it had got the decimal point in the wrong place and should have worked the sum out as £20.88. Councils were asked to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request asking for their highest hourly charge; income last year, and number of households. For Sedgemoor the answers were 60p; £1,060,804 and 50,800
Shadow local government secretary Hilary Benn had used his party's analysis to castigate Tory councils like Sedgemoor for imposing higher charges when family budgets were being squeezed.
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"It's unfair, it's damaging local high streets and small businesses, and we hope Eric Pickles, the Tory Secretary of State for Local Government, will tell his councils to stop behaving in this way," he said.
Sedgemoor has contacted Mr Benn's office to point out the error, but had not had a formal response last night.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has vowed to expose what he calls a "great council cash-cow cover-up" by forcing authorities to publish parking revenue. He recently described it as a "shopping tax" hitting high streets and accused councils of waging a "local war against motorists".
But Labour said that it was Mr Pickles's own party colleagues who were most guilty, charging the equivalent of nearly £43 per local household each year. All the figures quoted must be called into question following Sedgemoor's check
Labour said that responses from 226 authorities to a Freedom of Information request showed the figure for Labour-run councils was £29.69, the lowest. The average was £37.49, with those under Liberal Democrat control bringing in £39.08 and hung councils £34.41. Of the councils which responded, 116 were Tory, 69 Labour and seven Lib Dem.
Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said: "Hilary Benn is a grade A hypocrite. He has failed to condemn his own Labour council which is hiking parking charges. It was the Labour government that cynically targeted motorists, actively encouraging councils to increase parking charges.
"The coalition has ripped up John Prescott's planning guidance that told councils to hike parking charges to discourage drivers and we have ditched Labour's policy of restricting the number of parking spaces. These figures give a partial and skewed picture failing to account for the different costs in different parts of the country."