Staff get cheap parking as council wrestles with commuter congestion

Coun Hannah Kitching
Coun Hannah Kitching
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Increasing numbers of Barnsley Council staff have been given cheap town centre car parking in the last five years, it has emerged, as the authority seeks to justify building a new gyratory road around an urban park to help cope with growing levels of rush hour congestion.

The council's package of benefits it offers to staff – including annual parking passes for several town centre car parks at a cost of £210 a year compared to the normal price of £770 - has become increasingly popular with its workers.

Five years ago, when the council had more staff, fewer than 800 people took up the option, research by the Local Democracy Reporting Service shows, but by the current year that has risen to 935.

Had all those cut price parking permits been sold at the regular rate over the five years, the austerity-hit authority would have also had in excess of £3m more income.

Among the objectors to the gyratory scheme, which goes before planners next week, is the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England which suggests a levy on workplace car parking as one of a package of measures to form an alternative solution.

That is the opposite of Barnsley Council’s stance with its cheap parking offer for staff.

Coun Hannah Kitching said she believed it was time for the council to re-examine town centre parking charges, with an emphasis on cheap short stay visits to encourage visitors and support the economy, with higher long-stay prices to deter commuters.

“I used to work for the NHS in Leeds and didn’t get subsidised parking. I took the bus,” she said.

“I do understand Barnsley Council wanting to support and retain good staff but this is a massive subsidy and I don’t think the council is doing enough to encourage non-road travel.”

Bus services from her home in the Penistone district were so few it made that option an impractical alternative to driving into town for town hall business, she said.

“If they are genuinely committed to reducing traffic and improving air quality, they need to stop incentivising people to use their cars,” she said.

Barnsley Council has said it offers other incentives to staff, providing a bike scheme and showers at work to help cyclists, along with loans to pay for rail travel.

Information submitted as part of the gyratory planning application show the council has pulled in almost £4m to provide new cycleways across the borough and £1.1m to promote ‘active travel’, with a new strategy for that currently being developed.

When in place, that is expected to "seek to ensure that walking and cycling routes are considered and promoted throughout the design and delivery of any potential highway improvements in the borough”.

Coun Alan Gardiner, the council's corporate services spokesman, said: “In 2013, Barnsley Council entered into a collective agreement with trade unions on a range of terms and conditions and other non-contractual policies, which included car parking permits along with reductions/amendments to shift allowances, premium payments, and pay protection.

"All of these contributed to minimise the need for compulsory redundancies and cuts in service delivery.

"We offer employees the benefit of our car parking permit scheme as part of our Just4You package which provides a range of benefits and salary sacrifice arrangements to help attract, recruit and retain the very best employees.

"Through the package, staff can benefit from flexible working, purchase additional leave, personal development opportunities and our Wider Wallet package that offers a range of discounts from retailers and businesses. We also offer access to a variety of health and wellbeing support services through our Well@Work initiative.

“Offering prospective employees the option to park at a reduced rate in the town centre in a select number of carparks is a great incentive in attracting employees.

"Furthermore, it is not always possible for employees to use alternative modes of transport"

Salary sacrifice schemes can mean employees do not have to pay tax or National Insurance contributions on the money involved, while contributions to the exchequer from their employer can also be reduced.