Uddingston and Bellshill MSP Richard Lyle has defended his decision to back the so-called ‘Car Park Tax’ despite having consistently voiced his opposition to it.
Despite previously saying “I do not agree” with the plan and that it was “unfair”, Mr Lyle ensured the SNP and Greens could use their majority on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee for the Workplace Parking Levy to become part of the Transport (Scotland) Bill by six votes to five.
Highlands and Islands list MSP John Finnie put forward the amendment to the Bill to enable the creation of the levy which he described as “a power not a duty” in order to “empower local councils”.
Amendments tabled by the Conservatives to protect the police, healthcare workers, teachers, charity staff and people on benefits from paying the charge were rejected.
It means workers across the country now face being charged up to £500 a year for taking their car to work.
Mr Lyle gave his support to the levy despite objecting to it in other forums.
He previously told Holyrood: “I contend that, as a motorist, I pay road tax, petrol duty and insurance. Do you not agree that the workplace parking levy is an unfair tax on me and other motorists?”
He also remarked: “I’m sorry, but I do not agree with charging somebody who is on a low wage £400 a year.”
Mr Lyle’s about turn was criticised by Central Scotland list MSP Graham Simpson.
He said “Richard Lyle made statement after statement pointing out the flaws of this tax and how damaging it will be for workers and motorists.
“Yet, for some reason known only to him, he’s now decided to vote in favour of it. He had the opportunity to bring this hated policy down, but instead waved through this bad law on the orders of his nationalist bosses.
“It’s pathetic enough that the SNP-Green MSPs forced through this ridiculous tax on people driving to work. But the fact they rejected amendment after amendment seeking to protect low-paid and public sector workers, shift workers, the disabled and people on benefits from this tax is utterly shameful of them.”
The SNP agreed to back the Greens on this as part of this year’s budget deal, with North East Scotland list MSP Mike Rumbles stating: “The SNP members are being whipped to accept this, it’s quite obvious.”
However, Mr Lyle claimed he changed his mind a based on evidence, as he wishes to empower local authorities.
He said: “I know people will come back at me because of comments I’ve previously made, but so be it. Just because I have listened to the arguments, listened to the evidence, and changed my view, I’m now being attacked – sometimes a politician has to come off the fence.
“I’ve considered very carefully the arguments for and against giving councils powers to bring in the Workplace Parking Levy.
“As a councillor in North Lanarkshire for 36 years and former SNP group leader in CoSLA, I always listen closely to the needs of local government.
“CoSLA are very clear that councils should have the powers to introduce such a discretionary tax to raise revenue locally where that is practical or desirable.
“That’s what the Workplace Parking Levy is about – empowering councils and allowing them to decide upon which policy works best for their communities.”
Thousands of businesses across Lanarkshire could be affected including catering firm Brakes in Newhouse, which due to its remote location and shift patterns leaves workers with little option but to drive to work.
A spokesperson said: “As a major employer in Newhouse, based in an out of town location and with a 24 hour operation, Brakes believe the proposal for a Workplace Parking Levy would have a negative impact on our employees and people who work under similar circumstances.
“The lack of public transport infrastructure outside of major conurbations and the ability to provide suitable, safe and regular alternatives to fit with shift patterns to our site (and many like ours) leaves people no option but to drive to work, and imposing a further tax on them would be, in our view, unfair and punitive.
“We would strongly recommend an exemption for people who work shifts at out of town locations where the public transport infrastructure is inadequate.”
However, Glasgow Shettleston MSP John Mason believes they have nothing to worry about, saying: “We can all pretty well agree that in a village or an out of town workplace, no local authority nor us is going to suggest that there be a Workplace Parking Levy”.
But, West Scotland list MSP Jamie Greene wasn’t so sure, responding: “There are far too many assumptions there, how does John Mason know what councils will do?”
The Transport (Scotland) Bill still has to be voted on by the full Scottish Parliament before it becomes law.