House wriggles off the subsidised parking hook…

Pool car at Civic Offices

Pool car parked at the Civic Offices

Parking arrangements for Council staff relocating to the new Council Offices in the  Town Centre were a hot topic of discussion at a special meeting of Eastleigh Borough Council this evening [31st October]

The debate was sparked by a question from Cllr Grajewski, who referred to a letter from the Leader of the Council to the Daily Echo on Friday 18th October, in which, she said,  Cllr Keith House referred to a historic subsidy for the cost of staff parking which can no longer be afforded, and a new scheme to remove that subsidy and encourage more  staff to use public transport.

In her carefully planned and carefully worded question,  Cllr Grajewski asked;

“How many staff based at the Civic Offices have received this subsidy, historically?”

“How many staff at The Point and other existing Town centre locations have received this subsidy?”

“For personal tax purposes, what has been the annual value of this subsidy as a benefit in kind for the last three tax years?”

“Will contracts of employment have to be re-written to reflect the removal of this benefit in kind?”

Forewarned of the question, Cllr House had prepared his answer and in good humour, responded;

Historically, because of the out-of-town location of the Civic Offices, it has been possible to provide free staff car parking that has been readily available. No formal charges are in place for the land where staff currently park.

Free parking has also been readily available at other satellite work-sites.

Free parking is not currently an express contractual term and neither is it classified as a taxable benefit, because there are no costs which the Council pick-up on behalf of the employee.

But there is a cost to the Council of the provision that we’ve set out over the years, in that the Council has carried the maintenance cost of the car park, alongside security and lighting of this, and the loss of development value to the Council has been borne by local taxpayers.

Now when the Civic Offices relocate to Eastleigh Town Centre, next spring, there is no car park attached to the building. Staff will have to either change their mode of transport to work, for example to walk, cycle, car-share or use public transport, or park in a town-centre public car-park or other legal parking areas.

For those who choose to use a public car-park, staff will be required to purchase a parking permit in line with Council charges consistent with all other business users in the town.

There are about 350 staff in the current  Civic Offices, The Point, Town Centre Offices, and Enterprise House who will be required to pay for car parking from 1st April onwards.

To support staff during the transition from free parking to paid parking, and to encourage more creative and sustainable modes of transport, the Council is looking to agree a travel allowance for staff working in the Town centre area, which will be contained in a collective agreement with Unison.

The proposals that are being worked on are designed to be fair to staff and to reduce the cost of parking to the Council and indeed, over time, to equalise the treatment of our staff at our organisation, with employees of other organisations in the Town centre.

As there’s a negotiation going on, I don’t plan to say more on this issue.

I don’t do staff negotiations in public or indeed through the columns of local papers.

My letter to the Echo was simply to clarify the position very briefly.

 

After thanking Cllr House for his full answer, and whilst fending-off challenges from the Mayor in the chair, about her reply being a statement rather than a question, Cllr Grajewski replied;

What Cllr House has said this evening seems to contradict what was in his letter, which said it was a subsidy whereas there he talked about free parking.

I appreciate there is a cost attached to that, but of course members of the public  visiting the Civic Offices benefit from that as well.

I think what he said tonight, is that there has been a subsidy.

I just wanted that clarification, that there has not been a subsidy historically, which is contrary to what’s in the newspaper.

And does the leader agree that, in some parts of the local press, it is regrettable that Council staff have been unfairly dragged into this messy,  unnecessary, multi-million pound relocation saga, when many of them would rather have remained in the existing offices…?

 

Cllr House responded, by saying;

I did answer about the question about subsidy when I talked about the fact that we had, for the last few decades, paid for provision of the car park, which effectively is a subsidy.

I certainly do regret that the Echo has been used by a small number of people to try to distort the story, to put their particular spin on it.

I think there is always the case that when an organisation moves its offices, people are resistant to change. People are instinctively quite cautious about doing things in a different way.

I had the opportunity to take a look around Eastleigh House earlier this week and I think the staff, when they do move in, will be delighted with the environment that they are working in and it will prove to be a good long term decision that the Council has made.

Ray Turner

Formerly a Civil-Servant and IT Specialist at ONS, Ray is now semi-retired and spare-time self-employed. He contributes to Eastleigh News on a voluntary basis and is also an administrator for the site. 

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