Charging for parking: Are Conservative councils bringing in the most income?
"Conservative controlled London boroughs are generating twice as much income from parking per resident as Labour boroughs"
Labour Party, November 2013
"I know Conservative Members do not want to hear the information from councils themselves showing that the three highest in the country are Tory-run and that in London Tory councils take twice as much off residents for parking as Labour."
Andy Sawford MP, House of Commons, 25 November 2013
What price parking? It's a question that often enters the minds of motorists and local authorities alike. Set them too high and drivers might be encouraged to cheat the system or park inconveniently; set them too low and traffic levels may become unmanageable. Not our sentiments, but those of the previous Labour government.
Now the parties' roles have reversed, the Labour opposition has continued to attack the government over what it sees as hypocrisy on the issue. While slamming the previous governent for encouraging councils to hike charges, Labour claims that Tory councils are the ones who are actually charging the most.
Labour's numbers come from a series of Freedom of Information requests issued to London councils and others across England. Some of these will have been published on local council sites. As for the aggregated research, Labour told us it isn't planning to publish their breakdowns, to avoid 'naming and shaming' individual authorities. They were, nevertheless, happy to speak to Full Fact about the figures.
There's little reason to doubt the figures Labour has put together. Based on responses from 23 out of 32 London boroughs, they added up the total stated council income from parking charges and fines and divided this by the number of residents in each area. From this, Labour boroughs took in £48 and Tory boroughs took in £98 per resident - about double.
As we've found before, however, putting this difference down to local party politics isn't a convincing explanation. In this case, a comparison with the national picture suggests caution.
Outside of London, the difference is much less pronounced: Labour areas charged £14 per resident and Tory councils charged £16. So London is already looking like a special case.
'Per resident' isn't necessarily the most meaningful comparator either. Large shopping hubs such as Oxford Street in Westminster will attract parkers from further afield than just the local authority. Given this, it's less surprising to find that Westminster council (Conservative) was in the top three of highest parking charges per resident.
It's also problematic to conclude from these figures that Conservative councils are undermining high streets and small businesses, as Labour also put out in their press release. A larger parking income per reisdent isn't necessarily the result of higher charges per car, it could be the result of wider off-street parking provision.
Ultimately, local areas will have local needs and local characteristics. Arguably, looking at specific practices can be more illuminating than aggregate numbers in differentiating where politics plays a role in charging for parking.