Atlantic Views by Joanne Matheson

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This week we introduce a new correspondent giving the Lochaber Times an analysis of the world and its goings on from an Ardnamurchan and all places west point of view.

Born in the south west of the UK, Joanne Matheson moved to Scotland in 2003.

Well-known on the peninsula as the chairwoman of Acharacle Community Council, Joanne previously worked in the public and private sectors for large and small organisations.

Another tax on the privilege of working?

Scottish Government is currently running a consultation on the possible introduction of a Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) as part of a deal they did with the Greens earlier this year.

The option for local authorities to ‘sell’ licences for workplace parking was approved in the UK as part of the Transport Act 2000.

The Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 broadly adopted the same policies, but did not include mention of workplace parking, so John Finnie’s proposed amendment would allow Scottish authorities to do so.

To date, Nottingham City Council is the only authority to have introduced the levy and since 2012 has used the £50m+ raised to improve public transport.

There are small business and other exemptions and the Scottish Government has stipulated all NHS premises would be exempt. Approximately half of businesses in Nottingham pass the levy onto their employees.

There can be little doubt the Scottish Government was willing to consider this proposal due to the rapid increase in attention on climate change – 101 local authorities representing around 40 per cent of us – have now declared a climate emergency and were joined by Highland Council last month.

We wait with anticipation to see who will be the first to take the sort of bold and radical steps necessary if they are genuinely going to put their money where their mouths are.

Unfortunately this isn’t likely to be Highland Council. Just eight days after declaring a climate emergency and the council leader warning against tokenism, saying ‘we must not just say it, we must do it’, they approved a request for £170,000 for the Skye airport project.

This was particularly disappointing since Highland Council isn’t willing to subsidise lifeline services such as the Corran Ferry and public transport across the area is woefully inadequate.

Fifty per cent of Lochaber’s population lives outside Fort William and very few of us are able to consider public transport for work.

The UK as a whole needs to take massive steps forward in the provision of public transport if we are to do as John Finnie intends and ‘disincentivise private car use’.

But it is a chicken-and-egg situation – you need good public transport to discourage car use, but need additional income to invest in public transport.

The introduction of WPL in locations where there are viable options, may be one way of helping to fund that.

I hope the Scottish Government approves WPL, in spite of having grave concerns that cash-strapped authorities might rush into WPL as another way of plugging their budget deficits. The last thing we need is yet another tax on the privilege of working; yet another barrier to being able to work.

And I sincerely hope Highland Council will take heed of Margaret Davidson’s warning of tokenism and will be bold and decisive.

I hope WPL is introduced only where public transport is a viable option and that the money generated is used to improve public transport in other places so we all have the option of using it more often and of doing what many of us wish to do – help with the reduction of car use.

Search for WPL on parliament.scot to participate in the consultation.