The meeting was dominated by the new information that the Cabinet claimed to have received on the state of car parking finances. Some of this info was stuff which should have been obvious to anyone involved in local Government. For instance, Cllr Hicks told the full council on Tuesday that he was dismayed that the Council pays business rates on their car parks and VAT on the income from them.
Some of the information was genuinely new to the committee and that involved the shortfall in parking income this year of around £900,000 and some weird and wonderful deals that appear to have been done by the former district councils with the land owners of some car parks. But the truth is that this sort of thing should not have been news. It is 19 months since Cornwall Council came into being and there was an Implementation Executive tasked with drawing the seven former councils together before that. Details such as historic income levels, land ownership and existing commitments are vital and should have been the first priority of the administration. To fail to have such information is a colossal failure and makes a mockery of our work. The buck should stop at the top and I repeated my call for Cllr Hicks to resign from his role as portfolio holder.
I wasn’t the only one to do so. Conservative councillor Mike Eathorne Gibbons also called for heads to roll at the very top.
The consequence of the ‘new information’ was that officers and the Cabinet member sent the whole issue back to the Parking Panel despite the detailed set of proposals having been worked out over the past 12 months.
A key point which has yet to be fully explored is that at each of the meetings where the Parking Panel has considered their proposals over the last four years, reports have been presented saying they had been cleared by the finance department and were rated as being low risk. Yet today we were told that the proposals are very high risk and that they might not get the income they expected.
And so the panel is being given ten days to come up with a new set of proposals. Some ideas were given by officers - and none of them at all palatable:
- It was suggested that the proposed stepped increase in season ticket prices might be abolished so that residents of Launceston would see prices rise from £195 to £600 immediately, without an intermediate year at £400 to soften the blow. There would be similar rises in much of the rest of Cornwall.
- It was proposed that the first hour charge go up. At the moment the proposal is for a slight drop in this price but officers asked that a rise of around 20p be considered instead.
- A final proposal to consider was said to be a phased increase with all cost rises brought in straight away and the small price drops delayed, perhaps forever.
Reaction from the councillors was one of horror. Many expressed their dismay that this information should come at the last minute and others said that it would be impossible to tweak the proposals and that the committee would have to start again from scratch. This was opposed by Cllr Hicks.
Among the other points made:
- Tamsin Williams said that people are at breaking point in their personal finances and cannot afford more;
- Andrew Long rubbished the idea that a 5% rise in prices would result in a 5% rise in income saying that the economy was more delicate than that and many people would simply stop using car parks altogether, either parking in the street or using supermarkets rather than town centres. He went on to say that through ignorance, incompetence or sheer stupidity the council has been slow in coming across with information on a number of subjects.
- Les Donnithorne said that the new information would lead to the general public seeing the council as inept and councillors as sheep.
- Patti Rogerson said that fairness is not necessarily about equality or consistency. The Panel has misinterpreted fairness for equality and is forgetting about the community, about residents and about people.
- Steve Rushworth said that in business a shortfall in income would be dealt with over a 5-10 year period rather than by an immediate price hike and the Council ought to be working on the same basis.
- Mike Eathorne-Gibbons suggested that the report on the consultation exercise had been seriously flawed and did not represent the true views of respondents. He also supported my own view that the Panel should recommend a freeze for the coming year and look at the issue again.
The Panel agreed a whole range of new information that would be needed for the decision to be taken and will meet again on January 24th.
UPDATE - To listen to my interview on the subject, click here and scroll through to 2hrs 2min 40secs