Earlier this morning, I had the opportunity to lock horns with Independent Party Leader Martin Terry on BBC Essex over the issue of free parking for councillors.
On Friday, an article appeared in the Echo alleging that a new parking system to be introduced will mean that no councillor will receive a parking ticket from traffic wardens. The story also made the national news last Saturday and was featured in the Daily Mail as well as the Mirror and the Telegraph.
Towards the end of last year the Council’s parking contractors APCOA suggested the authority could make savings if it switched to a paper-free parking dispensation system as they suggested paper free systems offer potential savings in relation to all parking permits issued by the council. These include permits used by Council officers for use in the line of their duties, resident parking permits, carer permits and all other discretionary permits.
Very early exploratory discussions have taken place and APCOA was in the process of producing a detailed proposal for the Council to consider. The Council has yet to receive the proposal. Contrary to what has been reported, no decision has been taken to replace the current system where paper permits are issued to councillors.
Before the radio debate started, BBC Essex played some audio clips of residents views on councillors parking. The majority were of the opinion that councillors should pay for parking but claim the costs back on expenses.
Prior to issuing members with parking permits, councillors could only park for free at the Civic Centre and claim back on expenses any other expense for car parking whilst on official council business in the town.
Under the old arrangement there was also an element of trust in councillors to be ethical as there was nothing technically stopping a councillor using a council car park, have a meeting, do their shopping and claiming the total cost back on expenses.
This was a very costly way to administer these expenses as it cost £9 for each individual claim when the issuing of a parking permit to each councillor only incur a one off cost of £5 to administer. In times of austerity, I make no apologies in making these cost savings and making taxpayers money go further.
Sadly, Cllr Terry is a serial offender in accusing councillors of being on the take giving residents the impression that the Independent Party are whiter than white whilst being economical with the truth – especially when Cllr Terry claims over £7,000 of taxpayers money for being their leader whilst claiming he is an Independent.
In all the press coverage on this subject over the past few days, Cllr Terry has given the impression that the Independent Party are against free councillors parking and publicly claimed that all nine of his group have handed back their permits.
The sheer hypocrisy of the Independent Party knows no bounds as I can real, to date, that eight of them, including Cllr Terry, are still in receipt of their all areas parking permit.
I do believe in the main that councillors in Southend have honest intentions although from time to time we may not always agree but this is just another example of the Independent Party conducting their politics from the gutter.