Last week I was contacted by a Coalville town centre trader who wanted to ask me a question, a question many of us will have thought of at one time or another:
'How much do North West Leicestershire District Council ACTUALLY make out of car parking charges?'
I agreed to find out an answer to his question and using the Freedom of Information Act I've done just that.
I passed the information on to my town centre trader but given how often I, and I presume other Councillors, are asked the question I thought I would take this opportunity to set out the facts once and for all.
For simplicity all of the following information is for the financial year 2013/14 and as such is based on 'budget book' projections.
It is also important to note that car parks are broadly broken down into 2 'cost centres' - Maintenance & Offstreet Enforceent - I have listed these separately before combining them to give an overall figure.
(Please contact me directly if you are interested in 'actual' figures for 2012/13.)
Car Parks - Management and Maintenance
Total Income (Includes Fees, Staff Parking Fees, Season Tickets): £500,080
Less Car Park Management & Maintenance (Including corporate recharges): £395,980
Net Cost of Car Park Management & Maintenance: £104,100 'profit'
Car Parks - Offstreet Enforcement
Total Income - Penalty Charge Notices: £68,000
Less expenditure (Includes corporate recharges): £207,480
Net Cost of Offstreet Enforcement: £139,480 'loss'
Total cost to NWLDC of operating car parks: £35,380
From these 'headline' figures it would be very easy to say 'If our car parks are losing £35,380 a year, then why are we operating damaging parking charges?'
The answer is simple and is included once again in the budget books.
Many of the associated costs of running car parks would be incurred whether parking charges are in place or not, i.e. 'fixed liabilities'.
If NWLDC were to remove ALL charges AND stop ALL Offstreet Enforcement there would be 'fixed liabilities' of AT LEAST £155,010 which would have to be made up from other sources (i.e. Council Tax).
I certainly am not saying car parking charges are a good thing, they have been damaging to Coalville - although not as damaging as some would suggest - but it is right to set out the facts.
Sadly, from a taxpayers perspective, right now car park charges are the 'least worst' option.
As councillors we need to seek ways to minimise the damage that parking charges do to our town, that's why as Labour Group Leader I sought to introduce a 'first hour free' initiative and that's why I support local traders with their parking refund scheme.
There's no doubt about it car park charges epitomise the challenges facing local government.
Trying to decide upon the lesser of two evils.