Monday, 13 February 2012
As the debate about parking charges in Boston continues, it is clearly emerging that the ruling Conservative group has created a problem largely of its own making.
We would have thought that only an idiot would have failed to anticipate the backlash from increasing charges and forcing disabled blue badge holders to pay for the first time without a plan to spin the decision in a damage limitation exercise.
Yet despite this, the Conservatives have remained aggressive and intransigent, even when they could have made a gesture or two to the electorate – other than the one that people feel they have made, that is.
For example, Skirbeck Ward Labour Councillor Paul Gleeson e-mailed Boston Eye to say: “I suggested, realising the ruling group were very unlikely to allow free car parking for all blue badge holders, that the council at least allowed free car parking to those who receive the higher rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance/War Pensioners Mobility Supplement.
“People get the higher rate because of the severity of their condition and the greater problems they have with getting around.
“This system would be enforceable, as people in getting the allowance get a tax disc with “DISABLED” on it, and the fee section shows “0:00” - so a traffic warden car/park attendant could easily identify the vehicle.
The ruling group voted this suggestion down.”
You have to wonder why.
Here was a simple way to make a concession to a small number of people that would have been recognised as an act of generosity - yet cost barely anything.
The Tories stuck to their guns – presumably to appear strong and determined – but instead emerging as obstinate and inflexible.
We understand that Cabinet member Derek Richmond’s infamous comments about the disabled were made at the time of the Labour group suggestion.
Readers will recall the response that “If an able bodied person pays for a parking space, why shouldn’t a disabled person? They have a disability – 99% of them do not have a financial problem.
“Disabled people do not like to be discriminated against.”
Councillor Richmond was joined by another cabinet member when the news emerged that free parking passes for council staff and councillors would not to be rescinded.
Both he and Councillor Raymond Singleton-McGuire dismissed the argument that staff should pay to park.
Councillor Richmond said staff had been let off “as it was thought they had faced enough hardship recently, accepting a two year pay freeze and dealing with other restrictions.”
And Councillor Singleton-McGuire, who drew up the controversial budget which included hiking parking charges, added: “They have taken a hit and they have been restricted.”
But the goalposts moved when Independent Councillor Carol Taylor urged the council to re-think its decision to continue to dish out passes.
A council spokesman announced: “It is part of the pay and conditions agreement with staff that they are provided with car parking to carry out their work.
“Their permits only allow them to park for the hours that they are employed to work for Boston Borough Council.
“Councillors can only use their parking permit when they are engaged in council business. There is no cost associated with this provision.”
This is somewhat confusing, as the remarks by Councillors Richmond and Simpleton-McGuire implied a specific concession on the grounds of some perverse sense of fair play.
To be provided with car parking "to carry out your work" suggests nothing more than if you work for Boston Borough Council, you park for free.
Although, as the spokesman said, free parking is part of their contract, this changes the position.
And if Messrs Richmond and Singleton-McGuire had said so at the time, then they could have defused the row that has now broken out.
There is a strong case to review this concession, as it is wrong and insulting to the townspeople at large to imply that they have not taken “a hit as well.” We’re all in the same boat, and preferential treatment of this kind leave a sour taste.
Similarly, whilst it is technically correct to claim “there is no cost associated with this provision,” there is a loss to the council in revenue terms.
If staff and councillors paid their way it has been calculated that the public purse would be richer to the tune of £81,000.
And are we seriously expected to believe that the restrictive conditions attached to the use of permits are rigorously adhered to?
Somehow, we doubt that this issue is going to go away quietly.
We recall that in what was for them a bold piece of civic disobedience, the Boston Standard drew up a petition for people to sign to oppose the charges.
But what happened to it is anyone’s guess.
Certainly, if many people have signed it, their feelings need to be made known ahead of the Cabinet budget meeting on 22nd February – so that the not very Magnificent Seven who run the borough with an iron fist in an iron glove are left in no doubt of public feeling.
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