Herts Ad Comment: Parking privilege needs review

PUBLISHED: 07:00 25 January 2018

STOCK Generic office

STOCK Generic office

Archant

Imagine if all of the 50 members of staff working for the council paid a drastically discounted £5 a day for the privilege of parking at the Civic Centre...

Even taking into account holidays and other absences, you’re looking at revenue well in excess of £400,000 - certainly no small drop in the ocean.

It’s money which could be used for community projects to enhance the district, such as supporting the St Albans Film Festival (unlike Watford, the council offers no financial backing), providing better street signage between the station and the city centre (much needed with the new museum project soon to open), or any number of smaller initiatives.

But instead of this, council staff are offered an incentive to work here which the majority of other city centre employees are denied.

And whenever council coffers are looking empty, the cost of car parking is always the first source for new revenue, squeezing a couple of extra quid out of those people who have no other choice but to pay for this service.

The disparity between the public and private sector is thus even more pronounced.

But even if you accept that there is an ongoing problem recruiting the best council staff this close to London (a situation surely faced by other businesses?), this incentive seems to be a stretch too far.

Why offer free parking when shopping spaces are already squeezed to the limit?

Why cover the full cost of parking, instead of meeting half-way with a generous discount?

Why not offer a similar incentive to other city centre workers who are forced to pay around £50 a week to park?

And although council staff are only supposed to use the free parking when on official business, what sort of enforcement exists to prevent them from parking at weekends?

We completely understand the need to encourage staff to work in expensive St Albans - it’s a problem this newspaper finds when recruiting reporters from outside the area - and we’re not even calling for council employeers to pay the full whack for parking at the Civic Centre - any sort of contribution would be welcome.

But perhaps when justifying this parking perk SADC’s head of corporate services would be best not to try and pass the buck to the volunteers who work in the charities also based at the Civic Centre. Those people who give up their time, knowledge and effort to support Citizens Advice and Community Central are surely entitled to some recompense for their efforts, and not to be pigeonholed with the council staff who receive free parking as an added bonus on top of their salaries?

This story has obviously ruffled feathers at the Civic Centre, as after publishing it online earlier this week we were urged to tone it down by council officials who accused us of bias and making up quotes. We were also blamed for comments about the story made by users on a local Facebook group.

The fact that we were leaned on in this way says a lot about how SADC reacts to stories they aren’t happy with.

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Recently we, as a family (minus two of the kids), visited The Lodge RSPB reserve in Sandy, Bedfordshire. I had never been before, which is perhaps amiss of me as a birdwatcher as it is the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds or RSPB and only 45 minutes drive from home.

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