Taxes and charges on road users - Transport Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 359)



  Q340  Sir Peter Soulsby: Like a number of other cities—and it is true to some extent in the Manchester area—Nottingham has very tightly drawn boundaries and it just strikes me that this is a Nottingham City Council initiative?

  Mr Gooding: Yes.

  Q341  Sir Peter Soulsby: To what extent have you got cooperation with other local authorities which are part of the Greater Nottingham area?

  Mr Gooding: In terms of the workplace parking levy, Nottingham's local transport plan is actually a Greater Nottingham local transport plan, so it is actually done in conjunction with the County Council. So the policies in there are integrated over the plan there. However, Nottingham City Council is only pursuing a workplace parking levy, not the County Council.

  Q342  Sir Peter Soulsby: Is that not a potential weakness in the scheme, in that certainly part of the core urban area is outside the City Council's jurisdiction?

  Mr Gooding: We only have the powers to put it in within our own administrative area, but if we look at the public transport improvements we are making for Nottingham City Council, it will be far wider spread than just within the City Council. There is the extension to the tram system, there is the bus link networks and the improvements to the station. Really the majority of them are actually in the City Council area, although the benefits are wider spread because the commuters actually come from the County Council area but a lot of the congestion impacts are actually within the City Council. The commuters actually impact on the City Council area, though they may reside in the County Council area.

  Q343  Graham Stringer: I am not clear from your answers. The businesses which are expected to pay this car parking levy, what is their attitude? How many of them are in favour and how many of them are against?

  Mr Gooding: With the public consultation we undertook overall we did a lot of direct mailings and lots of communications to try and get businesses to participate in the public consultation. Of the 3,500 businesses which would be liable for a levy, 3,000 of them would not have to actually pay anything, they would just have the licence. During the public consultation exercise over 12 weeks 100 businesses responded to that and of those 83 objected and the rest were neutral and four were in support. In terms of actual issues and consultation only 83 businesses actually took the time to object during the consultation period.

  Q344  Graham Stringer: That in round terms is 83% of those who replied, who would pay?

  Mr Gooding: Yes.

  Q345  Graham Stringer: That is a pretty severe level of objection, is it not?

  Mr Gooding: I suppose it would be unprecedented really to expect them to come out in direct support, but you could also argue the fact that there are 3,500 businesses and only 100 took the time to respond. I suppose it depends on how you look at the results.

  Q346  Graham Stringer: It does depend on how you look at the results and I can understand why those businesses who would not pay did not respond. I can understand why 83% of the businesses who did respond, who are going to pay, would be against it. How is Nottingham City Council evaluating that work? Is it taking the fact that most businesses are neutral because they are not going to pay as support for the scheme? Is the Council taking the line you seem to be taking?

  Mr Gooding: Can you just repeat the question?

  Q347  Graham Stringer: You have done a consultation exercise. What is the threshold that has to be passed when you write a report to the Council to say, "We consulted the people affected by this and it is a green light because 83% of them are against it"? What is the threshold you have to get to?

  Mr Gooding: Firstly, the public consultation is not a referendum. It was not to say that if the decision came back as "Yes" we were going to do it.

  Q348  Graham Stringer: I understand the difference between public consultation and a referendum. Yu have gone out and spent a great deal of money consulting. What I want to know is, do you have criteria in Nottingham for what would be support for the scheme and what would be opposition so that you would not go ahead, or are you just going through the motions?

  Mr Gooding: In terms of the consultation, we looked at the consultation response that came in. We then themed and sub-themed, so we basically looked at what the issues were being raised in the representation -

  Q349  Chairman: I think what Mr Stringer is asking you is how will you decide what to do as a result of that consultation? What would be there to constitute approval in your mind, or are you just going through the motion of having the consultation?

  Mr Gooding: In terms of the motions, we are going through the public consultation motion, which is a mandatory requirement that we undertake that. By going through the consultation we then identified the issues people raised. By identifying the issues, the Council then put forward its response to those issues.

  Q350  Chairman: How will you assess the balance on those issues?

  Mr Gooding: Those issues were taken to the Council's Executive Board to consider them alongside things like a public examination, which was a five day examination of all the issues raised by the responses, including the public as well as businesses. That was done by an independent examiner, who also took forward a report and it all went through to the Council's Executive Board so that they can make an informed decision looking at the issues raised, looking at the Council's response and an independent examiner's views. They took the decision in principle to proceed with the levy.

  Q351  Graham Stringer: Can I ask Councillor Walsh, what lessons have you learnt about public attitudes to congestion charging and road user taxes during the consultation and referendum in Greater Manchester?

  Cllr Walsh: I think the biggest single lesson is that the public saw it as being unfair, that there was a perception, a very clear perception by the majority of those who voted that a small number were being asked to pay a disproportionate sum. It was interesting that in fact many large businesses were also opposed to the imposition of the Congestion Charge, fearing it would impact badly on their employees, many of whom were amongst the lower paid members of the community and that is very interesting. It is interesting, as I have described earlier, that the sums involved were at the margins. If you take away the contingency fund, if you take away the cost of the charging equipment, the net sum raised from the Congestion Charge was about £200 million in a project which was valued at £2.8 million and the quantum, therefore, was perceived to be minimal in terms of benefits accruing. The other message which people were giving very clearly when one spoke to them and in the response one had is that it was perceived to be inequitable that projects which were funded by mainstream funding in other parts of the country were being imposed upon Greater Manchester only if they paid a Congestion Charge and that it was "blackmail", which was a word that was often used.

  Q352  Graham Stringer: Was there any difference between the attitudes of the general public and businesses? Were businesses more or less hostile than the general public?

  Cllr Walsh: There were those members of the business community who were in support of the Congestion Charge. The majority in my perception were opposed to it, but it was interesting in doing private polling and in talking to individuals—and I did quite a lot on the streets, talking to people with petitions and other measures—there was a strength of feeling that I have never previously witnessed from members of all political parties across all sections of the community; it was not confined to any one group, and this was in the boroughs, not just in the city of Manchester but in the boroughs surround it.

  Q353  Graham Stringer: What do you think the lessons in public policy are for local authorities and the Government out of the referenda exercise in Greater Manchester?

  Cllr Walsh: I think the biggest single lesson is that a politic of taxation, of higher taxation, is never popular and to take that as an option to the public creates, I think, a very clear message that the answer is, no to higher taxation.

  Q354  Ms Smith: Mr Gooding again. I am clearly not picking on you, but I am interested in this levy. You talked about consultation with businesses. Does the term "businesses" in the remit of this scheme include the universities? Are the universities classed as businesses for the purpose of this scheme?

  Mr Gooding: To the best of my knowledge, yes. The university is liable.

  Q355  Ms Smith: Pretty major employers in Nottingham?

  Mr Gooding: Yes. They would be because there were several different categories in terms of the consultation and they could have gone in -

  Q356  Ms Smith: They would be just one of the 20% that would be included in this scheme?

  Mr Gooding: Yes.

  Q357  Ms Smith: Would the same apply to the NHS?

  Mr Gooding: The NHS is different because the NHS actually receives 100% discount under the Nottingham scheme. So that means that although they would have the licence they would not be liable to pay the charge.

  Q358  Ms Smith: Would the same apply to the City Council?

  Mr Gooding: No, it would not.

  Q359  Ms Smith: So the Council would be liable to pay?

  Mr Gooding: All public sector organisations are liable. I was telling you of the discounts. In terms of the Nottingham scheme there are several discounts. There is a 100% discount for the emergency services, Fire and Police, NHS front-line premises, and there is a 100% discount for businesses with 10 or less spaces and disabled spaces.

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