Council parking 'daylight robbery'
Councils have been accused by the Government of ripping off drivers and committing "daylight robbery" after a report revealed they are coining it in from parking charges.
In 2013/14, councils in England made a combined "profit" of £667 million from their on- and off-street parking operations, it said.
This was 12% more than the 2012/13 figure of £594 million, with 44% of the 2013/14 total being generated by councils in London, the RAC Foundation survey said.
It added that very few councils were losing money on parking operations, with just 16% of the 353 parking authorities in England reporting negative numbers for 2013/14.
The figures were calculated by adding up income from parking charges and penalty notices, then deducting running costs.
The foundation said that while some of the increase in surplus was down to rising income, there was also evidence that many councils were cutting operating costs sharply.
For England as a whole, councils' operating costs for on-street parking dropped 10%.
But the foundation said that even after allowing for capital charges (interest and depreciation), the combined surplus in 2013/14 was still £549 million.
This was a 19% increase on the £460 million figure for 2012/13.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "These official figures show how town halls are committing daylight robbery by ripping off drivers with exorbitant parking charges and unfair parking fines.
"The recent growth in fines is coming from the industrial use of CCTV spy cars allowed under laws introduced by the last government. This is why we have introduced a law before Parliament to stop these snoopers, as part of package of measures to rein in the town hall parking bullies and protect local shops."
RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: "Parking profits seem to be a one-way street for councils, having risen annually for the last five years.
"Yet over the same period spending on local roads has fallen about a fifth in real terms.
"We understand the pressures councils are under with their overall income still falling and the level of services they have to provide in such areas as social care rising rapidly."
He went on: "One sign that the escalation in parking profits might be coming to an end is that much of this year's increase comes not from growing income from penalties and charges but cuts in the cost of parking operations.
"This suggests local authorities are making efficiency savings and should bring some good news to both drivers and council tax-payers.
"The bottom line is that parking policy and charges must be about managing traffic, not raising revenue."
The data, analysed for the RAC Foundation by transport consultant David Leibling, came from the statutory annual returns that councils made to the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The authority with the largest surplus in 2013/14 was previous table-topper Westminster with £51 million.
The five biggest "earners" were all London authorities, with only Brighton and Hove and Nottingham breaking into a top 10 dominated by councils in the capital.
Heather Acton, Westminster City Council's Cabinet member for parking, said: "It is hardly surprising that we are talking about big numbers, due to the huge demand for parking in Westminster.
"An estimated 600,000 vehicles drive into central London every day - and we have to manage congestion and kerbside space.
"Let us also make something crystal clear - every penny, by law, is spent on parking and transport-related projects. For example, as a proactive means of helping drivers find a parking space, we have installed 3,000 parking sensors and designed a parking app."
She added: "Parking marshals have been retrained to assist motorists before enforcing restrictions. These are hardly the actions of a council trying to penalise motorists, but evidence that the council is doing its utmost to get the balance right for Westminster's visitors, residents and businesses."
Local Government Association transport spokesman Peter Box said: "This misleading RAC Foundation report is yet again based on the deep-rooted misconception that councils make a profit from parking. On-street parking revenue is spent on paying for parking services and any surplus is spent on essential transport projects.
"This report shows parking fines have gone down and that councils have become more efficient at running parking services. This means councils can spend the extra income on filling potholes and tackling the £12 billion repair bill to bring our roads up to scratch."
He went on: "The RAC Foundation also fails to take into account a likely growing demand for parking from traffic increases on our roads and the important role parking services play in reducing congestion and keeping pedestrians and motorists safe as a result.
"Councils are on the side of hard-pressed motorists. The reality is that the average motorist is paying 30 times more to Whitehall in charges and taxation each year than they do to their town hall through parking."
:: These were the councils with the biggest surplus in 2013/14 before capital charges.
All are London boroughs except Brighton and Nottingham:
LOCAL AUTHORITY SURPLUS
1. Westminster £51.03 million
2. Kensington & Chelsea £33.51 million
3. Camden £24.87 million
4. Hammersmith & Fulham £22.96 million
5. Wandsworth £19.69 million
6. Brighton & Hove £18.09 million
7. Nottingham City £12.06 million
8. Islington £10.38 million
9. Tower Hamlets £8.32 million
10. Brent £8.31 million
AA president Edmund King said: "It is clear that some local authorities are not complying with the Secretary of State's parking guidance.
"This clearly states that authorities should never use parking charges just to raise revenue or as a local tax. It is an insult for drivers to be told that potholes cannot be filled unless parking profits are increased.
"Councils were handed £300 million extra ring-fenced funding over the last few years by the Government to fill the potholes and fix damaged roads so parking profits should not be used to fill their coffers."
He went on: "Parking profiteering by some councils can damage local business and drive trade elsewhere. Squeezing extra parking cash from drivers is rampant, with not only charges going up but also the hours of the day when charges are applied getting ever longer, including Sundays in many places.
"In an AA/Populus survey responded to by 15,860 AA members, the cost of parking was considered the most important issue for them when deciding to make a trip into town (81%), with only 7% considering it unimportant."