Northumberland’s county councillors meet on February 18 to agree a budget for 2013-14.
The current plan by the new Labour administration is to increase council tax by 1.99 per cent to raise an extra £2,630,000.
This sum covers the cost of introducing free parking in Northumberland, said to be £2,235,000.
All council tax payers in Northumberland would therefore pay for the introduction of free parking, including those who access town centres by other means, such as buses and taxis, and those living in towns where parking charges are not currently considered possible or necessary.
By choosing not to freeze council tax, Labour will lose a grant from government worth £1,328,000.
This grant would pay for continuing to support post-16 student travel and avoid charging families £450 a year for student transport as the new Labour administration also proposes.
In a populist move before the local elections in May last year, Labour pledged to introduce free parking.
Labour won control of the council and they have since consulted town and parish councils.
It is not surprising that most of them have accepted the offer since it is the county council that has the responsibility of making free parking work and covering the cost.
Parking charges were introduced into Morpeth well over a decade ago.
Borough councillors saw the need to manage traffic and the availability of off-street parking spaces effectively.
They also saw the disc parking scheme, which operated at that time being abused, with difficulties over enforcement and car parks needing to be repaired and brought up to a decent standard.
I am therefore not surprised that the Morpeth Chamber of Trade is concerned that at the prospect of disc parking returning with people not using the car parks properly and workers clogging up the short stay car parks.
They therefore plan to ask the county council to retain and maintain the existing meters and issue zero charge tickets, thus adding a further considerable cost to Labour’s ‘free parking for all’.
From May of this year I believe many motorists would prefer to continue to pay £15 for a two-year county-wide shopper’s permit.
This would allow parking during off-peak hours in specified town centre car parks. They would pay a small charge when they need to park in the busy periods of the day.
I know that traders have argued that taking money out of motorists’ pockets by charging for car parking harms trade.
But how will taking money out of the pockets of every council tax payer in Northumberland and by charging £450 for post-16 transport benefit traders?
Labour councillors have got themselves into a pickle with their ill-considered populist pledge.