You’ll remember yesterday that I wrote about the extra £40 a month many low paid shop workers in Livingston are being asked to pay for parking from next week. That sum is equivalent to many of them working roughly 7 hours a week for nothing.
I duly complained to the Centre via their website and was a bit surprised to find the Centre Director James Bailey on my phone within hours.
It is only fair that I give him the chance to give his side of the story.
He explained how Land Securities had originally planned to start charging for parking not long after the new Elements part of the Centre opened in 2008. This was delayed because of the recession.
Charges will now be introduced for both public and staff from next Wednesday, 1st June. There are 250 spaces reserved for staff parking, yet the centre has 2500 staff and 70% of those come to work by car – although, obviously, not all at the same time. Land Securities had considered the option of giving each store a number of staff car park passes, but felt that it was fairer to put all staff on the same arrangements.
June is scheduled to be a month of analysis to establish exactly how many staff spaces are needed. That will give an indication of how many people need to park. Once he has that information, Land Securities will review the best way to manage staff parking.
James Bailey acknowledged that travelling to work by car is a necessity and not a luxury for many people in West Lothian, given the patchiness of bus services to rural areas. He wants to see if those who live closer, who don’t need to take their cars, can be persuaded not to do so by encouraging car sharing schemes and cycle facilities. He also said that he had introduced a similar scheme in Milton Keynes which worked well.
I’m glad that he took the time to explain Land Securities perspective, but I’m still not happy with the proposed changes. He made the case that the company had been responsible for massive development in Livingston. I can’t argue with that. When we came here 11 years ago, there was no cinema, hardly any restaurants and comparatively few major retailers. The Centre has now grown to be one of the best retail outlets in Scotland. It’s a good job well done, but Land Securities haven’t done it out of the goodness of their hearts. They reap a handsome reward from the retailers. This is not a company on its uppers – it made over a billion pounds in profit in the last financial year, up almost 15% on the previous year. It really doesn’t need to profiteer on the backs of people on the minimum wage.
While I think it’s absolutely fine to look at ways to reduce the number of staff taking their cars to work, I still find it very hard to justify charging them such a large amount, especially in the current climate.
While Mr Bailey was very reasonable, he hasn’t done enough to convince me that the charges are either fair or necessary. There is an inconsistency in that staff at the neighbouring McArthur Glen will still get to park for free and it’s not appropriate to compare Livingston with Milton Keynes, where public transport links are much better.
The reality is that in most places, there would be a viable alternative to paying the charge. People would be able to find somewhere else to park or come to work by public transport. That’s not the case here.
Those of you reading this in England, or even maybe Edinburgh, will be asking what on earth I’m whinging about, as £40 a month will be a comparatively small amount. Remember, though, that until now, all parking in Livingston has been completely free. It’s a huge increase, all of a sudden. An extra £500 annually, equivalent, for someone on the minimum wage having their pay cut by two weeks’ wages, is asking too much.