Spare a thought for the shop workers in Livingston's shopping centre who have been told that they will have to pay a minimum of £10 a week to park their car, just to go to work, from next Wednesday.
I know that we in Livingston have been spoiled with the huge amount of free parking we've had until now and that car parking charges were always planned for the Centre. In fact, we were expecting them soon after the new development opened in 2008 but they were put off because of the recession. So, Land Securities, the company who owned the car parks were prepared to put off charging for parking to protect the profits of the shops in the centre from a loss of potential footfall. It's a great pity that they are not prepared to protect their low paid staff from having to find an extra £40 a month just to to to work. Bearing in mind that the minimum wage is under £6 an hour, that's equivalent to not paying them for 7 hours a month.
Those of you out there in the real world may well be thinking "welcome to reality, mates", but there are good reasons why this is pretty outrageous.
- public transport within Livingston is not that great and if you live outside the town, it's just not feasible to use it. If you live in Linlithgow, there's one bus every two hours. If you live in Fauldhouse, the service is scant and can't get you in for work on time on a Sunday, and it takes over an hour to do a journey that can be done in a car in a quarter of that time.
- I am really uneasy about a private company making profit off the backs of low paid staff in this way. I'd oppose these charges if it was the Council making them - but there would be some level of democratic accountability there. Land Securities are an effective monopoly who don't have to care about such things. However, they can be shamed into a rethink if enough customers vote with their feet.
- I suspect what may happen is that rather than pay to park in the car parks in The Centre (and, remember, there are no alternatives), they will park in housing estates within walking distance, which is going to create problems for residents in places like Howden, Dedridge and possibly Livingston Village too. I don't blame the staff who might take that decision, but it will cause problems.
- Staff at the neighbouring Mcarthur Glen designer outlet will continue to be able to park for free in designated spaces so there's an inherent unfairness there.
- Land Securities say they want to encourage employees to car share - but that's not going to be possible as often people have different lengths of shifts and will be working at all sorts of different times. I'm sure that people already do where possible, but shouldn't be penalised when they can't.
So, what can we do about it? Well, if you feel as strongly as I do, contact The Centre management. You can write to them herehttp://www.shopthecentre.co.uk/customerservices/contactus/contact.aspx. There's also a Facebook group here and an online petition here.
If you live in Livingston, you might want to think about voting with your feet and not using the Centre. I won't, while the company which owns them are penalising staff in this way. The other thing to do is to write to the companies who have shops in the centre and explain your concern. We ordinary folk might not have much clout, but the likes of Marks and Spencer and Debenhams do. If they think they will lose custom because we're backing the staff on this, they might be able to put some pressure on Land Securities.
Also, contact elected representatives - your local councillors, Graeme Morrice MP and Angela Constance MSP to see if they will publicly support this campaign.
I think this is a terrible way to treat low paid staff with the rises in the cost of living. They are already being penalised enough. I don't want to see Land Securities make profit out of them to get them to work. If you agree, don't just fume silently - take action.