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The debate has done little to allay Labour’s concerns that the Transport (Scotland) Bill is, in many ways, a missed opportunity.
We support the introduction of low-emission zones, but an opportunity was missed to strengthen them. We support the ban on pavement parking but, again, an opportunity was lost to close potential loopholes.
Labour has worked hard to improve the bill. I place on record my thanks to my researcher Meg for her amazing work in developing our positive and constructive alternatives. It is her birthday today—what a way this is to spend it.
Labour made sensible and constructive proposals—for example, to make public transport more accessible to disabled people and to properly enforce a ban on parking in mandatory cycle lanes. On the day when the SNP voted for a car parking tax, it voted against making cycling to work safer. Go work that one out.
As I said in my opening speech, Labour welcomes the decision by the SNP to drop its opposition to Labour’s call to lift the ban on councils running bus services, thereby empowering our local authorities to play their part in stemming plummeting passenger numbers and rocketing fares. The potential to expand municipal ownership is one of the most important changes that the bill will now make, thanks to pressure from Labour. It is a chance to move away from the fragmented privatised bus system and for councils to take services back into public hands, so that they are run for passengers, not profit.
We now need the political will to put into practice those powers and others that are being introduced through the bill, such as for bus service improvement plans and franchises.
We in Labour will play our part through local councils right across Scotland, and I hope that others—including the SNP Government—will do the same, by properly resourcing our councils to deliver bus services for our communities, instead of voting through budget after budget that cuts those resources.
If we really want people to use cars less, we need transformational change in public transport. That is how less car use will be achieved. It will not be achieved by a regressive car park tax, which was an afterthought in the bill—a proposal that the Government tried to sneak through as a late amendment, thereby igniting a backlash that I believe will undermine public support for proper environmental action for decades to come.
No wonder people are angry. What signal did it send when, fresh from voting for a car park tax on workers, SNP ministers went home from Holyrood last night in their fleet of chauffeur-driven cars parked outside the Parliament that were paid for by the same workers? Between them, the MSPs who voted against Labour’s amendments to scrap the tax last night have claimed £304,342 from the taxpayer in car hire, mileage, taxis and car parking. Yes. Car parking.
Even though they were determined to drive through the tax, those MSPs could have tried to make it fairer. They could have supported Labour’s amendments to exempt electric cars and low-paid workers. Instead, as things stand, a company boss could be asked to pay the same as a company cleaner. A chief executive of a health board, who is on more than £100,000 a year, will be exempt, but a carer who works for a charity on the minimum wage will have to stump up. That is simply not fair.
Many of my constituents travel to cities for work from rural areas that have poor transport links. Under the car park tax, they will pay hundreds of pounds to a neighbouring council—Glasgow City Council or the City of Edinburgh Council—but not a penny will be spent on improving public transport in the council area where they live, and where they do not have transport, because of a lack of strategic thought by the Government.
That is why Labour lodged amendments to the bill to scrap the car park tax. And it is why, when the bill passes—as it will, with the votes of the SNP and Greens—we will make it clear that, in our manifesto for the next Scottish Parliament election, there will be a clear commitment: Labour will scrap the car park tax.