SOCIAL workers have warned a new parking tax could deprive vulnerable children of “safe spaces” to discuss their problems and increase the risk of highly sensitive data leaking.

The Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) told MSPs that cars were essential for staff visiting clients and without them more people could leave the profession.

In written evidence to this week’s Holyrood Connectivity Committee, the Association said social workers should be exempt from the planned workplace parking levy (WPL).

The result of an SNP-Green deal on the 2019/20 Scottish Budget, the WPL would empower councils to charge employers for parking spaces to help cut congestion.

In Nottingham, the only UK council with a WPL, employers with more than 10 bays are billed £415 a year for each, but most pass on the cost to staff, which adds another £83 in VAT.

Under the Scottish WPL, the NHS and GP surgeries would be automatically exempt, with local authorities free to add other exemptions.

However there have been calls for the police, teachers and other public servants to be exempt too.

In its submission, the SASW included quotes from social workers about their reliance on cars, not just for emergencies, but for routinely transporting children, conveying sensitive files and discussing cases in ways impossible on public transport.

One said: “The use of my car is necessary to provide privacy, respect and personalised support to the children and young people I work with.

“My car is something each child becomes familiar with – it becomes their safe space to talk alone to me, to share without pressure or eye contact.

“It is their time to decompress, or disclose information, after a difficult meeting with a family member.”

A second said: “I have special secure bags which we need to hold private records or papers for meetings. Travelling frequently by public transport with these as opposed to the car would greatly increase risk of error or breach with this highly sensitive information.”

Another, who ferries three young children long distances to visit their mother by car, said the same journey by public transport would take longer than their entire working day.

The SASW said: “Placing a charge on social workers to park at work, after using their cars to carry out essential work – much of this in emergency situations – places an added level of stress on workers who need access to their office space to reflect on difficult or even traumatizing cases. We are concerned that this could lead to even more social workers leaving the profession entirely.”

In other submissions, the Scottish Retail Consortium and Scottish Wholesale Association warned many shift workers had no public transport options, and docking the WPL from workers’ pay could put some below the legal national minimum wage.

The STUC also opposed the WPL, saying it was “ultimately a tax on workers”, while the EIS teaching union said schools and other public services should be exempt.

Green MSP John Finnie said: “My amendment would give local authorities the power to implement a workplace parking levy should they wish to, and it’s clear they could consider various options for that. If they’re designing services in such a way that staff think they couldn’t possibly function without using a private car then there’s a deeper failure in the system, and it’s one which is clearly unsustainable in the face of a climate emergency.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Transport Bill provisions are for a national exemption that will apply to NHS buildings. Hospices will also be exempt from the levy as will Blue Badge holders. 

"In addition to the exemptions already proposed, the provisions enable local authorities to consider further local exemptions and they are also required to consult on the specifics of any scheme prior to implementation.”