DOUGLAS Ross has fired the opening salvo in this year’s council elections by promising no Conservative-run local authority will introduce a workplace parking levy.

The Scottish Tory leader made the pledge at First Minister’s Questions as he attacked the Scottish Government for letting councils set the levy at whatever level they liked.

The Tories currently help run six of Scotland’s 32 councils, and hope to improve on that when voters go to the polls in May.

Mr Ross said it was wrong to impose a costly new tax at the same time people were “on the brink” with rising bills and the cost of living crisis.

Transport minister Jenny Gilruth confirmed this week there would be no upper limit, telling MSPs councils would set “whatever” levy they liked based on local circumstances.

In Nottingham, employers with more than 10 staff parking spaces are required to pay just over £400 per space to the council.

The revenue has been used to help pay for the city’s trams and other public transport.

In Scotland, a series of business organisations have warned a workplace parking levy (WPL) could hurt firms struggling to recover after the pandemic and depress high street footfall.

At FMQs, Mr Ross criticised the SNP for planning to keep service cuts and fare prices on ScotRail when they took it into public ownership from April.

He said: “While public transport services are being cut, her Government has turned against drivers as well. She’s abandoned plans to improve roads, and now she’s bringing in the workplace parking tax without any cap on the amount people will be forced to pay.

“When it was first proposed, organisations like the EIS, the Scottish Police Federation and the Unite union warned about the costs falling on teachers, police officers, care staff and shift workers - all warnings completely ignored by Nicola Sturgeon and her Government.

“Now this week the Scottish Retail Consortium has said the workplace parking tax is a recipe for extra costs and complexity. 

“Now today the AA are warning workers are going to be hit with levies as much as £1000.

“First Minister, when people are already on the brink with bills increasing the cost of living rising, why is your government in favour of a costly workplace parking tax at the same time?”

The First Minister said many people in the country were “on the brink because of benefit cuts and tax rises being imposed by the Conservative government at Westminster”.

She said the WPL was a discretionary power for councils, which they did not have to use if they did not want oto, or didn’t think it fitted their local circumstances.

She also pointed out the last Tory local election manifesto in 2017 said the party wanted to “empower” councils, but now he wanted to order them what to do.

She said: “This is simply giving local authorities in Scotland a power that local authorities in England have had for a decade and more.

“Not for the first time there is a deep hypocrisy at the heart of Douglas Ross’s question.”

Ms Sturgeon also reminded Mr Ross all parties at Holyrood were committed to Net Zero.

She said: “We need to get people out of cars, we need to get people onto public transport.

“So we will not just set the targets, we will take the action to help meet those targets, and we will leave Douglas Ross and his colleagues whining as usual on the sidelines.”

The Tory leader replied: “Here’s the difference between myself and the First Minister. I do want to empower councils, she wants to use them as a shield.

“She’s using councils as a shield against her tax rises. 

“And it’s going to be council led by the SNP and the Labour party that will introduce these car park levies, because I can assure her Scottish Conservative councils will not.

“Her government is anti-driver. The First Minister doesn’t seem to understand that for many people, particularly those living in rural areas, they need their car to get to work.” 

Ms Sturgeon said: “Listening to Douglas Ross there, it’s quite clear what his approach is. He will empower local authorities - if he ever gets the chance, which I would humbly suggest is unlikely - he would empower local authorities only if they do exactly what he instructs them to do. That is not empowerment. 

“We have given powers to local authorities. It is up to them to judge whether and to what extent they use those in line with their local circumstances. That is empowerment.”

Earlier, Ms Sturgeon said the timetable run by ScotRail after it was nationalised in April would be “reflective of the usage of the railways” and refused to rule out service cuts. 

Plans by the rail operator announced last week show a drop of 250 daily services when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Transport minister Jenny Gilruth said on Wednesday that train use had shifted as a result of worries surrounding the pandemic and a move to more hybrid forms of working.

Ms Sturgeon indicated the planned service cuts would go ahead, but added: “We will make sure that we have a railway that is fit for the future.”

She guaranteed future timetables would be dictated by passenger usage, which would be kept under review.

“What is the use in nationalising services if the SNP are just going to do the exact same as ScotRail?” Mr Ross asked.

“If you won’t change those cuts that are planned, will you at least guarantee that when the Scottish Government takes control of ScotRail, not one further service will be cut?”

Ms Sturgeon said: “What I guarantee is that when the Scottish Government takes ownership of ScotRail, we will operate a timetable that is reflective of the usage of the railway by passengers. That is about the real world running of a railway that is fit for purpose.

“And secondly, we will continue to ensure that we have affordable rail fares, we’ll take action to ensure rail fares are affordable and let me just remind Douglas Ross, right now rail fares are, I think, 20% cheaper on average in Scotland than they are across the rest of the UK.

“So that’s a good foundation on which to build, I would suggest.”