MOTORISTS could be targeted by slap-happy private parking patrols following Police Scotland’s decision to withdraw traffic wardens, it has been claimed.
All police-funded traffic wardens are being scrapped as part of a multi-million pound cash-saving drive which has also seen police stations across the country being closed to the public.
The move has caused an outcry, particularly in East Lothian, where there have been warnings of a parking free-for-all once there is no-one to enforce routine waiting restrictions.
Now opposition politicians are claiming one likely scenario is that councils will employ private firms to carry out parking enforcement.
And they say there would be more chance of motorists being ticketed by firms with targets and profits in mind.
In some areas, including Edinburgh, parking enforcement has long been the responsibility of the local authority, which can then employ a private firm to do the job.
But in Mid, East and West Lothian, the service has up until now been provided by the police.
Councils could choose to take on the parking remit, but it would mean huge extra costs and also require special parking orders to go through the Scottish Parliament.
The scrapping of the police wardens was due to take place at the start of the month, but East Lothian Council successfully argued for it to be delayed. The authority said discussions on the issue were still ongoing. East Lothian Labour MSP Iain Gray said: “With police set to remove traffic wardens from East Lothian at the end of the month concern is growing.
“The community council in Haddington has already heard descriptions of traffic chaos in the town even before the last of the wardens disappear.
“None of the alternatives is acceptable, whether the council has to pay for wardens themselves, police officers spend time giving tickets instead of catching criminals, or we end up with target- driven privatised warden services like Edinburgh.”
He said whatever happened, there would be a gap of at least 18 months without any wardens while legislation was pursued to decriminalise parking and transfer responsibility to the local authority.
“This can only result in frustration for motorists and damage to local businesses,” he said. “This is a wrong headed decision and Police Scotland should think again.”
MSPs are due to debate a motion next week accusing Police Scotland of shifting cuts from their budgets to those of local authorities and condemning the schedule for removing wardens as rushed.
While the Scottish Conservatives said they feared private wardens, with targets to meet, could soon be handing out hundreds of thousands of new parking tickets. Based on statistics obtained under Freedom of Information legislation, they said police-funded traffic wardens had issued a total of 225,664 fines across the country to motorists parked illegally since 2008,
The figures, broken down by former police force areas, showed 55,758 tickets had been dished out in Lothian and Borders in that time.
And the Tories fear private firms, driven by targets, are likely to be more pro-active – sending the number of tickets slapped on motorists soaring.
Scottish Tory transport spokesman Alex Johnstone said: “There is a grave danger that, with police no longer in charge of parking enforcement, this will become a gravy train for parking wardens.
“We already see it in Edinburgh, and we don’t want the whole country to reach that stage.
“Police wardens, who would act responsibly and when it was necessary, could end up being replaced by target- driven firms who only have profit in mind. And it will also hit town centre businesses, whose customers will be too scared to leave their car outside for even a minute.”
Police have said withdrawal of wardens will bring them into line with the rest of the country.