Helen Martin: Scandal of free bus passes and parking for councillors

Perks of the privileged few at the City of Edinburgh Council anger Helen Martin
Perks of the privileged few at the City of Edinburgh Council anger Helen Martin
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WHEN it comes to critics of Edinburgh City Council, I am certainly relentless, though I’m not claiming to be one of the best or most effective.

It’s always been the role of “the Fourth Estate”, journalists and newspapers, to hold the government and councils to account – a crucial factor in the process of democracy. And that’s just as important locally as in big national scandals such as MPs’ expenses swindles.

So, let’s come right down to local level. Why are our councillors (including those under the age of 60) given free bus passes? Why do 11 of them have free parking places as well, with four councillors enjoying both?

As we all know, parking charges are a cash cow for the council. In fact, parking near council HQ in Waverley Court would cost £37 a day. But not for 11 councillors, whose free parking perks have the potential to cost us (rate payers) around £105,000 a year.

Strangely enough, while all are forced to declare their bus pass as a benefit, they don’t have to declare free parking passes.

What right do they have, over and above other people employed in the city centre, to free parking? And why do the blessed 11 have parking rights over the other 52 councillors?

READ MORE: Anger as Edinburgh councillors given free parking and bus pass

Over the years, the city council has built up a reputation for being anti-car, anti-motorist, pro-public transport, pro-cycling and pro-pedestrianisation. The Capital has become a nightmare to drive through or park in, which has had an impact on retail. So how hypocritical is it for the council to dish out free parking to its members?

And what on Earth gives them the arrogant superiority to think they can in any way be more entitled to such a privilege than anyone else in this city?

According to a council spokeswoman (and whoever this was needs her head examined), parking spaces are made available to councillors because “they are often required to make trips from the city centre to their wards”. Well of course they are. It’s their job.

What kind of excuse is that? Thousands of Edinburgh employees have to drive from a central office to visit clients, suppliers, work sites, branch offices etc.

No doubt someone in the council would say that as employers they are entitled to offer such perks as free parking to their own councillors or staff.

And that’s the rub. That’s the point the City of Edinburgh Council never wants to accept or understand.

READ MORE: Councillors call for Barnton junction overhaul to ease ‘congestion crisis’

They – be it officials, councillors, dog wardens, administrators, bin men, teachers or social workers – are public employees, our employees. They are public servants, elected and paid to work by residents, even if it’s through sub-contractors.

The same delusions of grandeur apply to their alleged public “consultations” which rarely seem to realistically take place and even if they do, public opinion is over-ruled.

Now here’s a plan. Cancel all their bus passes, unless they qualify for them like everyone else. Deprive them of free parking spaces. At least that way they will fully appreciate and understand the misery and financial penalties they are imposing on everyone else.

Who, within the council, would have the guts, integrity and decency to get that ball rolling?

Bankers are financial despots who rule the world

IF city councils are power mad, even they are trumped by RBS which has ignored protests by the public and the Scottish Government over excessive closures. Admittedly Westminster bowed and grovelled, saying the bank could make its own commercial decisions.

But now RBS is even putting “two fingers” up to its shareholders and investors who are furious that another 420 branches will disappear this year.

The time has come. No-one rules banks, banks are financial despots who rule the world.

No free music in food-bank land
MUSIC is not an essential school subject except to a few, talented people. Many are self-taught. After school clubs or charities are options, as is private tuition. That’s inevitable in a struggling, food-bank economy.