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Under a salary-sacrifice arrangement, employees have the chance to “drive away with a brand-new car that’s fully maintained and insured, with no deposit” so long as it meets the criteria.
The council tells staff: “To help with our ambitions of being a sustainable city, our car lease scheme provides vehicles which emit less than 120g of CO2 per kilometre.
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"We’ll review and adjust the vehicles available each year to reflect lower CO2 limits; and changes to lease costs – to make sure electric and ultra-low emission cars are even more accessible for colleagues.”
But the 120g limit would allow many petrol and diesel cars as well as electric vehicles, even though new petrol and diesel cars and vans are due to be banned from sale in the UK after 2030.
According to car search websites, a two-litre diesel VW Golf 2.0 TDI Life 115PS would qualify with emissions of 108g of CO2; and so would a 1.5-litre Mercedes A-Class Saloon A 180 d Sport DCT, with emissions of 117g.
Tory councillor Jason Rust said: “If it can include a two-litre diesel it does seem quite odd, given the council's own active travel policy and the attempt to discourage car use.
"It's good if there are appropriate rewards that attract people to work for the council, but if it doesn't tie up with the council’s own agenda it seems a bit incongruous.”
As well as the car scheme, other staff benefits the council offers include a cycle-to-work scheme where they can “save up to 37 per cent on the latest bikes and accessories”.
Councillor Rust said he had been surprised to learn of the car lease scheme. “Given the administration's attitude towards cars and car usage it seems somewhat hypocritical to be using a legal tax avoidance scheme (salary sacrifice) to incentivise staff to purchase cars instead of paying tax which funds our public services."
The car scheme was introduced in March 2021, replacing a previous leasing scheme.
A council spokesperson said: “Our salary sacrifice scheme supports our sustainability goals by providing a more cost-efficient way for people to switch to a lower emission vehicle, when they may not otherwise be able to afford to.
“The scheme includes a limited number of options to make sure they are all below 120g/km CO2, including electric vehicles (EV), ultra low emission vehicles (ULEV) and hybrid cars, as well as some lower emission petrol and diesel cars. This is to give people some choice to suit their circumstances.
"Overall, almost 80 per cent of cars leased through the salary sacrifice scheme have been EV or ULEV, with an average of 31g/km CO2 across all cars leased.
“We also provide a cycle to work salary sacrifice scheme to encourage active travel, which also helps with employees’ physical and financial wellbeing.”
She added that while the current limit is 120g/km CO2, that would be reviewed on a regular basis and could be amended at any time.
And she said “numerous” employers offered similar benefits.