December 7: Record profits from parking

Roads need to be improved

The news that councils have made another record profit from their parking charges will no doubt leave many drivers shaking their heads in disbelief.

According to a report published today by the RAC, local councils in England generated a combined profit of £693m from fees and fines in 2014/15 – a record sum and a four per cent rise on the previous 12 months.

In Yorkshire, the bill footed by motorists last year reached £33.2m, with Leeds City Council recording the biggest profit – £7.2m, up by £400,000 on the year before.

The RAC Foundation’s director, Steve Gooding, describes the national figures as “eye-watering” and many motorists will agree with him. They are likely to question where all this money is spent, especially given the number of potholes in the roads and the fact that so much emphasis has been placed on improving our road network.

The report will do little to change the opinion of those who believe that parking fees and fines are simply used by local authorities as a way of squeezing the most they can out of drivers.

Traffic in our busy towns and cities has to be properly managed and local government budgets are under increasing pressure as they try to balance funding cuts brought in by Whitehall, but as the RAC Foundation rightly points out parking restrictions and charges should never be about raising money.

In their defence, local authorities face the challenge of trying to manage the growing demand for parking, with the need to boost the economy and encouraging people to make the most of public transport. Some local authorities, like Leeds City Council, have even been praised for producing an annual report showing where its profit is spent.

Nevertheless, local councils need to look beyond parking meters as the answer – because it is ordinary people who foot the bill.

Steel industry

Hopes of a deal are raised

It has been a torrid time for the British steel industry in recent months. Rising energy costs, green taxes, the strong pound and Chinese state-owned companies dumping low-cost steel in European markets, have combined to cripple British manufacturers.

In October, SSI’s steelworks at Redcar on Teesside closed with the loss of more than 2,000 jobs, the same month that Tata Steel, the UK’s biggest steel manufacturer, announced it was to cut 900 jobs at its Scunthorpe plant.

It has plunged Britain’s once great steel industry into a state of crisis.

So reports that Leeds-based investor Endless, which has transformed the fortunes of numerous struggling firms, is in talks over a possible deal that could save 5,000 steel industry jobs, are to be warmly welcomed. The Yorkshire firm is believed to be one of two big investors interested in buying Tata’s historic Scunthorpe steel plant, and several smaller sites across the UK.

Endless and finance firm Greybull, who rescued the airline Monarch, are understood to be the main bidders, while a third offer has reportedly come from a private equity house in the United States.

Both Endless and Greybull are remaining tight-lipped on the story, which emerged in the national Press yesterday, but the reports do at least offer a glimmer of hope amidst all the bad news.

The British steel industry, which employs around 20,000 people, has found itself the unwanted centre of attention recently, but if a deal can be reached it would be a priceless Christmas present for the beleaguered steelworkers and their families.

Flooding impact

Dealing with extreme weather

First it was Barney and then Desmond. Britain has been battered by gales and torrential rain in recent weeks and what has become clear is we cannot view these storms as one-off events.

The latest storm has left a trail of devastation in its wake with hundreds of homes flooded and more than 1,000 people evacuated in Cumbria and the Scottish Borders – just weeks before Christmas.

The Army had to be mobilised at the weekend as parts of the North West experienced more than a month’s rainfall between Friday and Saturday night. With further downpours forecast over the coming days the situation may yet get worse before it gets better.

Major storms like this are battering the UK with alarming regularity and there can be little doubt that our climate is becoming increasingly volatile. But despite all the money that has been spent improving key flood defences, the question remains: Are they robust enough to cope?