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Should Councils Cash In On Parking?

If you’ve ever been bold enough to drive into London, or many other British towns or cities, you’ll know that the parking charges can sting. Finding a space to begin with is a challenge requiring the patience of a thousand saints, and then the hourly parking fees can quickly stack up. If you thought your insurance policy was expensive this year, just try parking on Brighton seafront for the day!

Parking MeterCouncil-owned parking spaces (not private ventures such as NCP) aren’t meant to simply charge you for the fun of it. While some drivers may scoff and assume that their fees go towards biscuits for bureaucrats in meeting rooms, government guidelines say that parking revenue should be spent on transportation issues, meaning the council should be using parking charges for repairing potholes, painting new lines, developing roundabouts, subsiding bus passes for the elderly, and so on. What goes in, then, you get back – in better road surfaces, improved routes and reduced congestion, sounds like a win-win for the all us motorists.

But while in principle this system sounds effective and has the added benefit of encouraging people to walk into town or use public transport wherever possible, it doesn’t always work as seamlessly as it should. Motorists parking their new and used cars bought from the motor trade on-street council spaces should expect that money to be ploughed into transport services and maintenance, but recent figures reveal otherwise.

While parking revenue has increased dramatically in many councils (101 local authorities over the last five years), the money spent on transport has not always increased accordingly. In fact, in 87 of those 101 councils, road spending reduced. So, what’s that all about?

Parking charges have been hiked in a lot of towns. So much so, that in 30 areas of the UK, the councils’ parking revenue has gone up at least 50%. Swansea, Bournemouth and Nottingham all more than doubled their parking income in this period, while Anglesy rose by 209%; Argyll & Bute went up 262%; and Leicester City increased by an astonishing 429%.

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If local authorities can quadruple their parking income, then where is it being spent? Not on roads, as Leicester’s net spending on roads in the same period actually reduced by more than 10%, meaning they raked in four times the amount of parking charges compared to before, but put less than ever into the transport pot.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Some councils have done a stellar job balancing the books: Northumberland’s parking revenue went down, reducing by a massive 133%, while their roads spending only decreased by 35%. Midlothian’s parking revenue decreased by a mammoth 465% while their spending on transport only went down 23%. In some places, such as East Renfrewshire and Lincolnshire, it even cost the council more money to run their parking services than they brought in via parking charges.

It seems that like so many things, parking charges and road spending is a bit of a postcode lottery, how does your council fare?