THE leader of Scottish Borders Council has moved to dispel fears over introducing charges for workplace parking in the region.

Following the announcement that the SNP-Scottish Greens budget will include provisions for local authorities to charge employers an annual tax for every workplace parking space they provide.

Employers can then choose to foot the bill themselves or pass the cost onto their employees.

However, Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam, who represents the rural ward of Tweeddale East, says they will not implement the tax, saying: “It is quickly becoming clear that this is a budget for the cities and not for rural communities.  

“The SNP and Greens are seriously out of touch when it comes to living in rural Scotland if they ever think this could work here.  

“I used Google Maps to find out how long it would take me to get to work for 9am using public transport – over seven hours with an overnight stop in Galashiels.

“It really is quite nonsense to think that we can introduce a car park tax when so little investment is forthcoming from the Scottish Government for public transport.  

“Under a Conservative-led administration, we will not be introducing either of these regressive taxes in the Borders.  

“The public have enough to deal with with increased income tax and SNP calls to increase council tax.

“I am all in favour of councils having tax-raising powers but we have to have the freedom to find a system that works in our own areas, not these crazy schemes coming out of Glasgow and Edinburgh that only suit Glasgow and Edinburgh.”

The new funding settlement for local authorities was agreed in Holyrood following a last-minute deal between the majority Scottish National Party and minority Greens ahead of the first vote on the annual budget.

The deal includes more core funding for councils and extra powers for them to levy local parking and tourist taxes.

Derek Mackay, the Scottish Government’s finance secretary, first unveiled proposals for the budget in December 2018, including added funding for schools and the National Health Service, as well as increasing income tax for those earning £50,000 or more.

Opposition parties moved to block the bid, partly due to the SNP refusing to rule out calling another independence referendum and also because they say the budget would result in a £319m funding cut for local authorities.

However, the deal with the Scottish Greens means the budget is now likely to be passed.

The new deal includes an extra £90m for the core local government settlement, a move to three-year local authority budgets and legislation that will give councils control over tourism taxes.

The deal also includes raising the council tax cap, meaning local authorities will now be able to increase council tax by 4.79 per cent, up from three per cent.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, February 6, Mr MacKay explained that councils will have choice over which taxes they implement.

He told the Holyrood chamber that councils will be able to implement their own exceptions depending on circumstances: “There is a case for further exemptions, and local authorities should look very closely at local circumstances when they apply the charge.

“That will be a matter for local authorities; that is the point of local empowerment. [Scottish Labour MSP] Neil Bibby is demanding that the Scottish Government empowers local authorities by passing powers to them, but the second after that is proposed, he and the Labour Party oppose it.

“There are certainly good cases for local authorities to look at exemptions based on local circumstances, which should, of course, be taken into account.

“How the charge applies to teachers is a good example. Given that local authorities will make the decisions, surely the councils will think about schools.

“We need to address the important point that the charge is not to individuals but, ultimately, to the employer.

“There is a question about which employers will pass it on, but we must not immediately conclude that individual staff members will pay the charge.

“The scheme should be about the employer or the property owner. The decision makers in local government will take local circumstances into account, and their decisions will be subject to the safeguards that we have insisted on.”

The budget has now passed two votes in the Scottish Parliament, and will be heard for a final vote on Thursday, February 21.