15th October 2018
By Julia Penhaligon and Richard Whitehouse
A Cornwall Council cabinet member has been blamed for an official report which suggested a huge increase in car parking charges.
Newquay Liberal Democrat Geoff Brown, the cabinet member responsible for transport, has apologised for allowing to be published a report which advocated increases of more than 400%.
The report led to wide media coverage – followed by some frosty exchanges between journalists and the council’s press office. It is still not clear if the car parking increases will go ahead.
Although cabinet members are supposed to know what is being done in their name, they often do not have time to read all of the documents put in front of them. The chair and vice chair of tomorrow’s (Tuesday’s) Economic Growth scrutiny committee should also have seen the report before it was published last Tuesday.
The council’s chief executive, Kate Kennally, has apologised to councillors for the way they were left facing angry constituents – with no knowledge of what the car parking proposals entailed. The new figures are contained in an appendix to an update report on the council’s “Positive Parking Review.”
It is clear that other cabinet members were also in the dark. One of them, Edwina Hannaford, said she was angry about the report and described it as “very annoying.”
The muddle is the latest in a long series of high-profile public relations disasters to befall the ruling administration.
On Friday, Mr Brown – regarded as one of the Lib Dem’s “braver soldiers” - said it had been an oversight by him that he did not notice that the charges in a report going to a committee had been marked as ‘”proposed.”
This is despite the word “proposed” being used 23 times in the seven-page report which is due to go to the economic growth and development overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday. The report also features the word “proposal/s” seven times.
Mr Brown had claimed that the table which showed the “proposed” changes had erroneously been published with the title “proposed charges.” He claimed this had been a “computer error”.
But when asked why he hadn’t also spotted the reference to the “proposed charges” in the written report he said it was “an oversight.”
Geoff Brown, transport portfolio holder, said he accepted responsibility for the car parking charges report
He said: “The use of the words proposed charges is wrong throughout the whole report. It should have been indicative charges.
“We are looking to try and move from 123 different charges across Cornwall to a series of seven bands.”
He explained that officers had drawn up the “indicative” charges on a basis of creating new bands which had increases of 10p which he said had been “reasonable”.
He said: “Clearly the message I am getting from members is that they are not happy with it.
“It maybe that the charges are right but we need to adjust the bandings.”
Mr Brown said he had written to the other 122 councillors to explain that the charges are “indicative” and are not a proposal.
He said that in their current form he would not support them and said a revised paper would now be going to the scrutiny committee when it meets on Tuesday.
However Mr Brown admitted that he is shown reports before they can be published online and said he had been given the report in question.
He said that it was a case of “hands up” and that he hadn’t considered the full details of the report. He added that it was “an oversight on my part and a genuine mistake on the officers’ part”.
When asked why he hadn’t noticed the word “proposed” throughout the seven-page report he said: “I didn’t see it, I should have done, but hopefully we have addressed it now.”
He added: “When we do go to consultation at least we know that we will get a good amount of feedback from the public.”