The workplace parking levy (WPL) would hit low-paid workers the most and be used by stretched local councils to plug funding gaps rather than improve public transport, MSPs have been warned.
Giving evidence about the proposed tax on parking spaces at work, business and trade union leaders lambasted the idea in its current form.
The WPL would give local authorities the power to charge companies who have car parking spaces for their employees in an attempt to cut congestion, get cars off the road and encourage the use of public transport.
Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee heard fears the policy would disproportionately affect low-paid workers and any money raised would go towards providing council services instead of improving transport.
Helen Martin, the assistant general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, said: “Local authorities will raise the levy to replace money that is currently going into transport so that they free up funds for other areas.
“I would imagine there are local authorities that are tempted to do that because such is the stretch on local government finance that this is a way of simply funding essential services.”
She added: “We simply see this as a very small, limited proposal that is likely to place hardship on low paid workers in particular.
Ms Martin said the policy, put forward by Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie, is unlikely to raise the money required “to really invest and transform the public transport arrangements”.
“With the provisions preventing public ownership, we think that it simply won’t achieve what Mr Finnie would like it to achieve and therefore isn’t something that we should do without a much broader strategy around it because of the hardship it would place on workers,” she added.
A similar policy only currently exists in Nottingham, and drawing on evidence from the city, Ms Martin argued roughly half of all employers affected by the tax pass it on to their employees.
David Belsey from the Educational Institute of Scotland said: “Because it is a means of raising revenue at a time when it is generally acknowledged that councils are stretched that they will be tempted to implement them.”
Witnesses appearing before the committee were also scathing about the “startling” lack of research about the consequence of the plan.
Director of the Scottish Retail Consortium David Lonsdale said: “I find it quite astonishing that we are talking about this levy without any sense whatsoever about what the impact would be on consumers, on businesses, on local authorities.
“It’s quite startling that we are doing policy making in this day and age in this way.”
The policy forms part of the Scottish Government’s Transport Bill after a deal was made between the SNP and the Scottish Greens to get backing for the Budget earlier this year.
Although the Scottish Government has said the decision to implement the charge would be for local authorities, Aviva’s head of corporate real estate Fiona Beale called for national oversight to make it easier for companies.
Ms Beale also urged the Scottish Government to recognise businesses who were already taking action to reduce car use and suggested exemptions from the tax.
Tentatively supportive of a levy, she said: “Aviva’s view is that organisations that are already supporting cars being removed off the road should get some recognition and our view is that actually any exemptions or recognition should be done at a national level.
“As an organisation, we wouldn’t want to deal with multiple local authorities, we would want it to be done at a national level.”