Closed doors decisions, lack of transparency and a disconnect between Angus councillors and officials have been laid bare in a damning report on the return of parking charges to the county.
A year after meters were installed in council car parks, a scrutiny investigation has also found doubts over the financial projections for the loss-making set-up were brushed aside with the response that a £700,000 annual income target was “reasonable”.
It has now said councillors must be more involved in “big decisions” affecting their communities.
The document comes after the authority blocked a request for the full first-year finance figures following the November 1 anniversary, saying the data would not be released until mid-January.
Scrutiny and audit councillors will this week consider the report which was put together following a series of meetings with top level administration members and senior officers who had been involved in the development and introduction of charges.
Its recommendations include a review of the extent to which councillors can raise concerns about “operational changes” within the running of the council.
The parking scheme has been dogged by criticism and additional cost, including a £43,000 move to offer a cash option in response to driver complaints about card payments.
The scrutiny panel review also said information about the decision on whether the meter payment method should be cashless or not “was not transparent”.
In the first five months of operation, parking charges brought in net income of £111,488, compared with the officers’ estimated figure of £300,000 for the first six-month period, and the consultants’ estimate which was higher still.
One elected member said that some members had challenged the income projections and were assured by officers at the time that they were realistic.
Other members interviewed said that they “relied on the advice and expertise of officers” but were satisfied “that the estimates were reasonable”.
Officers interviewed confirmed that initial discussions included a cash payment option.
Elected members were subsequently advised that cashless payment would be in line with the council’s move towards being cashless.
It was also the scrutiny panel’s view that the option of cash or cashless payment should have been included as part of the public consultation exercise in April/May 2018.
The report states: “The panel acknowledged that operational details were the preserve of officers.
“However, when big decisions are being made which will impact on residents, such as the decision that there would be no cash payment option for parking charges, councillors’ knowledge of their communities needs to be taken into account.”
The report highlighted “limited option appraisal information” in committee reports about the introduction of parking charges.
“Committee reports provided a strategic oversight, rather than the detailed costing estimates prepared by the external consultants,” it said.
“Information about the decision on whether the payment method should be cashless or not was not transparent.
“It is the panel’s view that some key decisions as to what should be included in committee reports were taken in private meetings, such as PBSG (policy and budget strategy group) and the administration group.
“Information about these discussions was not readily available to other elected members.”
Some of the elected members interviewed said that the proposal for a permit covering all Angus Council car parks came from officers.
Several said they were uncertain when the proposal changed from a residents’ permit to a season ticket.
Some of the members interviewed said they had also queried the introduction of charges at smaller/non-central car parks within the towns, but on the advice of officers these were not removed.