Angus councillors have been urged to accept they made a “major mistake” in introducing parking charges after a damning report revealed a serious “lack of transparency” around the controversial decision.
Angus Council chief executive Margo Williamson said officials would give fewer behind closed doors briefings to elected members and would instead work harder to ensure published reports “were of a level for proper debate to take place.”
The investigation, chaired by councillor Bill Duff of the SNP, highlighted failings including key decisions made behind closed doors, lack of transparency and a disconnect between elected councillors and council staff.
The chief executive said: “I welcome this report and thank the committee for it. It is a full and fair report. What’s clear about this report is that it is about learning. There is a lot of learning in there for officers as well as members.”
Her comments came after the SNP group accused the council’s ruling administration of setting up a members group to oversee the project that had “no clerk… no minutes… (and) no one knew who was on it.”
Angus Council’s Scrutiny and Audit Committee debated the report, published earlier this week, which detailed a litany of failings surrounding the decision making process.
Angus residents have reacted angrily to the implementation of the charges, which began in November last year.
The charges have been blamed for increasing the number of cars parking on the street, which is free, and for contributing to the struggles of town centre shops by reducing footfall.
Charges were introduced to generate revenue but in the first five months of operation, they brought in net income of £111,488, compared with the officers’ estimated figure of £300,000 for the first six-month period, the report revealed.
Scrutiny convener Alex King of the SNP urged colleagues to review the decision: “We have made a major mistake and it’s time we admitted it.”
Bob Myles, an Independent member of the ruling administration, reminded colleagues they had all voted for implementation of the charges as part of the budget setting process.
He said: “Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? All councillors supported this in the budget. It was then brought over how it should be done. Most of it was done as an operational matter by officers.”
He said one of the most common complaints he received prior to the charge was that car parks were always full and that drivers could not get a space.
“We took expert advice to implement a policy that was an industry standard across Scotland,” he said.
Council leader David Fairweather another Independent, who is not a member of the scrutiny committee, watched proceedings from the public gallery.