Over the next few weeks we will share our thoughts on each party manifesto.

We have had the Labour’s ‘free parking’ at NHS car parks policy announcement before their manifesto is launched: Labour will abolish unfair NHS car parking charges for all NHS staff, patients and visitors.

However there is no such thing as a free parking space: someone has to pay for it. This is true everywhere: in town centres, at the beach and in the countryside. Some car parks may be free at the point of use but someone is paying for their upkeep and maintenance. If they are patrolled to keep them safe someone is paying for that too. At least Labour has considered this, they plan to replace the £162 million that is raised from parking charges by increasing the rate of Insurance Premium Tax to 20% for healthcare insurance products.

How did they arrive at this figure? The BBC suggests that the £162m is derived using an extrapolation that is unreliable. The Barnett formula is also likely to add about another £30m, and logistical costs could add more.

How would it work? If free parking were provided it would not necessarily result in, for example, more spaces being available. It has to be provided ‘smartly’ for it to work as intended. It has to be remembered that free parking has been provided in Scotland and Wales hospitals, and patient accessibility didn’t improve; spaces are instead taken up by commuters to the detriment of visitors and patients.

It could also mean chaotic scenes of cars parked whichever way possible, obstructing others, just to park. If enforcement doesn’t exist then people do, unfortunately, take advantage. Remember the chaotic scenes of illegally parked cars in Aberystwyth in Wales when there was a gap between civil and law enforcement of parking?

We have now launched our own manifesto: a Manifesto for Parking. We think that, rather than focus on providing free parking, policy makers should focus their energies in these ways to improve parking:

  • Developing parking policy to ensure fair use of parking facilities and services. This includes landowners (healthcare trusts) having in place management models that are fair and beneficial to visitors and patients.
  • Raising standards in the private parking sector. We believe this includes a consistent set of standards across the sector with a single code of practice and single appeals service to remove the current confusion and unfairness for motorists, as different appeals systems for private parking currently exist.
  • Improving everyone’s understanding of why parking is managed. On the subject of hospital parking management it is particularly important to improve acceptance and recognition of the value of parking management and enforcement as it ensures spaces for visitors and patients are not taken up by commuters.
  • Improving respect and recognition of parking professionals. It is not about raising money. Those managing parking work hard to keep car parks free from obstruction caused by indiscriminately parked cars; improving safety; protecting spaces for particular groups like disabled people; enabling servicing and deliveries to take place that would otherwise become congested if parking wasn't managed.
  • Encouraging professionalism and continuous development to raise standards. By recognising and rewarding excellence and professionalism through awards and accreditations we can continue to raise standards in each individual car park

So what will happen? The election poll tracker suggests that the Conservatives are still leading. Although there is plenty of time still left for things to change. Data form this source is taken from four polls (ORB, Opinium, ComRes and YouGov) and over the weekend shows a Labour improvement during the course of the campaign to date.

What do you think? Should all hospital parking be free and instead be paid by an increase in the rate of Insurance Premium Tax to 20% for healthcare insurance products? Take our poll.

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