My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had no such discussions. In accordance with the ministerial code of conduct, the decisions on the city council’s workplace parking order and tram extensions will be taken by Ministers on the Secretary of State’s behalf because they might have an impact on his constituency of Ashfield.
Is the Minister aware that Nottingham has one of the most innovative transport policies in the UK? Yesterday, we celebrated the fifth anniversary of the city’s new tram line. If we are to have an additional tram line and many other transport improvements, it is vital that we get the go-ahead for our workplace parking levy. Many businesses have written to me in support of the levy—far more than the tiny number that have not. Will he clear the way so that we can get on and be even more innovative in Nottingham?
I send my congratulations on the fifth anniversary of NET Line One, which has proved extremely successful. I am well aware of the commitment shown by my hon. Friend, and by my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) and for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), in their determination to secure transport improvements for the city.
Under the Transport Act 2000, we introduced a range of options for local authorities to address issues of traffic management. The workplace parking levy was one of those tools, and we are just completing consultation on the offences and enforcement procedure. Until we have done that, we are unable to consider the levy order, but we shall do so as soon as possible.
The British Chambers of Commerce has condemned the workplace parking charge as a stealth tax on hard-pressed businesses. Is this really a sensible time to introduce yet more taxes on businesses struggling for survival? Why are Ministers continuing to use the transport innovation fund to bully local communities into taxing workplace parking or introducing congestion and other charges?
We on this side of the House recognise that we cannot ignore the facts clearly set out in Eddington’s response on congestion. If we do not do something now, the cost to businesses across the length and breadth of this country will be some £22 billion by 2025. We need to be innovative in our approach, and allow local areas to introduce schemes that will maximise their attempts to deal with congestion. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met representatives of the local chamber of commerce only last night to discuss a number of issues. It is for those reasons that we have taken the opportunity to give local authorities and transport areas a range of tools to deal with the congestion problems that they face, both today and in the future.
Does the Minister agree that, during a period of economic downturn, it is even more important that we reduce the congestion that costs business £160 million a year? We are asking the people of Nottingham and not the Government to make a decision about the workplace parking levy. Ninety four per cent. of people there have said that they have complete satisfaction with the tram system, and 80 per cent. say that they want it to be extended.
Again, I recognise my hon. Friend’s commitment, and I congratulate him on the Adjournment debate on this matter that was held in this Chamber only recently. It was a shame that Opposition Members did not think it important to attend and listen to the issues and arguments. It is important that we take all possible steps to deal with congestion, and we will make a decision about Nottingham as soon as is practicable.
Does the Minister understand that other sections of his Department could look like plonkers if we get the decision wrong? The Department has made workplace parking a necessary part of the funding for the tram extension, which itself is an integral part of the proposals to widen the A453 with a park-and-ride extension. So can we have joined-up government to allow for the joined-up transport planning that Nottingham is trying to put in place?
Again, I recognise my hon. Friend’s commitment; over the past 10 years or so, he has been campaigning for the city of Nottingham. This Government introduced provisions to ensure wider understanding and improved governance on transport issues, allowing us to join those requirements together. However, we are talking about a matter for local authorities, as I indicated. The Transport Act 2000 introduced a number of provisions allowing local authorities to consider traffic management issues within their cities and given areas. It is for individual authorities to decide whether to go down the route of introducing a workplace parking levy—or, come to that, any of the other provisions available under the Transport Act.