AMBITIOUS PLANS: Staff travel reforms concerns
Owning a car is a requirement for many City Hall jobs
Concerns have been raised about “ambitious” plans to get Bristol City Council’s 6,000 employees to stop using cars.
Bosses are consulting staff, managers and trade unions on proposals to encourage much of the workforce to switch to public transport and active travel to help meet 2030 carbon targets and reduce the annual £500,000 taxpayer bill for mileage expenses.
But owning a car is a requirement for many City Hall jobs, yet over a quarter of employees’ private vehicles are not compliant with the forthcoming Clean Air Zone, a council meeting heard.
Head of HR Mark Williams told the human resources committee that proposed reforms to the authority’s staff travel policy included not reimbursing daily CAZ charges for these older, more polluting vehicles from either day one or 12 months after the zone is introduced next summer, unless there were exceptional circumstances.
Labour group leader Cllr Steve Pearce said: “I have some concerns. We want to avoid hurting the people who can least avoid it and avoid hurting the people who have been doing essential jobs.
“We are clearly requiring staff to undertake a significant expense at a time when they may not be able to and when the cost of living is going up substantially, as it will be this winter.
“We are requiring people to own their own vehicles, which they may have recently bought on finance, and now we are going to require them to change them again.”
Green group leader Cllr Paula O’Rourke told the meeting: “These are challenging aspirations and targets and it will be difficult to transition but it’s what we need to do with the targets we have set ourselves.
“My understanding is that if you have a non-compliant vehicle, you probably haven’t just bought it for a lot of money quite recently. It’s quite an old vehicle.”
Cllr Pearce said: “In which case it may be all you can afford.”
Cllr O’Rourke replied: “True but they’re giving you a year to change it and if you have a strong reason to pay the daily charge then there are exceptions for that.”
She said a proposed CAZ in Leeds did not have to be introduced in the end because people knew it was coming and so changed their travel habits, which meant it was no longer needed.
Councillors were told trade unions feared the changes, first proposed in July, could lead to “hardship”, make the authority a less attractive place to work and that it was not feasible to travel long distances by bike or spend hours on buses.
They were also concerned about an initial suggestion about only allowing mileage claims inside the city boundary, although bosses were now looking to extend this to an area including South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and Bath & North East Somerset.
Mr Williams said: “There are fair comments made around some of those issues.
“We have had productive conversations with trade unions about adjusting the proposals.”
Green Cllr Lorraine Francis said there were many barriers to making cars the last option.
“We do not have a CAZ or adequate buses or adequate walking places to enable people to get around the city without bumping into cars.
“That is not embedded into the infrastructure at the moment.
“As a longstanding social worker, we have been battered over the last 30 years having to buy and maintain our own cars.
“It is impossible to do our jobs without a car. Social workers travelling out of the area is quite normal.
“There are lots of issues to consider, not just the fact we want to stop people driving.”
Mr Williams said he agreed and that discussions had taken place with council services that would be most directly affected by the reforms, set to come into force next April.
A council officer told the meeting on Thursday, September 23: “Not for one moment have we been suggesting that everyone must sell their car for a bike or bus unless it is appropriate for their role to do so.”
Committee chairman Green Cllr Tim Wye said: “We should unequivocally say it’s great the council is tackling this issue and it can give a template to other organisations in the city, but the devil is in the detail.”
Words: Adam Postans, Local Demcoracy Reporter
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