Focus: Finance and Governance - Outlook - Is it finally time to ditch car benefits?

Helen Verney, finance director at Jewish Care

With rumours afoot that London's congestion charge is likely not only to be extended geographically but also raised to £10 a day, I can't help wondering when all you car-hugging volunteers and charity employees are going to give in altogether and take the bus.

The situation has fascinated me over the past 10 years, as the population of London has increased and pressure on car drivers from all angles has followed. Charities seem to have to spend an increasing amount of time discussing cars: benefits, mileage allowances, car insurance, parking zones and restrictions, fines, the congestion charge, MOTs, fuel prices - I could go on.

The 'lease versus buy' debate is never-ending and comes down to the amount of purchasing power your organisation has. If your fleet is large enough, you may have chosen to participate in the Charities Consortium-led group leased car deal. But for most this is not an option and rates are far less favourable.

Not owning a car (or even a driving licence), I find myself observing from a distance the torture that car drivers choose to put themselves through on a daily basis. Rather than feeling smugly self-satisfied, I feel genuinely distressed to see such self-destructive behaviour within the human race.

Is the time finally right to be radical and suggest public transport-only and expenses policies? Is the time right to remove car benefits from packages and ditch car parking as a justifiable charity expense (particularly paying for your own car park)?

If you lease cars, you might well pay £7,000 per car per year, plus insurance, mileage, equipment (hand-held mobile kits) and parking. If you rent a leasehold property in London, you can pay between £300 and £600 per space per year. To provide an employee with both car and parking could begin to look like £10,000 per person. Although a crude calculation, this compares with £1,640 for an annual zone one to six travelcard.

With the way London is going, I doubt there are many organisations that can guarantee adequate car parking for all their employees, and certainly not without a cost attached.

I am waiting (alone) in hope for popular opinion to move my way. It could be a long wait, I know.

May we embrace the ways of the bus-hugging, cycling, 'groomed organic' professionals (a newly defined middle class grouping) in shaking off the stress of driving in London while saving our charities a few bob.

Incidentally, I have written this entire article on the Northern Line from Golders Green to Waterloo - it was quiet, took only 25 minutes, was clean, stress-free, uncrowded, on time and cost Jewish Care nothing.

KEY POINTS

- The rumour is that London's congestion charge will rise to £10

- Pressure on car drivers has risen steadily over the past 10 years

- Perhaps the time is right to adopt public transport-only policies and ditch car benefits and staff parking.

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