PRIVATISING parking enforcement could lead to higher prices and 'dodgy practices', unions have warned.
Council leaders plan to merge Hounslow's parking department with those in Ealing and Brent, with the service to be managed by a private contractor.
They claim the move will save taxpayers in the borough up to £600,000 a year through 'economies of scale' without any impact on prices or the quality of service.
However, the Hounslow branches of Unison and Unite, which say that figure has been plucked out of thin air, believe the change could lead to ramped-up parking prices and pressure on traffic wardens to issue more tickets.
In a joint statement, leaders of the two unions said: "We are extremely concerned about these proposals. We fear once parking services are under the day-to-day control of a private company out to make a profit this will not be a good deal for residents, the authority or our members working in the parking service.
"We suspect there are plans to harmonise parking charges across the three boroughs. We think charges in Hounslow are currently the lowest of the three and are thus almost certain to go up.
"There have been serious concerns in the past about the way some of the large parking companies go about their business. Some of these have generated stories in the media of dodgy practices such as quotas for issuing PCNs (penalty charge notices)."
Precise details of the arrangement have yet to be drawn up but Hounslow Council would retain responsibility for setting charges in the borough.
Ealing and Brent's parking services are already privately run. There were a number of strikes by traffic wardens in Ealing last year amid claims of ticket quotas being imposed, an accusation strongly denied by contractor NSL.
Councillor Ed Mayne, Hounslow Council's cabinet member for community safety and regulatory services, said: "These proposals have nothing to do with putting up parking charges and everything to do with reducing costs for Hounslow's council taxpayers.
"I want to nail the myth that parking fines are a source of income for the council. They are not. Parking charges and fines are about managing traffic and penalising those who park illegally.
"I can also assure readers and residents the council will retain control of parking policy and charges. As such, any new company running the service will not have the right to increase charges."
Parking fines generated nearly £5.7 million for Hounslow Council last year, more than 11 per cent up from 2010/11.
Enforcement and parking services in Hounslow made a net profit of £7.3 million during 2011/12.
However, taking into account the cost of concessionary fares for younger, older and disabled passengers, that equated to an overall loss of £542,000.
Existing parking charges (figures from council websites)
One year resident parking permit - £0-207 (based on vehicle emissions)
Car parks - £1 an hour
One year resident parking permit - £45 or £77.50
Car parks - 50p-£1 an hour
One year resident parking permit - £60
Car parks - 30 minutes free to £2 an hour