HAMPSHIRE councils have been accused of treating drivers as “cash cows” after collecting almost £5.6m in parking fines last year.

Watchdogs say the figures prove civic chiefs are boosting their budgets by picking on motorists.

But local authorities insist drivers are only hit in the pocket when they break the rules by not buying a ticket or parking in the wrong place.

They add that the money is put back into improving transport schemes and making life better for road users.

Jennifer Dunn, a policy analyst from the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “For many councils parking fines have become a lucrative source of income.

“But while revenues are being made at the cost of the motorist, taxpayers haven’t seen their council tax fall, or their local services improve.

“Motorists are being treated like cash cows, but the only people that appear to be benefiting are wardens and their bosses.”

P e t e r R o b e r t s , chief executive of the D r i v e r s ’ A l l i a n c e said the figures show “some local authorities are treating d r i v e r s unfairly and cashing in on parking fines”.

“Parking enforcement has become a massive money-making industry and we are seeing unscrupulous and target-driven enforcement of parking laws where the penalties far outweigh the offence,” he said.

Southampton City Council collected almost £1.3m in parking fines in 2008/9. That equates to £7.33 for every person in the city based on daytime population statistics from the 2001 Census - some 30 per cent above the national average of £5.61.

Southampton City Council said in line with government rules, any surplus it receives from parking enforcement is ploughed back into parking or highway schemes, like paying for refurbishment of multistorey car parks and the upkeep of street signs and equipment.

Elsewhere in Hampshire, drivers in Fareham paid out more than a quarter of a million pounds in fines.

The authority’s transport boss, Cllr Arthur Mandry said 75 per cent of all penalty charge notices (PCNs) it issues are paid, compared to the national average of 68 per cent.

“The high recovery rate reflects that PCNs are being correctly issued, supported by an efficient back office that makes use of technology including digital photos to address any representations and appeals received,” he said.

A Test Valley Borough Council spokeswoman said the money it receives from parking penalties doesn’t cover its costs.

She said all fines are paid into a designated account used to pay for enforcement, which runs at a “small annual deficit”.

New Forest’s head of transport, Cllr Chris Treleaven said the district council aims to “assist motorists to comply with regulations”.

“Enforcement officers are eager to advise and assist motorists and only issue penalties when necessary, and after following the correct procedures,” he said.