Highland Council is spending tens of thousands of pounds on consultants to help it crack down on rogue parkers.
But the local authority was under fire last night for hiring the private firm of experts at a time when it is trying to slash millions of pounds from its budget.
It has been forced to bring in its own parking controls after the police decided to stop running traffic wardens as part of a national cost-cutting drive.
There are currently just two traffic wardens patrolling the streets of the Highlands – mainly in Inverness – and issuing fines to motorists flouting the rules.
They are jointly funded by the council and the police.
But from April next year – under the new so-called “decriminalised parking enforcement” – a team of new patrollers will be employed to issue fines, mostly in Inverness and Fort William.
Welsh firm RTA Associates Ltd has been brought in to oversee the process, including drawing-up traffic regulation orders required as part of the legal process, and also consider what new signs and road markings are needed before the new regime is introduced.
Last night, the council’s use of consultants was questioned by local watchdogs.
David McGrath, of Smithton and Culloden Community Council, said: “Highland Council employs staff who are responsible for these matters.
“If they are competent and capable of administering traffic lines and signs required for parking, why do they need consultants?
“When the council is cutting funding for all sorts of essential services why waste money on this?”
He added that he would not want to see the local authority employ a private company to carry out enforcement because it could lead to targets being set, although there is no suggestion this would happen.
Inverness Central councillor Donnie Kerr said that traffic wardens were “much missed” and added that he had received a string of complaints about parking across the city.
He added: “One of my worries is that we have to be careful that the cash-strapped council does not see this as a way of boosting the coffers.
“We are a tourist town and I hope that there is some leeway for people.”
But yesterday the council said that the decriminalisation of parking was a “significant piece of work”.
RTA Associates has experience in reviewing parking across England and Wales, including Salford, Buckinghamshire and South Lakeland.
The firm previously carried out a feasibility study into various options for a new parking regime in the Highlands.
The company declined to comment last night.
According to official documents, there were six bidders for the contract, with tenders ranging from about £45,900 to £87,800.
A council spokeswoman said: “Specialist assistance, knowledge and expertise is required as the council has not delivered decriminalised parking before.
“The amount of work involves larger staffing requirements than we have available for this project.
“The budget for the project reported to the community services committee in November 2014 is around £450,000 for setup, signage, line markings and consultancy fees.”