Leader comment: festivals tax must be for suitable use

Picture: Alex Hewitt
Picture: Alex Hewitt
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Edinburgh is the UK’s most popular tourist destination in the UK after London. It attracts around one million overseas visitors a year. It is celebrated for its stunning heritage, its history and architecture. And its festivals are celebrated the world over.

But all this comes at a cost – on marketing, maintenance, transport and public services if the city is to preserve and protect its many attractions and stay in the premier league of global destinations.

Now the council has included plans for a tourist tax aimed at raising up to £15 million for the Capital. We welcome this initiative. We have supported the idea of a tourist levy in the past. The case grows more compelling with every year. And it cannot be right that the cost burden should fall exclusively on residents when the city’s amenities are enjoyed by so many visitors.

Other historic cities with strong tourist appeal have introduced just such a levy to help maintain their appeal. Edinburgh has fair claim to follow suit.

But the council must ensure that the case is fully understood and shared. It requires widespread consultation and debate about what form such a levy should take. Any such tax needs to be proportionate, fair, and able to be collected without undue cost.

Is it right that hotels and boarding houses alone should carry the burden with a so-called “bed tax”? What of the many other enterprises and activities in the city that benefit from tourists, many of whom spend in the Capital’s shops, restaurants, clubs and bars?

Is it also fair that an extra charge should be made on the Capital’s businesses without reference to the continuing rise in revenue from business rates?

And there’s a need, too, to ensure that the revenue from such a levy is earmarked for the Capital’s infrastructure, services and amenities.

Council leader Andrew Burns says his ambition is to bring “greater autonomy and decision-making powers to the region as well as tackling inequalities amongst the public”.

That is too wide a definition as to where the money should go. “Tackling inequalities” may be the purpose of other taxes. It is not the function of a tourist tax.

The council has a strong case for this levy. It should take care not to spoil it.