Russell Imrie: Lower VAT for the tourist industry

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They say a week is a long time in politics but what we need is for our elected representatives to look far beyond that and make decisions to support the long-term growth of our economy.

And that’s precisely why the likes of Lindsay Roy of Glenrothes, Mike Weir of Angus and Alan Reid of Argyll and Bute deserve our hearty applause. They are just some of 60 politicians supporting the campaign to reduce VAT on hotels and attractions from 20 to five per cent.

The aim of the Cut Tourism VAT campaign is pretty straightforward: encourage the Chancellor to bring our tourism tax into line with the European countries we compete with.

As a country with so much potential for tourism to be a driving force in the economy it’s no surprise that a growing number of MPs are now queuing up to convince the government to reduce VAT on hotels and attractions to five per cent.

No one would deny the beauty of Scotland’s coasts, mountains and glens, the impressive number of historic attractions and its vibrant towns and cities. But what we’ve increasingly seen, as European states cut their own levels of tourism VAT, is that we cannot compete.

What most people don’t know is our 20 per cent rate could be cut tomorrow without any lengthy EU legislative changes.

Research has shown how the cut would allow for lower prices and increased investment into the sector, boosting jobs and attracting more tourists.

While Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to support tourism, few places outside of London have felt much of a boost – with many seeing a decline in visitors as the improving economy again sees more Brits holidaying abroad.

It’s a fact that tourism contributes over £11.6 billion annually to Scottish GDP (or 10.3 per cent) and remains one of the largest regional employers – supporting 292,000 jobs, or 10.9 per cent of the Scottish workforce. In Argyll and Bute for example, it accounts for 13.7 per cent of employment, making it the region’s single largest employer.

Despite this, there is no central plan in place to help many of Scotland’s constituencies recover by helping their tourism sectors to thrive.

Next year’s election will again give coastal constituencies a strong voice amongst the political parties: in 2010’s general election, a large number of coastal constituencies were swing locations.

This means our voices could for once be heard and we are grateful to those politicians who have already realised this. Global tourism is set to grow in years to come, but let’s make sure as many tourists as possible choose Scotland as their destination.

Russell Imrie is managing director of Queensferry Hotels