Union calls for tourist tax to help fund city services

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TRADE union leaders today called for a tax on tourists in order to protect the Capital from tens of millions of pounds of savage cuts.

Officials from the trade union Unison have added their voice to growing calls for a tourist tax or hotel “bed tax” scheme to be introduced to help fund council services.

The comments came in the wake of council leaders last week rubber-stamping £32 million of cuts that threaten 1200 public sector jobs in the next 12 months.

Kevin Duguid, lead negotiator of the Unison branch in Edinburgh, said that looking at ways of raising revenue from tourists could help the city avoid further devastating cuts to services in future years.

He said: “We need to look at a tourist tax or a bed tax that has potential to raise significant revenue for this authority that will not only allow us to retain services but also enhance services and allow us to remain a major tourist destination.”

There have been calls for the introduction of a “bed tax”, where a charge of around £1 would be added to hotel rooms at certain times of the year to raise money for the festivals, for several years.

A Scottish Parliament inquiry looked into the proposals, originally raised by councillors, but ruled against introducing the tax.

However, city council chief executive Sue Bruce has told the Evening News that the idea again “merits discussion” and admitted the levy could bring in extra revenue to help deal with the extra pressure on council services during the festival season.

Manuela Calchini, VisitScotland’s regional director for the Lothians, said last month that a voluntary version of the tourist tax could work well.

John Stevenson, president of Unison’s Edinburgh branch, said: “We’ve said for many years that business rates should be retained locally because Edinburgh puts a great deal into festivals and events but gets nothing back as a council. The income all goes into a central pot rather than going to the council.

“One of the ways to make up for that deficit is to look at a tourist tax or hotel tax and we know some hotel businesses are willing to look at it on a voluntary basis.

“It is a tiny amount – it could be as little as 25p – and in general tourists will not notice it, yet it has the potential to bring in money that can be used locally.”

A number of European cities have a statutory bed tax, including Paris, which raises more than £4m a year that is spent on promoting the city.

Graham Bell, a spokesman for Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Chamber has never had a problem with a voluntary tax on visitors. If people offer it on a discretionary basis that is perfectly fair.”

A spokesman for the city council said: “The council will continue to work along with the private sector and other partners to promote Edinburgh as a great place in which to live, work, study invest and visit.”

mblackley@edinburghnews.com