Nicola Sturgeon triggers 'national conversation' on possible introduction of tourist tax powers

Nicola Sturgeon has revealed plans for a 'national converstion' on whether councils should get tourist tax powers.
Nicola Sturgeon has revealed plans for a 'national converstion' on whether councils should get tourist tax powers.
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The Scottish Government is to stage a country-wide consultation on whether local authorities should have the power to impose a bed tax on visitors, Nicola Sturgeon has revealed.

The First Minister admitted the government could not ignore the differing views on the issue, but wanted to ensure there was a "well-informed and evidence-led" debate.

She told a national tourism summit that the government wanted to ensure that all sides of the debate were heard "properly and loudly."

Leaders of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, which is staging its annual conference in Edinburgh today, said they had asked the government to instigate a national debate and independent research on the issue.

The STA, the main independent voice of the sector in in Scotland, warned Ms Sturgeon that the possible introduction of a tourist tax was a bigger concern for the industry than the impact of Brexit.

The government has agreed to join forces with the STA, will be involved in the consultation, along with the local government organisation COSLA, which has argued for councils to get the power to introduce a "transient visitor levy" to stage the consultation.

Ms Sturgeon told the conference: "As government, it is our responsibility and duty to do everything we can to support, facilitate and enable your success.

"That's why we have listened to your views on business rates and set a cap for all but the very largest hospitality premises and why we remain committed to reducing air departure tax. Our ultimate aim is to abolish that tax entirely.

"Let me stress this point. We are absolutely determined to ensure that your voice, the voice of industry and the tourism sector, is properly heard in the ongoing debate around a tourism tax.

"As you know, the Scottish Government has no plans to introduce a tourism tax, however we do recognise, as you do, that some local authorities are making the case to have the power to do so should they consider that to be an appropriate response to local circumstances.

"We believe that this issue does require very careful consideration. We will be accepting the STA's call for an objective process of consultation involving the STS, COSLA and other key partners which will examine in detail the arguments for and against a tourist tax.

"We are determined that all voices will be heard and that that process will be a properly informed one. We will set out more details of that shortly."

Interviewed on stage at the conference by STA chief executive Marc Crothall, Ms Sturgeon said: "The first thing to recognise is that there are different views. We cannot ignore that fact. There is a debate going to happen around this whether the government wants that or not.

"Let's embrace it and make sure it is a well-informed and evidence-led debate, where all of the different voices are heard properly and loudly.

"Clearly, there is a local authority perspective that sees this as a revenue-raising measure that allows them to support the infrastructure that tourism needs. The industry has a very different view, although there will be different views and voices within a different industry.

"Our position is and has been for some time that we don't have plans to introduce a tourism tax but as we respond to the calls from local authorities to have that power we see our responsibility as facilitating and enabling a proper national discussion and conversation.

"Let's have a national discussion and conversation that leads us to a decision that is right for the country and the tourism industry.

"With difficult and controversial decisions how you reach a decision is as important as the decision itself. Your voice in that is very, very important."

The Crothall said: "The biggest issue facing our industry today is the call by some councils for government to legislate to allow them to introduce a tourist tax.

"The 20-plus trade bodies of our member council remain unanimous in their view that taxing our visitors more - given the current economic uncertainty, the tax regimes already in place, with business costs rising and our biggest market, Scots and UK residents, also seeing their household budgets being squeezed - is without question not the right thing to do, especially as we head towards the unchartered waters of Brexit.

"If the government does wish to consider calls for a tourist tax, before any decision is taken there must be an objective, well-informed, national discussion, with all key stakeholders, industry, residents, visitors of all types and the wider business community, rather than decisions be based on emotional outcomes driven by local debate.

"Importantly, robust economic modelling and independent research needs to be conducted too."