Edinburgh tourist tax: The debate is over. City needs this new source of revenue – Donald Anderson

Council Leader Cammy Day recently addressed the Edinburgh Tourist Action Group on a range of subjects including the proposed ‘tourist tax’ or, to give it it’s full name, the Transient Visitor Levy.
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Also speaking was Roddy Smith, the chief of Edinburgh’s successful business improvement district, Essential Edinburgh. Cammy set out the council’s commitment to press on with the tourist tax, and Roddy described it as “an opportunity”. What is significant is not that they said what they said, but that the reaction was by all accounts muted. This from an audience comprised of many senior figures in Edinburgh’s tourism industry. That there was no major backlash is as remarkable as it is significant.

What that means is that the debate’s over. A tourist tax has overwhelming support, importantly no residents pay it and the sooner it arrives the better. I was sharply reminded of just the kind of issue it can help with when walking down Fleshmarket Close just off Cockburn Street. The sight was appalling. The fire exits from the Scotsman Hotel open out on the close, and the sight and the stench of urine was just awful. The graffiti has now spread along the walls nearby in a sight that is enough to make anyone weep.

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Graffiti is present in many areas and it’s a constant fight to tackle in any city. At the same time, spending cuts leave little room for action. A tourist tax could fill that gap. The revenue must surely be targeted in the council’s additional services and new funding could transform the city’s ability to clear graffiti. It could also help clean city centre streets heavily trafficked by the many visitors Edinburgh welcomes.

As was said at the Edinburgh Tourist Action Group conference, the tourist tax is an opportunity. Here’s hoping delivering it is a high priority for the new First Minister who will be elected soon at Holyrood. A tourist tax is logical and there’s an overwhelming case for delivering it quickly and using the resources in a way that makes a difference for city residents. A tourist tax can’t come soon enough.

Donald Anderson is a former leader of Edinburgh Council

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