Helen Martin: Let tourists help with city upkeep

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EDINBURGH is a small city. It might be necessary to point that out to people who have lived here all their lives and don’t realise how tiny it is in comparison to Glasgow, Manchester or Birmingham.

But it packs an awful lot in. It is traditionally a centre of finance, law, the military, religion and politics although hasn’t quite made it to the top with shopping where it’s still pipped by Glasgow. Its colleges, universities and independent schools along with state schools, have made it a regional centre of education attracting students from around the world.

From its museums and galleries to the Fringe and International Festival, dance studios, theatres, comedy clubs and music schools, it is a centre for the arts. It’s a commercial city, somewhere people come to make money whether they labour on a building site, work in an office, launch a restaurant or successfully invest in financial deals.

Of course, it is a capital city, architecturally unique and steeped in history. It has a defunct volcano in the middle of it, a sandy beach to the east and lots to see in the middle, which is what, almost above all else, makes it a global tourist destination.

Understandably the council wants to make the most of tourism, hence one party after another from summer festivals to Hogmanay. There seems no limit to the number of hotels from wee B and Bs to global brands that the city can support and fill, including the proposed and controversial 204-room “ribbon” hotel.

At this time of year the increasingly narrow roads are full of tourist coaches and lorries bearing stage sets trying to weave their way round pedestrianisation which has been encouraged to create a relaxing, cafe culture-feel for visitors.

And finally, there are the others. The ordinary people who live here, work here, face the highest property prices and rentals in the country, don’t benefit from tourism, and still wind up paying the costs for staging all this and cleaning up the party litter, limiting road surface damage contributed to by all those continental tour coaches, and paying the council’s bill for Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay.

These are the people patiently wending their way home from work through Festival crowds with bags of supermarket shopping, struggling to get a seat on the bus in the summer rush hour for a journey that takes twice as long as usual, and plugging their ears at night so they can drown out the noise of fireworks and get to sleep, only to begin the daily schlep all over again.

We are not the Costa Del Sol. We don’t all depend on tourism or profit from it. For some of us it’s a pain in the neck.

So what, pray tell, is wrong with a tourist tax as advised by local government academic Professor Richard Kerley, especially at a time when the council, having spent its future on trams, has to make more cuts than a fight between Edward Scissorhands and Zoro?

Tourism is but one facet of Edinburgh’s packed and vibrant centre. Making the most of it is one thing, sacrificing your own rate payers to keep the tourists happy is another. So introduce a tourist tax like France. At least then we will all feel we derive some benefit from it.

Redirect cash to grassroots

IN all the discussion about the sporting legacy of the Olympics and Commonwealth Games the most sensible suggestion raised was to stop pouring tax payers’ money into governing bodies and redirect it to grassroots.

Governing bodies are too often self-interested, money-gobbling quangos. Men in suits, battalions of administrators and some very misguided notions of what their purpose actually is. The most obvious example, although probably no worse than others, is the Scottish Rugby Union which spends tens of thousands employing scouts to identify and tempt players from the other side of the world to settle here in order to qualify to play for our teams, rather than build our own native talent.

So our public money is effectively being spent on sportsmen from New Zealand, South Africa and even England – some legacy. I think that’s what you call an own goal.

Animals are the fashion victims

IT’S been revealed that in order to produce crocodile or alligator handbags, watch straps, shoes or other fripperies, these intensively farmed creatures go through agony having their spines literally severed with a box-cutting tool and their brains pierced with metal poles.

The glamour icons of the world such as Kim Kardashian and Victoria Beckham might now abandon their Hermes bags in horror. But if you buy something made from distinctive animal skin, isn’t it logical to ask first how that skin was acquired? For glamour, read Cruella de Ville.

Feeling low on high tech

THE rise of technology is increasing mental illness, depression, anxiety, emotional and behavioural difficulties and failure to attain in Scottish young people. Is anyone surprised?