Kezia Dugdale: Beach-ready wheelchairs roll into town

Alison and Craig Brown with Ethan, nine, in a beach wheelchair at Portobello. Picture: Alistair Linford
Alison and Craig Brown with Ethan, nine, in a beach wheelchair at Portobello. Picture: Alistair Linford
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The annual Portobello Beach Busk is always a lively and enjoyable event. So much so, even some dolphins turned up to tune in over the week. Yet you’d be forgiven for missing another wonderful sight amidst all that hustle and bustle – the launch of Portobello beach wheelchairs.

For me the sound of water hitting the shore, the feel of sand and then ice-cold water on your toes has always had healing and soothing properties. A beach walk is just good for the soul.

For wheelchair users, though, it’s not so easy. Even the most advanced chairs that can handle the High Street’s cobbles struggle with sand. That puts the beach out of bounds and makes the promenade the limit.

A couple of years ago now, I met the team behind North Berwick beach wheelchairs. They operated on a volunteer basis out of the harbour in a beautiful painted beach hut. They had chairs for children and adults alike, covering all levels of disability.

READ MORE: Portobello Big Beach Busk hailed a huge success

The most expensive part of the operation was the hoist, critical to helping people out of their own chairs into the beach compatible ones. They’d raised the money for that themselves. Hugely impressive stuff.

The goodwill and expertise of the folk in North Berwick inspired a similar group of Portobello residents to get their operation off the ground. What they don’t yet have is that critical hoist which will guarantee that everyone can enjoy the pleasures of the beach.

In the drive for equality, we must remember that access to simple life-reaffirming pleasures are just as important as great technological advances or political progress.

Why won’t the SNP let councils tax tourists? The Capital needs the money

If you count up all the beds for rent in the city, from Airbnbs to five-star beds, there’s something like 45,000 across the Capital. I’d hazard a guess that every single one was occupied over the few weeks of the festival, but even if you work on the basis of a 90 per cent occupancy rate, the city just missed out on £2.5 million worth of additional revenue had a tourist tax been in place. It could be into double figures over a 12-month period.

READ MORE: Tourist tax could raise £2.5m during Edinburgh Festivals, say Labour

It’s so common across so many European cities, I just can’t understand why the SNP government is so reluctant to give local authorities the power to introduce it themselves.

I know there are worries from the hospitality industry about its impact on our competitiveness as a city, but that will be equally affected if we can’t maintain investment in our public services and public realm. Because that’s what a tourist tax should – and would – fund. Keeping our city clean and beautiful for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit each year, as well as everyone who lives here.

Nobody is going to choose not to come to our city because they’re asked to pay a small local tax at their hotel reception, but they might change their minds if word of mouth said the city was starting to look shabby, or bins went uncollected.

A sum of £2.5million won’t fix all the city’s tourism troubles, but it is additional cash that is desperately needed and if it’s raised from those visiting Edinburgh, it means more of our council tax cash would be spent on our public services the rest of the year.