Steve Cardownie: Tourist tax better late than never

Tourists flock to Edinburgh. Picture: Scott Louden
Tourists flock to Edinburgh. Picture: Scott Louden
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The question of whether or not to bring in a hotel bed levy in the city is not new.

Way back in 2002 I was mentioned in a UK daily newspaper as follows: “Cardownie, the councillor in charge of developing Edinburgh’s festivals, called upon the Scottish Executive to introduce legislation that would force hotels to make the payments, but said that he hoped that they would consider voluntary contributions.”

Well, that plea to the hospitality sector to contribute to the festivals, which were attracting so many visitors to the city that their hotels were almost full, fell on deaf ears. So too did the many attempts to get the Scottish Executive and then the Scottish Government to agree to its introduction. Until now that is.

The SNP Scottish Government has now agreed to allow local authorities to introduce such a levy – a Bed Tax, Tourist Tax or Transient Visitor Levy (whatever you want to call it) – and it looks like Edinburgh may be the first to do so.

Whilst the Government is to be commended for its policy shift I must give credit where credit is due.

The Scottish Greens insisted that part of the price for their support of the Government’s budget was to allow councils to bring in such a levy and they should be congratulated for digging their heels in and forcing the about-turn – although it was an astute move by the Government, in that they can now claim they did not favour an additional “tax” but were forced to allow it in order to secure support for their budget. They could foresee the demand by the Greens and were only too happy to oblige.

So, 17 years on, it looks like the Greens have managed to open the door that once was so firmly shut.

Once the levy has been introduced, however, the debate will surely focus on who will administer the accrued fund and just as importantly, what the money will be spent on.