Plans for Edinburgh tourist tax '˜within weeks'
DETAILED plans for a tourist tax to bring in much-needed cash for the Capital's festivals and other events are set to be unveiled within weeks.
Council leader Adam McVey revealed the business case for the levy – forecast to raise £15 million a year – was almost complete.
And he said the council was preparing to launch a consultation on the plans with the city’s tourism businesses.
He said: “Very soon we will be going out to the industry to get their view on the structure of what we’re thinking about and the mechanism and how it’s spent.
“We need to get the message across that in order to sustain the most thriving hospitality sector per head in the world, probably we need to continue to invest in the things that make it a success story.”
Cllr McVey confirmed the council’s commitment to the tourist tax as he outlined the priorities of the SNP-Labour administration for the next six months.
Other key policies he said would be taken forward include plans to tackle traffic pollution with a low emission zone, moves to make the city centre more pedestrian and cycle-friendly through the Central Edinburgh Transformation project and a pledge to get on top of the social care crisis, which saw failings in the Capital slated by inspectors last year.
Cllr McVey said the tourist tax was a key part of the programme agreed by the SNP-Labour coalition after the local elections in May last year.
But previous attempts to persuade the Scottish Government to hand the council the power to introduce the levy have proved unsuccessful.
Cllr McVey said: “We have been asking for this for at least six years and getting not very far. Our approach this time is different. It’s more professional and hopefully that will carry the day.”
And he said comments by Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop at the end of last year to arch opponents of the tax, the British Hospitality Association, saying the government had no plans to allow a tourist tax were “quite positive” because they set out conditions for such a levy.
“It said any levy would have to get buy-in and engagement from the industry itself,” he said. “I think that was hugely encouraging because that’s exactly what we were planning to do.
“This process is about building a case of the entire city getting behind our proposals.”
Cllr McVey said he wanted a “balanced and thoughtful debate with industry leaders, considering the merits and disadvantages of every option”.
“My guess is not everyone will accept the proposals because some people are ideologically opposed to it, but by the end of the engagement process we will have a proposal which stands up not only to accusations of impact on the sector itself and Edinburgh, but stand up to scrutiny on what it can do for the city to help build up the programme we all want to see,” he said.
Edinburgh has been under pressure on social care since May last year when inspectors rated five out of nine aspects of care provision were rated “unsatisfactory” or “weak”.
Cllr McVey said next month’s council budget for 2018/19 would include additional support for health and social care.
And he said: “I’ve had meetings with the NHS chiefs to try and get to a point where we are working with them to both put in resources to clear the backlogs of assessments and care packages, so we are starting essentially from a clean sheet.
“That’s enormously challenging because there are thousands of people and tens of thousands of hours in care packages that need to be allocated and the constraints of staffing are a big issue.
“The next six months is about properly resourcing the service to clear the backlog, then we can start thinking more sensibly about making sure people have the choices that are best for them.
“People don’t want to be dependent. They want to be independent in how they control their own lives. We need to make sure once that backlog is cleared we can start shifting focus to an earlier intervention and a more independent model of care.”
The coalition is proposing a new economy strategy for the city that will not only aim to attract new business investment to the Capital, but also focus on the inequality that exists across the city.
Cllr McVey said: “You only have to count the number of cranes on our skyline to see that development in Edinburgh is booming – the Capital remains the most prosperous UK city outside London. The time has come, however, to take a good look at why not all of our residents are sharing in this success.
“Through the development of the new economy strategy, we will set out an action plan to tackle inequality and poverty to ensure that everyone is given the opportunity to benefit from Edinburgh’s prosperity, ensuring that we have inclusive growth that works for everyone.”
The council is aiming to end the use of B&B accommodation for homeless families and 16 and 17 year-olds by June.
And it has pledged to invest £1.2 billion over the next ten years to build 20,000 new affordable homes.
Cllr McVey said: “By the summer, we will have approved construction of 1,300 of these new homes, in addition to the 575 affordable homes already built under this administration. Plans are also in place to purchase a major Waterfront site for development of a further 1,500 homes.”
Building more homes was a key element of the City Region Deal announced for the Capital last year and funded by the UK and Scottish governments as well as the city council itself, along with neighbouring authorities.
Cllr McVey said: “In April, we will sign off on the various projects that make up the deal, confirming over £1bn of investment in the region and allowing us to push ahead on other core projects around infrastructure, skills and technology and in support of the festivals.”
In an Edinburgh News survey last year, potholes, litter and bin collections emerged as the top sources of dissatisfaction for residents with public services in the Capital.
The state of the city’s roads was rated poor or very poor by 71 per cent of people.
The cleanliness of public places received the same verdict from nearly 54 per cent.
And refuse collection and recycling facilities were rated poor or very poor by 40 per cent.
Cllr McVey said the administration recognised core services provided by the council were fundamental to the quality of people’s lives.
“We have already committed £100m to roads and pavements across the next five years and have made significant improvements to the waste service with complaints at their lowest point for four years,” he said.
“That said, residents tell us that communal bins remain an issue for them, which is why we are currently running a trial in Leith with a view to making further improvements to the service.”
He said he was pleased with the progress made by the coalition since it took office in May.
“But I want to ensure that we remain a coalition of action and that our commitments remain relevant to the emerging challenges we face as a city,” he said. “We have huge ambitions for this great city and want to ensure that all residents have an opportunity to share in its success.”