It will mark one year since the SNP-Labour coalition formed and it will show a great deal of progress in taking forward the priorities of the citizens of Edinburgh. I’ve said a number of times that I see our job in council as three-fold: deliver better core services, fix longstanding issues and invest in the aspirations of our city. Core services like waste collection have got a lot better in the last year with missed bin complaints falling. Longstanding issues in social care are being tackled seriously with a new plan published just last week which will start achieving improvement in the acute pressures faced in the services. Sorting out the day-to-day council services is a central focus for the administration, but we shouldn’t use our challenges as an excuse to discard the city’s aspirations. We must invest in the future of the city to sustain and grow our success but this comes at a cost and this is equally true in relation to the city’s successful visitor economy.
The “tourist tax” is a key part of the council’s programme to help fund the services that visitors use and support the Capital’s cultural offering, which is the main draw for the millions of guests the Capital hosts each year. However, it’s not a panacea and no one should kid themselves that a local tax on visitors will be an easy way of eradicating our financial pressures as a result of the UK Government’s austerity policy. Despite the pressures, our city rightly spends millions of pounds supporting the festivals and millions more dealing with the pressure so many visitors bring to the Capital. We should, however, never forget the benefits that so many visitors bring to the Capital. Investment, jobs and a breadth of cultural offering that would just not be possible without welcoming so many guests.
I’m a dogged defender of our hospitality industry and the tens of thousands of jobs it supports in Edinburgh. But this support isn’t a one-way street. The British Hospitality Association, the Scottish Tourism Alliance and Federation of Small Business need to constructively engage in the discussion about how a new levy can help fund the festivals and other services and facilities that visitors take advantage of when they arrive. This should be a mature conversation on how we can work together to protect the things that make Edinburgh great and sustain and grow our success. I’m hugely encouraged by the dozens of hotel owners and general managers who have already engaged in this discussion and I hope many more will do so as we take our proposals to the next level of engagement across the city.
I firmly believe by discussing the future of our city’s visitor economy and cultural offering, we can create a levy that not only works for Edinburgh as a whole but works for hospitality sector specifically. Having one of the most vibrant hospitality industries anywhere in the world is a huge asset, but the council, or the industry themselves, can’t be blind to the negative impacts of that success. Hotels, like all of us, have a responsibility to the communities they operate in. Asking visitors to pay a few pounds on a hotel bill will not affect the vibrancy or commercial viability of our hospitality sector. However, it can unlock significant investment that can be put to the benefit of everyone in Edinburgh. This policy can help meet the aspirations of our city, provide resources to improve core services and help fix a longstanding perception problem in the eyes of some Edinburgh residents. In other words, while it’s not a panacea, it is a no-brainer.