The City of Edinburgh Council’s proposals to introduce a tourist tax have been labelled “a dog’s breakfast” as the authority agreed to push the plans forward.
The city council wants to lobby the Scottish Government for permission to introduce a Transient Visitor Levy (TVL) or tourism tax. The council believes requiring an additional £1 charge for tourists staying in the Capital’s hotels could generate around £11m per year. The council would want to use the additional money to aincrease dd funding to areas where tourism puts pressure on the city’s infrastructure.
It agreed to push ahead with further engagement with visitors, residents and businesses - as well as holding round-table discussions before plans for a formal consultation are put in place.
The Conservatives hit out at the SNP-Labour coalition’s plans, with Cllr Graham Hutchison labelling the proposals a “prolonged and embarrassing charade”.
The Tories also pointed out that while other European cities have a tourist tax, VAT for hotel bookings is charged at a lower rate in those countries.
Fellow Conservative Cllr John McLellan raised concerns there was no guarantee the money raised in Edinburgh would be spent in the Capital - with uncertainty around the Scottish Government’s role in administrating the charge.
Leader of the Tory group, Cllr Iain Whyte added: “It’s a dog’s breakfast of a policy and it should be ditched at this point”.
But the administration gained the support of Liberal Democrat and Green councillors in taking the initial proposals to the next stage.
Council leader Cllr Adam McVey said the charge would “help to fund the things we pay for to make Edinburgh such a vibrant city”.
He added: “It would be an understatement to say this has been a long time coming - this goes to the heart of the kind of city we want to be.
“It’s a clear statement that we want our city to remain strong and vibrant. This is an acknowledgement that the industry itself should make a commitment to that success.
“This is a professionally thought-out way of addressing what this city needs.
“This is not a tax on businesses, it’s a tax on the tourists.”
Lib Dem Cllr Neil Ross suggested the council should look at introducing the charge to other visitors in the capital, including those staying at Airbnb properties and even camp sites. Green councillors, who also backed the proposals, called for the plan to move forward as quickly as possible.
Cllr Steve Burgess said: “The city is finally getting serious about introducing a TVL.
“It’s to be regretted though, that if the council had supported it when it was originally suggested seven years ago, the council would have raised £100m of investment. Let’s not let another seven years and £100m pass us by.”
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), which is against the introduction of a tourist tax, has asked for more engagement between the industry and the council.
Garry Clark, FSB development manager for the east for Scotland, said: “Three quarters of Edinburgh’s small businesses were against a tourism tax; and almost as many feared that it would damage Edinburgh’s economy.
“The council’s report raises more questions than it answers and it is concerning that the report explicitly recommends that the council should press ahead with plans for the tax irrespective of what businesses, residents and tourists actually say during the consultation.
“The report also suggests that the city’s tourism businesses should pay more to maintain Edinburgh’s tourism environment – an assertion that is in stark contrast to the assurances that the Council were making just last week.
“Let’s not forget that tourists already spend more than £1.4 billion in our city each year and support over 34,000 jobs. That is the real contribution that tourism is already making to Edinburgh.
“If the Council wants a debate on a tourism tax, then let it be one where the result is not predetermined. Give Edinburgh businesses a real say on an issue that will affect them, their customers and the wider local economy.”
Scotland’s capital is being denied “normal European city” status due to Holyrood’s inaction on visitor levies, according to Scottish Greens local government spokesperson Andy Wightman MSP.
Wightman, MSP for Lothian, said: “Local government finances are stretched due to our capital city’s status as a tourism magnet but an obvious solution exists and that is to give Edinburgh and Scotland’s other cities and councils the power of a normal European city - the power to levy a visitor charge.
“A small contribution per person would generate significant funds to maintain and improve local services.
“Such taxes are commonplace in other European cities and countries, including Paris, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam and Berlin. It’s baffling that the Scottish Government continues to drag its feet on this issue, and I will continue to campaign for real local democracy in Scotland.”