Edinburgh tourist tax: Council could use money raised to help pay for public toilets and removing graffiti

Top council official tells Scottish Parliament committee of plans for spending revenue from visitor levy
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Public toilets and removing graffiti have been named as two areas of council spending in Edinburgh which could be boosted by the tourist tax in evidence to MSPs.

The Capital is set to become the first city in the UK to introduce a visitor levy on accommodation under legislation going through the Scottish Parliament. The new law would allow councils to set the level of the tax, with the money raised to be spent on "facilities and services substantially for or used by persons visiting the area of the local authority for leisure purposes".

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Paul Lawrence, Edinburgh council’s executive director of place, told Holyrood’s local government committee the authority had identified broad areas of spending where the visitor levy revenue could be used, including infrastructure, promotion and marketing, culture and festivals and basic services.

Edinburgh is expected to be the first city in the UK to introduce a tourist tax.  Picture: Lisa Ferguson.Edinburgh is expected to be the first city in the UK to introduce a tourist tax.  Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
Edinburgh is expected to be the first city in the UK to introduce a tourist tax. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

He said: “ We have had a lot of debates about public conveniences in Edinburgh over the past couple of years. Those kind of basics would be something we'd be seeking to enhance for local people and visitors.”

And later he told the committee: “I think there is the possibility for some interplay between council general funding and the visitor levy. For example, we struggle with graffiti removal in the city and it's something that visitors comment on – they don’t like to see graffiti in some of the most historic parts of the city. We want spend more on it and we don’t have the money to do so.

"So it may well be, let's say at the moment we spend £200,000 a year on graffiti removal – maybe we could double that, but it could all be funded by the visitor levy and therefore the council could potentially see some modest saving, but there would be an increase in the money spent of graffiti removal.”

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No decision has yet been made on how much the tourist tax would be in Edinburgh, but council leader Cammy Day has hinted at around 4 per cent, which would bring in an estimated £22.4 million per year. He has also suggested that money from the levy could go towards a revived cycle hire scheme or even extending the trams.

Festival chiefs have argued that Festival performers and crews should be exempt from the tourist tax in recognition of their poor pay and the boost they give to Edinburgh's economy. But Mr Lawrence said the council proposed a seven-night cap on the levy in Edinburgh.

He said: “We did that specifically with the festivals in mind, so that if you’re a performer or whatever it might be, who is coming to Edinburgh from the last week of July to the first week of September, you would only pay for seven nights. We think that’s in keeping with the spirit of the legislation and doesn’t penalise someone who comes to the city for long-term work. And we would see the festivals and the cultural infrastructure of the city as a key beneficiary of any scheme.”

Currently the levy would apply to hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, self-catering accommodation, campsites, caravan parks and boat moorings. But the committee heard calls for it to be extended to cruise ships and campervans.