Row breaks out over control of Edinburgh's tourist tax proposed by Nicola Sturgeon

A ROW has broken out over whether the Capital will have full control over the proposed tourist tax which Nicola Sturgeon has promised to allow it to introduce.

By Ian Swanson
Friday, 6th September 2019, 11:22 am
Edinburgh plans a visitor levy of 2 per room per night
Edinburgh plans a visitor levy of 2 per room per night

Some councillors fear the legislation which the Scottish Government is planning will restrict the city council on how it spends the money raised by the tax.

Ms Sturgeon’s programme for government on Tuesday included the promise of a Transient Visitor Levy Bill, giving local authorities the power to apply a tax or levy on overnight visitor stays. It added: “The decision to implement any tax or levy created will be entirely at the discretion of individual local authorities and receipts will be to fund local authority expenditure on tourism.”

Labour councillor Scott Arthur tweeted: “Good: The Scot Gov looks set to give Edinburgh the power to set a tourist tax (at last). Bad: The Scot Gov won’t let Edinburgh decide how to spend the money.”

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Edinburgh plans a visitor levy of 2 per room per night

But deputy SNP group leader Lesley Macinnes tweeted back: “There will be more local authority control than you are implying” and suggested the tax could cover “added pressures caused by tourism eg street cleansing, as well as contributing directly to the tourism offering”.

Edinburgh has drawn up detailed proposals for a £2 per room per night levy on visitors in all types of paid accommodation in the city, estimated to raise up to £14.6 million.

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Cllr Arthur said he hoped the requirement to spend the tax revenue on tourism would be interpreted as broadly as possible, to include, for example, encouraging visitors to go beyond the city centre to other parts of Edinburgh.

The Scottish Government has promised legislation to allow councils to levy a tourist tax.

But he also argued the council should have the right to opt to use the money for other priorities such as education or homelessness. “Denying Edinburgh the right to decide how the money is spent is a slap in the face for local democracy.”However, the government’s description of how the tax will be used appears to allay fears tourist tax revenue might be taken and spent centrally.

When the proposal for a tax was being debated in Holyrood, SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson suggested the money raised could be pooled and shared between all councils,

Depute city council leader Cammy Day welcomed the government commitment to legislate for a tourist tax. He said:: “Edinburgh has put forward a robust proposal for a Transient Visitor Levy. What we need now is a timetable to bring these powers into effect as soon as possible.

“Yet again as we welcomed the world to join us in August and enjoy our incredible festivals, the Fringe reported its most successful summer on record and hotels continued to enjoy the highest average occupancy rate of anywhere in the UK. We urgently need a way of putting a visitor levy into practice, raising funds which we can reinvest to help us manage the impacts of this tourism growth. It works everywhere else.

“It is right that we will have the power to invest the revenue this tax will raise locally and Edinburgh is ready to work constructively with the Scottish Government.”

And SNP councillor Ellie Bird said Edinburgh would lead the way and introduce the UK’s first tourist tax.

“We’ve already carried out extensive research and consultation on our tourist tax proposals and we are more than ready to roll out our plans when the Bill passes.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We will shortly begin a consultation on the principles of a locally determined transient visitor levy, prior to introducing legislation to permit local authorities to introduce such a charge. This will not be a national tax, rather it will be for individual local authorities to decide whether or not to apply a levy if they consider it appropriate for local circumstances.”