Proposal would net £2.4million
A tourism tax for Bath looks closer to becoming a reality. It is an idea that has floated in Bath political debate for years, and Bath and North East Somerset Council has said it was considering an approach to the government for new powers to introduce levies on visitors to the city. It is also considering levies on short-term lets and listed building applications. The council also reported a huge rise in the council tax exemptions for student homes, to £5 million in the last financial year. In January, leader Tim Warren said the council was looking at a £1-a-night fee and the authority’s operational plan found this would bring in £2.4 million a year without affecting tourism. This could not be achieved without the government’s blessing and now a report will ask senior B&NES politicians next week to agree to making a request for the necessary powers. The council is “under pressure from two successful universities and their growing student population which impacts services”. “Student households are rightly exempt from council tax, but it is estimated this has led to a £5 million loss of revenue in 2017/18 alone.” This is a huge rise on the £3 million reported by cabinet member for finance Charles Gerrish in January, and means that students now occupy more than the previously stated figure of 26 per cent of city homes. Airbnb is also squeezing the Bath housing market as landlords and homeowners seek to profit from a lack of regulation on letting. B&NES Council wants to address this with a new tax on short-term lets. It also aims to create a “level playing field” between high street and online retailers. A third pressure on the council’s finances is coming from adult social care. In 2015-16 adult social care and children’s services made up 66 per cent of the council’s net budget; this ballooned to 80 per cent in 2018-19. Mr Warren said: “At present, we are simply not allowed to raise money in the new ways suggested here, and are too dependent on the funds we receive from council tax and business rates. “Residents have frequently expressed their concerns about the constraints placed on the council by central government, and this report sets out new thinking. “Crucially, it does not suggest that we should necessarily introduce any of these proposals, but that government should allow us the powers to do so, if we wish, at local level. “It’s about us asking central government to help us help ourselves - not just going to them for extra money”. One of the requests being considered is for central government to provide powers to introduce a tourism levy, as found in a number of European cities. Some UK cities - including Edinburgh, Oxford and Liverpool - are also seeking such a power. There is also a proposal to request a power to introduce a levy on short-term lets, such as Airbnb, as well as allowing the council to introduce fees for listed building applications. The report will go before the full council today and, if agreed, requests will be sent to ministers and MPS to help influence their decisions.
Bath Christmas market is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city each year