Busi­ness lead­ers call on coun­cil to ditch plans for tax on tourism

FSB hits out at pro­posal say­ing levy would have neg­a­tive im­pact on econ­omy across re­gion

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - NEWS - BY JON HEBDITCH

A ma­jor busi­ness body has called for Aberdeen coun­cil chiefs to ditch plans for an “un­wanted and re­gres­sive” tourist tax it be­lieves will dam­age the city.

Lead­ers have long called for the pow­ers to be de­volved from Holy­rood to al­low them to in­tro­duce a levy which they say would boost cof­fers by £1.7mil­lion a year.

The scheme – sim­i­lar to those in Paris, Barcelona and New York – would mean tourists pay­ing an ad­di­tional £1 a night for stays, with the money go­ing to the lo­cal author­ity.

Now the Fed­er­a­tion of Small Busi­ness (FSB) have hit out against the pro­posal say­ing that a lo­cal sur­vey of busi­nesses has shown 84% op­pose the in­tro­duc­tion of such a tax, while 72% pre­dict a tourism tax would have a neg­a­tive im­pact on busi­nesses and the lo­cal econ­omy.

Ed­in­burgh, High­lands and Western Isles coun­cils are also thought to be con­sid­er­ing in­tro­duc­ing the levy, though it would re­quire Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment con­sent.

At present it says there are “no plans” to bring in the tax.

De­nis Pinto, north-east area leader of the FSB, said: “Once again busi­nesses in and around Aberdeen have voiced their con­cerns on this un­wanted and re­gres­sive tax.

“While Aberdeen City Coun­cil face pres­sures on their bud­gets and their abil­ity to pro­vide ser­vices across the city, the in­tro­duc­tion of an ad­di­tional tax is not the an­swer.

“Only last month, fig­ures re­leased showed Aberdeen ho­tels had the worst oc­cu­pancy rates in the UK dur­ing 2017.

“Aberdeen must value its tourists and not price them out. Work­ing to­gether with tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity busi­nesses, the coun­cil should be an ac­tive player in grow­ing the city’s at­trac­tive­ness to tourists and res­i­dents alike and not adding a bar­rier to those vis­it­ing the city.”

Plans for a tourism tax have also been crit­i­cised by other in­dus­try bod­ies.

Marc Crothall, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Scot­tish Tourism Al­liance (STA), said: “The STA recog­nises the need across most des­ti­na­tions for an in­creased level of long-term sus­tain­able in­vest­ment, how­ever ap­ply­ing a fur­ther cost to vis­i­tors is in our opin­ion not a sen­si­ble ap­proach to take.

“The need for Scotland to be­come more com­pet­i­tive as a desti­na­tion for vis­i­tors to travel to and spend money in is now greater than ever in re­la­tion to our im­pend­ing exit from the EU. Any such vis­i­tor tax be­ing ap­plied is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and could have a po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing long-term im­pact on Scotland’s tourism in­dus­try and lo­cal economies.”

Fiona Camp­bell, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Scotland’s Self-Cater­ers (ASSC), added: “The in­tro­duc­tion of a tourist tax would threaten the ex­is­tence of many small busi­nesses across the Scot­tish tourism sec­tor.

“The find­ings of FSB’s sur­vey chime with our own mem­ber­ship which sug­gests that, if gov­ern­ment wants to help Scotland’s vi­tal tourism sec­tor, the last thing it should do is bur­den it with an anti-growth tourist tax.”

The coun­cil’s pro­posal is not, how­ever, with­out sup­port and oth­ers be­lieve it could help fund im­prove­ments in the area.

An­drew Mar­tin, vice chair­man of Aberdeen City and Shire Ho­tel As­so­ci­a­tion, said he would pro­vi­sion­ally back the levy – as long as the money was ploughed back into at­tract­ing more tourists rather than to cover day-to-day coun­cil spend­ing.

He said: “The test case here will re­ally be Ed­in­burgh. I think there is an ar­gu­ment for em­brac­ing it fully al­though that would mean the money raised would be used to fur­ther boost tourism in the re­gion,” he said.

“There are ad­van­tages to the coun­cil be­cause, to a cer­tain ex­tent, tourists are a soft tar­get since they don’t vote

“Aberdeen ho­tels had the worst oc­cu­pancy rates in the UK”

in the area. I think there is value in hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions around it but I would be dead against it if coun­cils used the funds for day to day ser­vices.”

City coun­cil co-leader Jenny Laing, mean­while, said it was im­por­tant that more de­ci­sions were made at a lo­cal level.

She said: “Aberdeen City Coun­cil has cham­pi­oned de­vo­lu­tion of pow­ers from Holy­rood to Aberdeen and we see a tourism levy as a step in the right di­rec­tion.

“SNP cab­i­net sec­re­tary for fi­nance and the con­sti­tu­tion Derek Mackay re­quires to work with Aberdeen City Coun­cil to pro­vide the coun­cil with the eco­nomic lev­ers it re­quires to stim­u­late eco­nomic growth in the city.

“If a tourism levy was to be in­tro­duced we would work with the FSB and other to en­sure that the con­cerns raised are mit­i­gated, how­ever hote­liers only have to look out their win­dows to­day to see the Cy­cle Tour Se­ries event which, as part of our 365 events pro­gramme, is bring­ing ad­di­tional tourists to their premises.”

Tom Ma­son, Con­ser­va­tive MSP for the north-east re­gion and a city coun­cil­lor, said: “Given on­go­ing SNP cuts to bud­gets and the in­creas­ing cost of main­tain­ing pub­lic ser­vices, there is merit in look­ing more closely at this idea. The Con­ser­va­tive group on the coun­cil be­lieves there is a case to be made for more pow­ers to be de­volved to a lo­cal level.

“Far too of­ten, de­vo­lu­tion stops at Ed­in­burgh, and the SNP are

re­luc­tant to hand over con­trol to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

“Aberdeen City Coun­cil has al­ready taken an in­no­va­tive ap­proach to plug­ging its fund­ing gap, with the re­cent bonds is­sue one ex­am­ple of find­ing new ways to pay much-needed lo­cal in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments.”

A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment spokesman said that any change would re­quire an act of Par­lia­ment.

He added: “We have no plans to in­tro­duce a vis­i­tor levy on the tourism sec­tor, which is al­ready sub­ject to the sec­ond high­est VAT rates in Europe by the UK Gov­ern­ment.

“We con­tinue to de­liver a fair deal to coun­cils across Scotland, with rev­enue and cap­i­tal fund­ing in­creas­ing in real terms over the next fi­nan­cial year.”

BACK­ING: But An­drew Mar­tin of the City and Shire Ho­tel As­so­ci­a­tion would want the cash to be re-in­vested

Fiona Camp­bell of the ASSC says the tax would threaten busi­nesses

Marc Crothall of the STA is against the tax levy

MSP Tom Ma­son thinks a tourist tax is worth look­ing at

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