Borders council chiefs voice opposition to tourist tax plans

Council bosses in Edinburgh are in favour of a tourist levy, but their opposite numbers here are unconvinced that's a good idea.
Council bosses in Edinburgh are in favour of a tourist levy, but their opposite numbers here are unconvinced that's a good idea.

Council chiefs in the Borders have voiced their objections to a proposed tourist tax currently being considered by the Scottish Government.

Holyrood first minister Nicola Sturgeon ordered a consultation with local authorities in October following vocal support for such a levy on tourist accommodation from some councils.

The biggest advocate of a tourist tax is Edinburgh City Council, and it is proposing a £2 bedroom charge on all forms of accommodation, including hotels, hostels and short-term lets.

The Scottish National Party-Labour administration in Edinburgh believes a levy would generate around £11m of extra cash for the city a year, but the authority needs legislation from Holyrood in order to introduce any charge, prompting a formal consultation on the proposals.

However, Scottish Borders Council is taking a different view to its urban counterparts in Edinburgh.

At a meeting of the council’s ruling executive today, January 29, councillors unanimously voted to notify Holyrood of their opposition to a tourist tax.

Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison said: “If ever there was wrong time to do this, it’s now.

“I note that the VAT charge for accommodation in the UK is 20%, so they’re already paying for it.

“I’m utterly against the whole idea.”

Council leader Shona Haslam, representing Tweeddale East, said that it would be wrong to bring in a national tax while the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) is calling for councils to be given local tax powers.

She told the meeting: “I am extremely concerned about the focus on transient visitor tax, which is against CoSLA’s position on local taxation, and the fixation of the Scottish Government on a transient visitor tax over and above local taxation is increasingly concerning.”

A proposed response was drafted by Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, the council’s executive member for business and economic development, and it is now to be forwarded to the Scottish Government.

It reads: “The council has no plans to pursue a transient visitor tax within the Scottish Borders.

“The council considers that to do so would have a negative impact on the number and expenditure of visitors in the area, owing to price sensitivity.

“The council has concerns that a transient visitor tax may exacerbate the existing concentration of visitors and spend in Scotland.

“Such an approach would appear to run counter to the principles of inclusive economic growth and self-defeating in providing new and improved facilities to draw yet more visitors to those areas with the greatest concentrations of visitors and spend already.”