Sturgeon steps-in to hand tourist tax debate to national consultation

Nicola Sturgeon
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At the Scottish Tourism Alliance conference this week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon entered the long-running debate on the country’s need for a tourist levy, taking the issue out of council hands, and putting it up for a national consultation.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that there is to be a national consultation on councils getting the power to impose a nightly tourist tax.

The move comes after the City of Edinburgh Council proposed a levy of two percent a night or £2 a night after without properly engaging the tourist industry, sparking fury from trade chiefs and hotel operators in the capital.

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA), said the City of Edinburgh Council had taken a “quite bizarre” approach to the issue.

“Some of the declarations that have been made implied they have already consulted with many in the industry are completely unfounded,” he said. “As a national trade body for the industry, the first time that we received any formal invitation of communication with Edinburgh council direct was a letter I received fromAndrew Kerr,the city chief executive, last Thursday, asking if his offices might contribute to our national conference next week. I found it quite bizarre that an organisation of that magnitude would assume that we would just move our agenda for a national conference to accommodate an Edinburgh council matter, when they had yet to make any effort to engage with us prior to that.”

With the council making such a mess of the matter, Sturgeon has stepped-in as a mediator, announcing the consultation in her speech at the STA Conference.While this move has been interpreted as‘ kicking the issue into the long grass’ by some, it has been embraced by both the STA and the City of Edinburgh Council Leader Adam McVey, who has been spearheading the idea for several months.

“This is a very welcome announcement and will help provide a national context for Edinburgh’s policy and will work alongside the detailed engagement we have carried out in recent months as well as our forth- coming citywide consultation,” said McVey. “We have always acknowledged the need for legislation in taking this forward but we as a Council have also maintained the need to develop our own plans to make sure it’s not just any TVL but the right TVL for Edinburgh, taking account of our local circumstances.”

McVey’s confidence is matched by the STA, who also welcomed the First Minister’s announcement. Both sides believe the consultation is likely to end in their favour, with opinion polls for residents showing broad support for the tax, while a recent Federation of Small Businesses survey showed that 73 percent of firms in the Highlands were opposed to such a move. Whatever the end result, the tourism and hospitality industry in Scotland will be relieved the consultation on a tourist levy is now out of McVey’s hands, and open for “an objective, well-informed national debate.”

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