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SIC not keen on visitor tax

Shetland Islands Council leader Steven Coutts. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) would not be interested in following in the footsteps of European cities like Paris and Barcelona by imposing a ‘visitor tax’ on tourists if it was given the power to do so, according to leader Steven Coutts.

The councillor was responding to a call from local authority body COSLA that the Scottish Government should give councils the power to impose the levy to raise more money.

The Scottish Government said it has no plans to introduce a visitor levy on the tourism sector.

A transient visitor tax would generally see tourists charged extra to stay in accommodation, with the money going to the local authority.

It is common practice in Europe, with cities such as Paris, Barcelona and Amsterdam all running variants of the system.

They are imposed through a number of models, such as per person per night, per room per night or a proportion of the total accommodation fee paid.

Antwerp in Belgium, for example, charges a fixed rate of €2.25 excluding VAT per person per night, with the income spent on cleaning streets, information services, museum maintenance and urban renewal.

The charge is added to the invoice for the visitor’s accommodation.

COSLA said that a potential visitor charge could see councils impose the levy only in certain parts of its local authority area, while they could decide to remove it outside of the tourist season.

It does not “necessarily need to be limited to accommodation; there are other aspects which local authorities could determine based on local circumstances”, COSLA said.

Resources spokesperson councillor Gail Macgregor said that “what we are asking for today is not a national tax, but a tax that could be introduced locally if the circumstances are right and if councils in their own area think that it is the proper thing to do”.

SIC leader Coutts, however, said that a tourist tax is not something the council is interested in at the moment – although he suggested more income generating powers would be encouraged.

“The principle of more financial powers for local government is something we would welcome,” he said.

“A visitor tax is not one we would necessarily wish to explore at this stage. Any local taxation would need to be considered in line with achieving local outcomes.”

Coutts reiterated that any extra devolved income measures should not mean less core funding from the Scottish Government.

“Local financial powers should however not come at the expense of fair and just central government grant to councils,” he said.

The SIC has used its powers to increase council tax in the past couple of years following a lengthy freeze, with a three per cent rise expected to raise an additional £270,000 in 2018/19.