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Letters / Carbon tax on travel would be fairer

Your article on the Scottish Government proposed levy per tourism bed night was interesting and welcome.

Proposed visitor levy bill sparks mixed reaction: ‘All it does it stifle growth’

The bed night tax is a basic, simple principle – polluter pays. The charge rate seems somewhat arbitrary.

Local accommodation heating is higher – local fuel poverty – might be a better indicator of visitor pollution. The waste pollution whilst here in holiday is offset by less waste pollution at home – a zero sum game.

The fairest tourism tax would be carbon tax on travel, by far the highest cost in any holiday to Shetland.

Arguable travellers go Shetland are already paying their polluter pays whack? If one applies the proposed Edinburgh tariff of £2 per night , this is £28 per person  for a fortnight’s holiday in Shetland.

People who come to Shetland can afford to pay this as it is already far from the cheapest holiday destination, principally due to travel costs.

A tax applied fairly – there’s the rub – across the country does not become a disincentive. Most countries in Europe have a local tourism tax.

The real issue here is that we have become an anti or low tax culture, since 1979. Low tax is sold as a huge boost to profiteers then reinvesting their profits in reality, free  market neo-liberal economics – greed –  has demonstrated that it just results in more profit being taken out of the industry  by private capitalists.

Trickle down economics doesn’t work as potential  tax beneficiaries, be they business or in this case local government, are not trusted to effectively and efficiently  spend income from tax wisely.

That is why the vast majority of money to local government comes from national government taxation and not local taxation, the latter would be much more transparent and fairer, stopping the huge inequities and political manipulation by governments if the long out- dated Barnett formula.

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National tax take has seen year on year reductions in relation to inflation, since 1979, with grant to local government, like the public pension, significantly cut in real terms, to generate opportunities for the private sector to muscle in on public sector contracts  – companies like Serco, who globally take huge private profit out of public tax spend.

This is particularly the case in relation to NI contributions and private profiteering out of the NHS.

As long as the tourism tax is spent on climate change mitigation caused by visitors then it could be a positive thing.

The issue is – will the tax/levy be well spent effectively and efficiently? Mr Smith’s complaints about it potentially hitting tourism is but nothing compared to the real reasons for the recent problems the hospitality industry has been hit with – Covid related and the industries relative low-waged labour leaving in droves for higher wages in other sectors or back to work in their home countries of Eastern Europe.

Declining population is another factor where competition for labour locally is significant. We never get any transparency of the profit levels and profit-taking of accommodation providers.

Why has there been such a massive growth in Air BnB accommodation over past 10-15 years? This has been due to huge profits in it for property speculators – buy go let – depriving young people of much needed accommodation and people have preferred the privacy/freedom/flexibility of that form of accommodation over ‘traditional’ hotel accommodation.

Cllr Robinson’s criticism of more local bureaucracy re another tax system begs questions of the council tax system. Don’t see him criticising that.

The council can of course choose not to apply the levy. A simple change to the council tax calculation computer algorithm computer would surely be possible  to add the bed/night charge. It does of course assume providers report bed nights accurately.

We already have a ‘black market’ in public housing used for private income, exacerbated by big sector contracts over the years e.g. gas plant, Viking Energy project etc.

A better polluter pays tourism tax might be that on cruise ship visitors, who really can afford this tax.

James J Paton
Lerwick

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