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Letters / Open letter to councillors: we have been paying tourist levies for years, so it’s time to join the club

Dear councillors,

Time and time again, we hear complaints from the council and yourselves about the lack of autonomy granted to local government. “Budgets are ring fenced”, “funding is dictated by Edinburgh”, “Funding on offer falls short”, “Planning decisions overruled”, “It’s hard to make plans, when budgets are so tight” “Council in talks with government for more autonomy” and of course the daily expresses famous “Shetland seeks independence from Scotland”.

You should all know, what the official definition of Autonomy is – The right or condition of self-government.

What does it mean in this day and age? It means money and how its spent/allocated.

Examples of Shetland’s current and unique autonomy:-

  • Shetland Charitable Trust – A reserve of money, that can be spent locally, as seen fit by the charity, within UK charitable status rules.
  • Shetland Islands Council’s oil reserve fund – A reserve of money, that can be spent locally, as and how the council sees fit, with little to no external interference.
  • Shetland Community Benefit Fund – A independent cooperative, that has the potential to be an everlasting, reserve of money, supporting communities and businesses throughout the isles.
    Why do we have these things? Because of forward thinking, bold and sometimes controversial decisions.
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Fast forward to today and we have the offer of a local tourist levy, the Scottish government offering more autonomy to the council as a means of independently raising additional tax revenue.

How is it met? immediately with objection and reservations. One sits here thinking this is absolutely beggars belief but at the same time thinking: ‘yup, that pretty much sums up the current times we live in”.

We’d rather sit, with our hands out, moaning of how unjust things are than taking the bull by the horns and increasing our local powers.

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It’s an opportunity for us to shape a levy on tourists, who come to the island, use our services, drive on our roads, drink our water, increase our waste, visit our historical sites, beaches and ultimately increase our footprint on the island.
Yes, already they spend money, they boost our economy, but they indirectly benefit Shetland because of income tax, business tax, VAT etc etc. For every £1 they spend it will be a matter of pence that Shetland see’s directly and even less that returns from exchequer.

So, if you’re sitting there, grumbling away about the latest planning rebuttal by the Scottish Government, or the fact budgets are ring fenced and there’s nothing you can do about it, here’s your chance, here’s something you can dictate, that directly benefits the islands.

Or …. stop moaning about the system and accept what UK local governance is – A panto.

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Finally, and the most bizarre thing about all of this is the bulk of us islanders, especially councillors (although you might get away with saying you’re on business), at some point will fly to Edinburgh, stay overnight, and pay their tourist levy.

Worldwide, we islanders been paying tourist levies for years.

It’s time to join the club.

Craig Johnson
Northmavine

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