Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Why the tourist tax debate needs to kick off

Lib Dem local government minister is reported to have backed the idea of a tourist tax. Stephen Williams wasn't talking specifically about Cornwall, but it is a debate that should be started.

I start off from the point of view that I think Cornwall (and other councils) should have more freedoms and powers. And that these should include the right to raise money in new forms including through a well worked out tourist tax.

BUT...

I'm far from convinced as yet that a tourist tax for Cornwall is either workable or a good idea. So let's start to work out what is possible and whether or not it is desirable.

That discussion would have to be held with no preconditions and it would have to be undertaken including a wide range of different viewpoints, including the visitor industry - hotels, attractions, restaurants etc. - the council, the wider public sector and residents.

And whilst a 'bed tax' is spoken of pretty frequently, there are going to be other models which might be better and which should be considered.

Such work would take a number of years, but in view of further cuts in local government funding and the likely knock on effects on the services we provide that affect the visitor industry, I believe it is something worth considering. Only when we have the facts can we decide whether it is a good idea or not to actually implement. Ultimately, it would be for local councillors to decide whether or not to introduce it and they would be accountable for their decision through the ballot box.

(Needless to say, I should point out that this is a personal view, not that of the council or my group)

UPDATE: Because I have been challenged on this issue: I have always opposed the idea of a tourist tax for Cornwall. I don't think it would have the benefits claimed and think that the downsides would far outweigh the positives. However, there are two reasons why I think it is right to discuss the issue. The first is in the context of the devolution of greater powers and responsibility to Cornwall. I think it is right to pass on powers even where I think it would be wrong to exercise those powers.
Second, the issue of a tourist tax has been brought up often enough in the past - not least by the Council's former Director of Economy - that I think we need to have to debate to show why it would be the wrong idea. 

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