Published: 02/02/2016 15:48 - Updated: 02/02/2016 16:04

Highland Council's SNP Group leader wants tourists to pay to claw back income

Maxine Smith suggests a tourist levy.
Maxine Smith suggests a tourist levy.

The SNP group in Highland Council are seriously pursuing the idea of raising money in the local authority to avoid so many swingeing cuts "proposed by the current Independent Administration", as well as making the Highlands a better place to live, visit and work. 

Speaking on this matter, the leader of the SNP Group, councillor Maxine Smith said: "We have been looking at how our neighbours across Europe make their cities and rural areas such desirable destinations.

“Much of it is down to investment and many of them raise funds through a tourist levy or bed night tax for visitors and plough this money back into the industry and the infrastructure. The Highlands are one of  Scotland’s main tourist attractions, but without investment in the industry, infrastructure and services which encourages 10 million tourists to come here every year, how long will that be sustainable?  

“Dilapidated roads and pavements, closed toilets certainly won’t be attractive to visitors.

“The millions of tourists visiting the Highlands takes its toll on the facilities currently provided by the council, such as roads, winter and grounds maintenance, litter picking, bin collection, toilets and almost everything else that tourists use and whilst it is accepted that they put money into Highland businesses and economy, none of this comes directly back to the local authority to be in turn spent on projects to improve the tourist experience or that of our residents.

“Currently the people of the Highlands, totalling around 240,000 are the ones who are ultimately looked to to foot the bill and we in the SNP group feel this isn't right.

“Tourists, as happens in other places throughout Europe and the United States, should also contribute. This can range from four Euros up to 16 Euros depending on the accommodation or attraction, but considering the Highlands figures are in the region of 10 million bed nights, just even £1 of a tourist bed night tax, could bring in substantial funds to be used for the benefit of tourists, locals and businesses alike without any detrimental effect on visitor numbers.  

“The SNP group will work with the tourist industry in Highland to bring about suggestions for a fair proportionate levy on customers, which can be shared between what the industry needs in terms of new projects and maintaining the infrastructure that is used by the millions of visitors the Highlands attracts. 

“We think it is time that we took charge of our own economy and in order to continue providing better, higher quality services for visitors and locals alike, we need to be innovative in the way we raise and spend our income.  

“To this end we are currently lobbying Scottish Government to allow local authorities to use this form as taxation, as one of its methods for becoming more self-sufficient. Consequently we would like to open up a Highland-wide consultation for consideration of this idea as a way forward."

* Last week, the leader of Scotland’s largest council  accused the Scottish Government’s finance secretary John Swinney of running a dictatorship by threatening “the most punitive sanctions in local government history”.

Frank McAveety, leader of Glasgow City Council, accused Mr Swinney of trying to force local authorities to sign up to a new package of demands, including the council tax freeze, or lose tens of millions of pounds.

The backlash mounted as council leaders objected to the “draconian” proposal, which would see cash allocated to local authorities cut if they failed to maintain the freeze, retain teacher/pupil ratios or integrate health and social care.

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