EDWARD MOUNTAIN: Visitor Levy would 'make business owners unofficial tax collectors'
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Highland and Islands Conservative MSP Edward Mountain takes issue with the Scottish Government’s Visitor Levy Bill consultation in his column. He warns that the fine print shows that 'the person liable for the payment of the tax is not the visitor but the business owner.' That he says would 'make business owners unofficial tax collectors.'
The public consultation on the first stage of the Scottish Government’s Visitor Levy Bill has closed. Now begins the process of collating the views received in the hope there will be a settled position.
The bill proposes to allow councils to charge a local tax on overnight stays. The Government’s intention is that the money collected would then be re-invested locally, on facilities used by visitors. Simply put; a local tax to make up for a lack in central government funding.
It would be up to the local government to set the discretionary percentage rate that could and probably would vary in each council area. If that isn’t confusing for tourists, I don’t what is! Simply put, you will probably pay more or less, a ‘tourist tax’ depending on which council area you are in.
Looking at the online discussion of the bill, I can see that much of the public raise concerns with the bill; one person labelled it an ‘ill thought-out legislation’. I hold similar concerns.
There are some key issues within the fine print of the bill. First off, the person liable for the payment of the tax is not the visitor but the business owner. Not only would this bill make business owners unofficial tax collectors, and place additional unpaid work on their plates, but it would also mean that they would face the risk of penalties and charges should they make a mistake.
I don’t support additional burdens and regulations on either businesses or tourists especially during a cost-of-living crisis. Indeed, we need in light of the backlash against the Short Term Lets legislation, to try to make things easier not more complicated.
We and the government need to acknowledge a further risk that comes with introducing greater taxation on tourism, is reducing visitor numbers. Historically it has been proven that high local taxation on visitors depresses tourism. The industry has indicated that they are clearly concerned that this levy has the potential to impede the Scottish tourism.
Representatives of the tourism industry in their responses have highlighted this potential tax, together with the pressures they already face of existing taxes and regulations, could cause the fragile recovery to hit the buffers and stall.
Furthermore, what we have seen with the Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicles (ULEV) in Glasgow is that tourism businesses have suffered and the night time economy has been hard hit. What we also know is that the money raised by ULEZ fines is not being used to fund public transport, which was a key recommendation of the Parliament.
This casts doubts on whether the Visitor’s Levy will actually provide any further funding for local communities or tourism. Indeed, what seems more likely is that it will be used to plug shortfalls in the Highland Council budget.
This legislation to me is another example of the Scottish government proposing ill-conceived laws to cover the budget shortfalls that they themselves have created.
There is some way to go before this bill becomes law and you still have the opportunity to have say. Just email me as I would like to hear your views.