Highland tax consultation “astonishing”

The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye

HIGHLAND Council is facing criticism after it launched a consultation into the possible introduction of a visitor levy, or ‘tourist tax’.

The Scottish Government paved the way for councils to introduce visitor levies earlier this year when it devolved the necessary powers to local authorities. However, it has also stated that no authority will be able to introduce a levy until 2021.

Launching the Highland consultation today (August 15), council leader Margaret Davidson said a levy “is one option the council is considering to raise income to manage the challenges tourism is both facing and contributing to in Highland”.

“The consultation has been shaped by lots of research and engagement with the public and tourism industry to ensure we are asking the right questions,” said Davidson.

“It does not simply gather information on people’s support or opposition. It gives respondents lots of opportunity to help us shape what a levy might look like were it to be implemented. This includes important questions such as who should pay? How much? And how? And how revenue from a visitor levy could be invested to deliver maximum benefit for Highland?”

But UK Hospitality executive director for Scotland, Willie Macleod, slammed the consultation.

He said: “It is astonishing that the Highland Council is using public money to consult on a tourist tax, just before the Scottish Government is to launch a national consultation on the same issue.

“The council’s interest in squeezing businesses, at a time when costs are continually rising, is very disappointing. Margins for employers are already shrinking and we are facing a level of political uncertainty that is near-unprecedented. To even consider heaping more and more costs on businesses that are vital to the economic success of the Highlands at this time is ridiculous.

“The timing of the consultation is also dubious. Schools have now returned following the summer break so the views of Scottish families who holiday in the Highlands, and who will bear the cost of any tourist tax on future holidays, may not be heard. We hope the council reconsiders its approach and avoids pursuing any measures that would threaten Scotland’s hospitality businesses.”

The consultation runs until October 20.