Edinburgh is to have a tourist tax. It no longer matters about the merits of the case or whether or not there has been adequate or credible consultation. The ship of debate has sailed.
While Finance Secretary Derek Mackay may have been forced to accept the tax demand from the Green party as the price of getting his Budget through parliament, the real winners were further up the Royal Mile.
Edinburgh’s councillors would have been raising a toast to the Greens who have gone further than saving Mackay’s political skin. By almost literally giving the green light to the tourist tax, the cash-strapped council can make plans for a new source of revenue.
The debate must now move on to what exactly the Tourist Tax will be for, and this has been brought into sharp relief by Edinburgh council’s simultaneous plan to cut the budget of Marketing Edinburgh by a massive 89% over the next two years.
This has highlighted a deep contradiction in policy at City Chambers. On the one hand the council is proposing a tax to raise vital funds for the city from the swelling number of tourists, while on the other it plans to weaken the very organisation charged with attracting visitors in the first place.
Cutting Marketing Edinburgh’s budget is not so much death by a thousand cuts as death by a single stab in the back. As an added twist of the knife, the axe-swinging proposal coincided with Marketing Edinburgh hosting an international conference showcasing its work to industry experts from across Europe.
Those alarmed at the proposed cuts argue that if they go through at the council meeting on 21 February Marketing Edinburgh’s future will be in doubt. Its chief executive, John Donnelly, pictured, warns that Scotland’s capital would become “the only major city in the developed world without a Destination Marketing Management Organisation”, adding that the timing of the budget debate – with 200 destination delegates in the city – had embarrassed his organisation.
When the Tourist Tax was first mooted it was always presented as a way to help fund better marketing to help drive business into the hotels, guests houses and B&Bs that feed the local tourism economy. It could, it was said, also go towards the cost of improved amenities and infrastructure that visitors might use or tend to wear down – it was never envisaged as a tax that would simply try to balance a council’s books, or fill a gaping black hole.
The politicians at Edinburgh City Chambers have shown they have been smart enough to win over Holyrood’s support for the Tourist Tax. Now they have to show they can put it to good purpose. Reinstating Marketing Edinburgh’s budget would be a good start.