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The decision to implement a visitor levy will be entirely at the discretion of individual local authorities and should reflect local circumstances and priorities. The Scottish Government is analysing responses to the recent consultation on a local discretionary transient visitor levy. It will continue to work with the tourism industry and local authority partners to ensure that the draft legislation that is to be introduced next year by my colleague Kate Forbes, the Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, will recognise and meet the needs of Scotland’s tourism sector.
UKHospitality has warned that if local authorities across Scotland implement the tourist tax, it would cost almost 6,000 jobs and cost our economy more than £200 million. What plans does the Scottish Government have to engage with businesses—especially small and medium-sized enterprises—to alleviate any damage that such a tax would do to their revenue stream and to help to protect their jobs?
UKHospitality is wrong to say that the transient visitor levy would be a national one—that is simply incorrect. We are committed to giving local authorities discretionary powers to introduce such a charge if it is appropriate for their areas. For example, the Tory Administration in Aberdeen City Council could decide either to introduce a levy or not to do so. If it does introduce it, it is absolutely essential that the tourism interests of Aberdeen City Council are used as the basis.
However, that will not cause the biggest damage to tourism jobs. The biggest damage will come from Brexit, which was introduced by the Tory Government. Loss of visitor numbers and staff will have a far bigger impact than any of the projections that Tom Mason is citing, however incorrect they are.
The cabinet secretary referred to on-going discussions with local authorities. Is she aware that concern has been raised by some of my constituents that, if the levy is limited to local authorities, that may limit both the nature of the projects that can be supported and the extent of any support that is provided, and will she confirm that discussions are taking place about enabling accredited or appointed third sector trusts through the legislation?
As I made clear, my colleague Kate Forbes will take forward the legislation. The consultation only closed on 2 December and there are well over 1,000 responses, so I am sure that Liam McArthur’s point has been made as part of the consultation. When all the points, including that one, have been considered, there will be a response to the consultation, followed by the normal legislative process. I cannot give a definitive answer to the member, but that point is clearly on the agenda and will need to be considered.
The member has raised a vitally important point. The decision by Conservative, Labour and Green members on the Local Government and Communities Committee to vote to remove the opportunity for national Government to provide business rates relief for tourism is absolutely astounding and has been met with incredulity by the sector. There is an opportunity, which must be grasped, for that to be remedied as that legislation progresses. The tourism industry is vital for this country. It supports small and medium-sized enterprises and businesses right across Scotland. Business rates relief for the hospitality and tourism industry is in jeopardy, because of the actions of Tom Mason’s party and others, unless and until they remedy that decision.