Friday, 10 June 2011

a Cornish tourist tax, a great idea

One of the senior officers at Cornwall Council Tom Flanagan has created something of a stir by suggesting a tourist tax at a committe in Westminster. In his own words he explains:
“Cornwall has 26 million visitor nights per year. If you put £1 per head per bed that could raise £26 million which could go into investment. These are funding opportunities for Cornwall if we are given the freedom."

Now there is some controversy that this has come from an officer rather than a councillor and it probably wasn't the most astute move talking about it in Westminster before councillors had discussed it. It does highlight the concern of people in Cornwall that the officers run the show at Lys Kernow, this needs to be addressed (another day perhaps).  But that said, the idea of a tourist tax has been kicking around for years, I've no doubt that councillors have discussed it before and are more than aware of the arguments. So let's for a second consider the idea.

The costs of tourism

Cornwall has a large number of visitors every year, they place a strain on all of our services. They contribute to the wear and tear of our roads, they use our hospitals, need our police force and need our lifeguards. In a fiscal sense the Cornish taxpayer is responsible for maintaining vital aspects of the tourist industry. In a very real sense, we suffer because our roads are busy in the summer it takes longer to drive anywhere, our towns are busier with holiday makers. Also the council pays a great deal to support the tourist industry, funding the the Cornwall tourism board not to mention the loss making Newquay Airport. Also the prominence of the tourist trade encourages holiday home ownership which artficially inflates house prices and provides a real problem of empty homes in our communities making villages less viable.

Now there is a positive benefit to the Cornish economy many businesses and bed and breakfast owners have grown very rich from the tourist trade. Of this there is no doubt and all power to them. But the fact remains that the burden of supporting the tourist trade and the infrastructure it demands falls on everyone, not just the minority who earn a living from tourism. Let's not forget that people love coming to Cornwall and wouldn't begrudge or even notice a small increase in their bills.

Implementation

I have some doubts as to how a tourist tax would be introduced and quite how it would work. A pound per person per night sounds simple enough but enforcement of this would be complicated. Would every campsite/ hotel/ bed and breakfast/ holiday cottage have to be registered? how would this system be monitored? As an alternative I believe a much simpler system would be to proportonally raise the rates of tourism businesses. With larger businesses such as large hotels and camp sites paying more than smaller hotels and bed and breakfasts. I believe this would have the same result as a pound tourist tax but would be much simpler and would be more progressive and fairer on smaller businesses. It also would be administratively much simpler.

Let's put this one to bed

By the by Tom Flanagan also explained that Cornwall Council could eliminate the council tax discount for second home owners, my only comment, are we still having this conversation? everyone should pay the same council tax.