Thursday, 23 June 2011

tourism tax don't hold you breath, or how good food buys influence

My previous post Cornish Tourist Tax a Great Idea, has proved very popular and in terms of hits is well up there in my top ten most visited, which is a great surprise seeing as it's one of my most recent posts. So I drafted a blog yesterday explaining briefly, that a tourist tax would be workable as other places do it (e.g.the French bed tax and  the USA's entrance fee). Further that is doesn't appear to be detrimental there. Also rises in VAT and fuel duty have more of an effect on tourism and are much unfairer to everyone, but yet still haven't 'killed off' tourism. Also people love coming to Cornwall, there are much nearer destinations for tourists whether they be from Berlin, Birmingham, London or La Rochelle and I am sure they wouldn't mind paying an extra fee. This fee could indeed be used to improve infrastructure and have a knock on benefit to the vast majority of Cornwall's residents who don't work in tourism. But illuminating these arguments seems pointless as the tourist industry is very good at lobbying and I would say there is now no chance of a tourist tax. In fact the opposite, it looks as though the taxpayer will not only continue subsidising tourism promotion (Visit Cornwall) subsidising the loss-making Newquay airport but further that a  dedicated cabinet member for tourism will be created.

The reason that is the situation is the very efficent way in which the tourist industry lobbies and they know that the saying that the 'way to a man's heart is through his stomach' is also true of councillors. Who were treated to a cookery demonstration and food tasting at probably the finest venus of this sort in Cornwall, owned by Rick Stein. As Alex Folkes explains:
"First up was a cookery demonstration and tasting session kindly provided by the Seafood School (and duly declared by the councillors present in the register of gifts and hospitality). Great food prepared by two chefs with a great commentary and recipe cards for us to take home. The food itself was Spanish and comes from Mr Stein's new book." from the Lanson boy blog

Andrew Wallis also blogged about it, link here, they both seem to tell the same story; tourist tax is bad, Tom Flanagan should be flogged and explained to that tourism is very important for the Cornish economy. (Presumably had the tourist chiefs known that Tom Flanagan was going to damage their reputation in such a way he would have been treated to such hospitality) Andrew Wallis concludes and I think it sums up the position of both the Liberal Democrat (Folkes) and the Independent (Wallis):


"It was also agree in principle that the Tourism Panel and VCP should meet for regularly as in the last two years today was the first time both panels had met. This would work as it would have those in the industry who know the business and those in the business of politics singing from the same hymn sheet." (again from the link above)

Both bloggers have denounced tourist tax before Folke's tourist tax not a single positive comment and Wallis's Poll tax on tourist, so I don't think the finest celebrity chef designed food really budged them much. But it is of concern that Andrew Wallis mentions something very new after his sojourn to Padstow, that is the idea of a cabinet member for tourism:
"After the bed tax issue was discussed it was felt that tourism should be higher up on the political agenda. I agree, as for an industry that accounts for at least 25% of the Cornish economy there is no Cabinet position for Tourism."

So certainly whatever the price was to entertain these elected officials it certainly caused the Independent to have a change of heart, ( I don't know how much the bill was but here's a link to the corporate events page, "prices start from £1000 for group of 10 or less"). Assuming that Andrew enjoyed the hospitality and didn't pick up his own bill.

How does this look for democracy in Cornwall? it prompts me to ask these questions:
  • Should businesses that benefit from large public funding be able to entertain elected officials?
  • Would the other three quarters of Cornwall's industries benefit from public funding if they took councillors out for the night?
  • Might other industries use hospitality trips to curry favour and have their own industry specific panel?
  • Could homeless charities lavish councillors with hospitality and get the Supporting People's budget slash of 40% reversed?
  • Is it right and proper in this time of austerity and 2000 job losses at Cornwall Council, that councillors act in such a way?
As a side note I am not adverse to tourism it is important it employs about 10% of the Cornish labour force and contributes about 25% of our GDP, it would be foolish to undermine this trade. But that said, tourism does have a great amount of influence on Cornwall Council, tourism gets a large amount of funding yet our other industries such as fishing, farming, agricultrue, quarrying, china clay, manufacturing, retail, boat building, construction etc etc don't get these same benefits. This is why tourist tax is such a good idea, part of the money it raised could be used to pay for the Visit Cornwall budget, freeing up public funds to promote all of our industries. But first and foremost Cornwall Council and Cornish councillors need to think about how they conduct themselves in public when acting as councillors.

p.s. if this meeting of Cornwall Council's tourism panel was in fact paid for by the taxpayer I will happily apologise and no doubt write another post on that subject.