MINISTERS are continuing to put a hold on plans to legislate to allow councils to bring in a tourist tax despite it being a key plank of the government’s Budget deal with the Greens almost three years ago.

The measure, which would give local authorities a new income stream, was paused in March last year before the first coronavirus lockdown.

But more than 20 months on there are no moves to bring forward the “enabling bill” which would mean areas such as the Highlands could introduce the levy in time for the winter or summer tourist seasons.

The Highlands experienced a dramatic boom over the last two summers due to a major rise in staycations but the increase put major pressures on local infrastructure.

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Shortcomings led to tensions with permanent residents complaining of human waste littering beauty spots and traffic jams on narrow country roads.

The Scottish Government say the pandemic is to blame for not progressing the tourist tax scheme with hotels and bed and breakfast still under considerable pressure.

“Given the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and impact on the tourism sector, now is clearly not the time to take forward legislation,” a spokesman told The Sunday National.

“We continue to do all we can to support the industry, including a £129 million package of tourism recovery support, on top of 100% rates relief this financial year”.

The Sunday National asked the Scottish Government if the legislation would be brought in during the current parliament, but the spokesman said he had nothing more to add to the statement.

However, the continuing hold up is angering council leaders who argue the bill simply gives local authorities the powers to bring in the tax when the conditions in their areas are right and that the Scottish Government should not be acting as a block to their schemes.

“[Our] position is for this legislation to be introduced and then it would be up to individual councils to decide whether or not to use it based on local circumstance,” said Councillor Gail Macgregor, the resources spokeswoman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), which represents the country’s 32 councils.

“We are not talking about a national tax, but a tax that could be introduced locally if the circumstances are right. Different councils across Scotland have previously called on the Scottish Government to allow this specific power. This local discretion will contribute to the fiscal levers held by

local government.”

She added: “Cosla emphasises that this is not a replacement for existing funding but will provide additionality over and above existing restricted funding streams. Cosla have long called for this as a local discretionary tax.”

Joanne Walker, Scottish technical officer for the Chartered Institute of Taxation, said the delay to the legislation suggested Holyrood’s powers were not being used to their full extent.

“The Scottish Government has been criticised for not making enough use of the devolved powers it has,” she said.

“Arguably, putting the transient visitor levy on hold again adds fuel to that view, especially in conjunction with the ruling out of major changes to Scottish income tax and land and buildings transaction tax.

“This does seem to leave council tax reform as the only game in town if tax reform is to happen in Scotland in the near future.”

Many cities on the continent such as Barcelona, Paris and Prague have a transient visitor levy or tourist levy in place.

The charge is imposed on people visiting for a short period, including tourists and those on business travel, and is usually an extra fee added to the cost of accommodation.

An Edinburgh Transient Visitor Levy report, published in 2018, said the UK was one of only nine countries in the European Union at the time that did not charge a tourist tax.

It pointed to examples of three types of visitor levies including a progressive tourist tax model, (which varies based on the size of the hotel); a flat-rate model, which sees a standard fee applied across all types of accommodation and a tax liability model, as used in Brussels, which sees an additional tax levied on businesses depending on the size and type of

accommodation, and additional costs then factored into the room rate.

A study by Edinburgh City Council in 2018 found a £2 charge to hotel guests’ bills could raise £11m to fund local services in Edinburgh.

Aberdeen City Council favours a tax on stays in campsites, while Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar and Argyll and Bute Council also support a short term visitor levy.

Glasgow city council said a £1 fee would have generated £168,000 during the two weeks of COP26 alone, based on all 12,000 hotel rooms in the city being full for 14 nights.

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The Scottish Greens, who have championed the policy, believe the legislation will be brought forward in the current parliament.

However, they were unable to give a timescale.

The party’s communities spokeswoman Ariane Burgess said: “The ability for councils to introduce a tourist levy was won by the Scottish Greens as part of our commitment to devolve power to councils, giving them a wider variety of tools to raise revenue and deliver services tailored to local needs. Tourism, which is vital for so many communities, completely dried up during the pandemic but once the public health crisis is over this commitment will be delivered to local authorities.”

Organisations representing hotels and self-caterers do not support a tourist tax saying Scotland is already expensive to visit.