Scottish Ministers have been urged by Edinburgh’s councillors to step up efforts to devolve tourism tax powers it is claimed could raise up to £35m a year for the city.
Council leader Cammy Day called for pressure to be put on the Scottish Government so the levy can be introduced as soon as possible.
He said Manchester introduced a visitor charge “using its devolved powers” — but councillors were quick to point out this had been set up by businesses and the council there did not have a direct say over how the revenue raised was spent.
The council has voiced its support for a tourist tax to be set up for several years and has previously suggested a charge of £2 per room per night, capped at £14 per visitor.
It is estimated the scheme would bring in between £5m and £35m a year for cash-strapped council services, depending on the final model agreed.
A report to councillors in November said Holyrood’s transient visitor levy bill could take another two years before being fully implemented.
Speaking at a full council meeting held on Thursday May 4 Councillor Day said: “If there’s any opportunity for bringing this forward sooner then we should look at that.
And the council leader accepted Manchester’s system – which is voluntary and sees cash ring-fenced by the businesses involved – was “not the model that Edinburgh will be looking to deliver”.
He said: “My motion asks us to engage with the Government and start pushing for the tourist tax that we’ve lobbied for for many, many years.
“It has to be a progressive tax that’s fit for the future and one that the council clearly has control over.”
Labour’s Katrina Faccenda said it was crucial to see “everyone in the city of Edinburgh benefit” – a point repeated by several other members during the debate.
SNP group leader Adam McVey, said as council leader in the last term his administration began fleshing out the details of the levy.
“This is now beyond principle and the legislative process that’s currently ongoing – and we’ve had certain letters from a government minister to suggest that some flesh on the bones has been put on that policy – we have already moved way beyond that.
“I agree with where Labour are coming from on this; we need to advocate for this policy and we need to advocate strongly, but we also need to advocate it in a way that people understand exactly what we’re asking for so that we can get exactly what the city needs.”
Fellow SNP councillor Kate Campbell accused Councillor Day of trying to ‘take credit’ for the work put in by the ex-council leader.
“He needs to take credit for it responsibly,” she said, adding that by trying to “score political points” he had “cast a cloud, a bit of doubt around this policy”.
Cllr Campbell said: “The policy that he’s comparing it to in order to try and score some points over the Scottish Government is nowhere near the kind of policy that we need for Edinburgh.”
A tourist tax is supported by all parties in the City Chambers except the Conservatives – although Tory group leader Iain Whyte said he would favour the model introduced in Manchester.
“I’d probably like to see it being revenue varying in the long term rather than just revenue raising,” he said.
Cllr Whyte said the council has “never been clear about what it would spend the money on”.
He added: “I do wonder whether we need to be a bit more honest with the public about this.
“What we have to have, if the council leader is going to support this, is some clarity within the council on how we’d run it and how the money would be spent.”