3. The Balance between Local Autonomy and National Consistency
The Scottish Government recognises that the pressures arising from visitor numbers, and the challenges facing the tourism sector in Scotland, vary across the country. From the National Discussion, as well as wider evidence, it is clear that local tourism economies vary across Scotland, reflecting the diverse range of local economic circumstances and other factors such as population, demography and rurality.
In this context, the Scottish Government’s view is that the appropriate bodies to levy taxes of this nature are local authorities. The power will not extend to other bodies, such as National Park Authorities or Community Councils.
Local flexibility over tax raising and spending is very important. It is the Scottish Government’s clear intention that the decision to implement a visitor levy will be entirely at the discretion of local authorities and should reflect local circumstances and priorities. There will be no obligation for any local authority to implement a visitor levy.
Those local authorities that have said publicly that they would be in favour of imposing a visitor levy have suggested different means of calculating liability. Some expressed a desire to levy a charge not only on overnight stays but on other activities too. However, the National Discussion also raised a potential need for a level of national consistency or a national framework enforced through the legislation, to assist with simplicity in design and operation. This is in recognition of tourism’s status as a growth sector within Scotland’s Economic Strategy and the potential for negative impacts for example, if a visitor levy developed in one area of Scotland impacts negatively on other areas (or Scotland as a whole).
For accommodation providers that operate in more than one local authority area, the National Discussion further highlighted that a single method of applying a visitor levy, to a common activity, would be preferable in order to minimise complexity in its administration and in the costs of compliance. The tourism industry also voiced concerns that, without a level of national oversight, local authorities might not fully take into account the specific compliance and collection challenges faced by businesses. It was also argued that consistency of approach across Scotland would be easier for tourists to understand, as different systems create potential for confusion and could lead to negative perceptions of Scotland overall.
The Scottish Government recognise these conflicting views, and overall there are a range of trade-offs between national consistency and local autonomy. Our initial position is that there should be some overarching design principles set out in national legislation which must be followed by all local authorities that opt to introduce a visitor levy. However, within that national framework the intention is to enable individual local authorities, working with local tourism partners, to have as much freedom to take decisions as appropriate.
This consultation therefore seeks views on a range of issues that will inform the legislation and our judgement of the optimal balance between local autonomy and control and national consistency. However, the Bill we will introduce will necessarily set out the activity or activities that a visitor levy will apply to and we seek views in this consultation paper on a range of considerations in this area.
In subsequent chapters, where we seek views on issues around the design, application, administration of and compliance with such a visitor levy, this balance between local autonomy and national consistency will also be a relevant consideration. Additionally, this consultation seeks views on whether there should be nationally determined processes for local authorities to apply in relation to the decision to apply the levy or not and decisions around how receipts might be spent.
The Scottish Government wishes to explore how much responsibility for the design of the visitor levy should sit at the local level.
Q1. Do you think that the design of a visitor levy should be set out:
a) wholly in a national framework
b) mostly at a national level with some local discretion
c) mostly at local level with some overarching national principles.
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