Tourist tax Scotland: Plans to capture cruise ships in Scottish Government tax plans submitted

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have tabled plans to ensure the tourist tax applies to cruise ship visitors

A proposal to extend plans to introduce a tourist tax in Scotland to cruise ships has been submitted, with SNP ministers warned that a failure to do so would “undermine business and public confidence in the scheme”.

In January, MSPs backed the first stage on the Scottish Government’s Visitor Levy Bill, which would allow councils to introduce a tourist tax. As it stands, the plans would allow councils to charge a percentage of a room rate as a tourist tax, with the funding reinvested in facilities and services that are put under pressure by the tourism industry.

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There had been speculation the Scottish Government was set to alter its plans from a percentage to a tiered or banded system, dependant on the price of accommodation, after crunch talks with the tourism industry.

Royal Caribbean International's Anthem of the Seas cruise ship calls at Greenock port (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Royal Caribbean International's Anthem of the Seas cruise ship calls at Greenock port (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Royal Caribbean International's Anthem of the Seas cruise ship calls at Greenock port (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

But it is now understood that SNP ministers will press ahead with plans for a set percentage of a room rate to be used “in the absence of a consensus” with the industry.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have lodged amendments to the Visitor Levy Bill to allow cruise ship visitors to be captured by the legislation after concerns were raised by local tourism businesses in Orkney, as well as Orkney Council.

SNP ministers are bringing forward separate plans for a cruise ship levy, either being tied to the visitor levy or separate legislation, following talks with Cosla, but there are concerns about potential delays with this approach.

LibDems Orkney MSP Liam McArthur wants the plans to be more flexible and fairer in the way that any levy might be applied by local authorities.

Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney.Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney.
Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney.

Speaking ahead of the second stage of the bill being considered by Holyrood on Tuesday, Mr McArthur said: “Providing local councils with the power to set a visitor levy is a reasonable step to take. As ever, though, the devil is in the detail.

“At present, ministers have come forward with a Bill that would apply to some parts of the tourism sector, but not others. People in Orkney will not be alone in wondering why visitors to our islands who stay in hotels, self-catering or B&Bs should be charged, but not the increasingly large numbers who visit Orkney on cruise ships or indeed in mobile homes.”

Mr McArthur warned cruise ships “place demands on the local infrastructure and services, and all should therefore contribute”.

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He said: “Anything else would be unfair and undermine business and public confidence in the scheme. I am concerned too at the lack of flexibility local councils will have in the way any levy will apply. Just because it works in Edinburgh or Glasgow doesn’t mean it will work in our islands. Councils should therefore have scope to apply any levy in ways that make sense in local circumstances, such as collection via airlines and ferry companies.

“I support the principle behind this legislation, but getting the detail right will be crucial.”

In response to the plans, SNP public finance minister Tom Arthur said: “The Scottish Government will seek to give local authorities the power to create a cruise ship levy. A working group convened with Cosla and individual councils is considering proposals and will report its findings to ministers and council leaders for further consideration.”



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