Cornwall Council opposition will push for 'tourism tax' if it ousts Tories

Cornwall Council's second largest political group, after the ruling Conservative administration, has said it will push for a 'tourism tax' if the Tories are ousted from power in next May's council election.

The Independent group of councillors have been buoyed by last week's General Election result and have laid out their plans for a 'Deal for Cornwall' for a new settlement with Whitehall should there be a change in leadership at the unitary authority next year.

The opposition group, which sits alongside Lib Dem and Labour councillors as well as the Mebyon Kernow / Greens group, says its guiding principle is for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to be recognised as a devolved region in its own right, without a mayor and with powers and funding that recognise the area's needs and the specific challenges caused by remoteness, tourism and low earnings.

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Group leader Julian German, who was leader of Cornwall Council from 2019 to 2021 and sat on the Cabinet from 2009 to 2021, says this could include a tourism levy.

"There are obviously different ways of portraying it and some sound more friendly than others - a 'visitor economy levy', but whatever it's called essentially it's the same thing. Importantly, it's about recognising the challenge that tourism has on our infrastructure.

"People come to Cornwall for the fantastic natural environment, for example, but having lots of visitors here puts pressure on that. If we can get some resource from them to protect our environment and, hopefully, enhance it to make life better for residents, but also make sure that visitors continue to have a good time when they do come and return again, then surely, that's a good thing?"

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Cllr German added: "A 'tourist tax' is sometimes seen as controversial, but I think there's a realisation - and it was one of the things to come out of the election - that a number of people are willing to pay more tax if they can see there is public benefit in it. Tax itself isn't a bad thing, so we're up for having that conversation with residents and the business community.

"At the moment there aren't powers for councils to do this. Where it's happened - for example, in Manchester - it's been through the business improvement district (BID) and their own members agreeing to levy that.

"We would be saying to Government, there is a challenge around the country's finances and this is one of the ways to help raise funds to support infrastructure. For those of us lucky enough to go abroad, it's part of that holiday experience. A contribution there is probably not even noticed when added to your hotel bill, but that's what helps make that place great."

If his group leads the council, they will also press for more social housing and a change in tax incentives to draw more local accommodation from the Airbnb market.

"Housing delivery has slowed down over the last three years. We need to address that. What can we do as Cornwall Council to help deliver more social housing? There's been a real withdrawal from the council for delivering affordable housing. We were the top performing authority to deliver affordable housing and we've really slipped back, so there's more that Cornwall Council can do itself. We know that, we proved it before and we'll get back on that track.

"We also think there's more that can be done if Government is so minded to address the housing situation, so we would like to see the change in tax incentivisation reversed from short-term to long-term lets. That growth in Airbnbs has partly been driven by the last Government changing tax incentives to favour of short-term lets over longer term.

"That would make a difference without having to build more housing stock. It's not always the challenge of 'how much', it's how is it used."

What about the contentious issue of the loss of European funding for Cornwall following Brexit and its replacement Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF), which has seen the Duchy receiving less support?

"Hopefully, we actually go back to what was pledged during the Brexit referendum and Cornwall does receive what it would have done through European funding, so that would be a significant increase on what we have had so far. I imagine SPF will get rolled over for a period of time, six months to a year, until a new programme is announced.

"Hopefully, its successor will recognise the poverty in Cornwall and the need for that investment to be used wisely to help alleviate those challenges. It needs to be a multi-years settlement as the timescales have been ridiculously short for SPF. That would ensure proper delivery," added Cllr German.

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These are the Independent Group suggestions for a new settlement with Whitehall

  • 1. Care and health integration pilot for rural areas
    Cornwall to be Dept of Health pilot area for integration. Cornwall’s geography is ideal to pilot a new approach that can be rolled out elsewhere

  • 2. Structural funds to replace SPF
    Cornwall to receive equivalent to previous EU funding and to use this to deliver new Government priorities such as Great British Energy investment (e.g. in renewable energy storage solutions), mineral security (lithium, tin), high street vitality, floating offshore wind

  • 3. Massive housing investment to recognise impact of tourism on residents
    Homes England to work with council to deliver major boost in not only affordable housing but council-owned market rented homes (as trialled by the council's development company, Treveth). Cornwall to be funded in ways that recognise loss of private rented sector caused by tourism

  • 4. Cornwall blue light integration
    Review emergency services including the ambulance crisis. Return and sustain control of the 999 services in Cornwall

  • 5. Cornwall to pilot rural planning reforms
    New powers to control of Airbnb, new lower affordable housing threshold, CPO and tax penalties for undelivered sites with planning consent

  • 6. Rural connectivity pilot
    Cornwall to be first 5G rural region (building on our Superfast fibre roll out). Possible structural fund priority

  • 7. Remote working support to boost growth
    More targeted support for local people gaining better-paid employment outside Cornwall by working remotely to boost growth

  • 8. Urgent highways investment
    Review Highways England role in Cornwall and prioritise A38 improvement given safety concerns

  • 9. Tourism contribution
    Cornwall to pilot tourist taxes and airport visitor fees and use this income to mitigate effects on residents

  • 10. Clean beaches action
    A beach/sewage clampdown and review of high SWW charges for local people in tourism area

  • 11. Fisheries and food export
    Cornwall to pilot new vet certification system for shellfish with a Brittany export partnership

  • 12. Childcare major boost
    Expanded school-based super-nurseries in every Cornish town.