Tourism tax “would be massively damaging to Monmouthshire’s tourism economy”
A CONSERVATIVE councillor said he would use the Welsh name Bannau Brycheiniog to avoid “getting into trouble” when discussing tourism.
Cllr Richard John, who leads the Tory opposition group on Monmouthshire County Council, listed tourism attractions in the county when he failed to convince councillors to back his proposal to rule out using potential powers to charge a tourism tax.
He had wanted the full council to agree such a charge would be “damaging for the county’s tourism industry”, while the Labour-led council’s deputy leader, Paul Griffiths, said no such charge is likely to be in place before 2029 and accused the Conservatives of raising the issue for “electioneering”.
“We’re blessed in Monmouthshire to represent some of the most beautiful parts of rural Wales,” Cllr Johh told the full council meeting and then began listening attractions when he made reference to controversy that had surrounded the decision of the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, in April, to use the Welsh name of the protected area that includes parts of the county.
“The Wye Valley, what I suppose I should call the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park, so I don’t get into trouble, the Gwent Levels, our market towns, the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, more castles per square mile than anywhere else and rolling hills of the Usk Valley.”
The councillor, who represents Mitchell Troy and Trellech which he said along with Crucorney, has the highest density of holiday lets in the county, claimed a tax, which the Welsh Government has proposed as a “small additional charge on overnight stays”, could add £75 to the cost of a family holiday in Wales.
He said: “A tourism tax would be massively damaging to Monmouthshire’s tourism economy and add extra costs to businesses in an area tourists already have a choice of which side of the Wye Valley to visit.”
He also asked if the border council’s ruling Labour/Green Party administration supports the Welsh Government proposal that local authorities be able to raise a levy on overnight visitors which could be used to support tourism and address costs associated with large number of visitors.
Cllr John said the cabinet should “justify” any support for a visitor levy and set out what any money raised would be spent on.
Cllr Rachel Garrick, the Labour cabinet member for finance, said it was too soon for the council to take a position on a tourism tax as no details have yet been worked out and it isn’t known if potential revenue from it would be considered when assessing the council’s Welsh Government funding.
The Caldicot Castle councillor said: “It would be imprudent and reactionary to set a policy in this chamber on a set of proposals which are not fully understood due to the fact that the proposals themselves are not fully published.”
But she said as Monmouthshire has some 500 accommodation providers, with around 8,300 beds, a levy could provide investment in public services and 2017-19 figures showed an average of around 1.1m overnight stays a year which could generate an extra £1m from a charge of just £1 per stay.
Independent councillor for Wyesham Emma Bryn suggested footpaths, carparks and wildflower meadows could all benefit from potential additional funding while Labour cabinet member Sara Burch, who represents Cantref, said: “I represent a ward that does suffer from too many visitors and we don’t have the infrastructure to deal with them or have the money to provide for them and neither do the National Trust or the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park.”
Conservative councillor for Portskewett, Lisa Dymock, said a charge would impact younger workers, aged 16 to 24, who often work in tourism and “disproportionately impact those least able to afford to take a holiday further afield.”
Party colleague, Alistair Neall, who represents Gobion Fawr, said he feared the charge would increase: “It might start at 50 pence a night, that’s £2.50 for a family of five, but how soon would it be £2.50 or £3?”
Deputy leader Cllr Griffiths, who represents Chepstow Castle and Larkfield, acknowledged the proposal has caused “concern and fear” for local tourism operators.
The cabinet member said the Welsh Government is still researching and consulting on a potential levy, and that no decision has been made on the scale of any charge. The Welsh Revenue Authority is also spending the next year on researching how a charge could be administered and the research won’t be completed until “well into 2024” and that no bill to bring a tax into law would be likely before 2026.
He said he has “no doubt” the council would then have to carry out its own consultation, if it wanted to bring in a charge, he suspected it would have to give a year’s notice: “I’m able to tell business operators, if there is going to be a levy, they are unlikely to have to charge it, whatever it might be, before around 2029.
“Today we’ve got a motion that prevents all that debate, all that consideration and says we’ll decide now that there will be no discussion in Monmouthshire. It’s an absurd proposal and I truly wish it would be withdrawn, but it won’t because of the general election and this motion has been tabled simply as a piece of electioneering for an election outside this chamber.”
The proposal to rule out a visitor levy in Monmouthshire was defeated with just 15 Conservatives voting in favour of doing so. Had the ammendment been carried it would have become the council’s position unless a new policy was put before the council and accepted.
By BBC LDRS
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