COUNCILS should be given powers to levy tourists on hotel visits as part of the overhaul of local taxation, according to Scotland's leading academic expert on local government.

Professor Richard Kerley has also urged the Commission on Local Tax Reform to hand councils control over business rates, claiming that in private, politicians of all parties accept the council tax freeze is “both costly and regressive”.

Writing in today’s Herald on the ongoing debate about the future shape of public services in Scotland, Professor Kerley has also raised concerns over calls to cut the current number of councils, claiming there is no guarantee this would deliver better or cheaper services.

He claimed that while Scotland had fewer and bigger councils than any other comparable European country, some of those nations had superior municipal services.

Encouraging those interested in the shape of Scotland's local democracy to "think of the bigger picture", Professor Kerley also criticised the approach to public services which only called for the recruitment of more pforssionals to be sent to "the frontline".

He said: "The current Commission on Local Tax Reform is looking at Council Tax but needs to be encouraged to look more widely still; for example at relocalising business rates and empowering local councils to levy a tourist tax on hotel visits.

"The most successful tourist destination in the world, France, has a modest tax on all hotel and visitor apartment bills, and people still keep visiting.

"We have fewer and bigger councils than any other comparable country in Europe and in some of those countries they have better council services than we do .

"So creating fewer, bigger councils is no sure guarantee of better services or even cheaper . Those who argue for fewer councils also avoid the really hard question; If 32 is too many, what's the right number: Twenty-two? Twelve? Six?"

Professor Kerley, Professor of Management at Edinburgh's Queen Margaret University, comment amid The Herald's 'Reshaping Scotland' series, which has looked at the problems facing local government at time of mounting financial pressure.

It is estimated the country's 32 councils face overall cuts of at least £1billion across the next two financial years, impacting on front line services such as education, care and cleansing.

Several thousand jobs are also expected to go across the period. The series has also looked at the local government finances, coming in the middle of the Scottish Government's Commission looking at reform.

Professor Kerley's tourist tax call follows a pitch by former Labour leadership candidate Sarah Boyack to introduce the scheme had she won last year.

It has been raised again in Edinburgh in recent months as a means to help bridge a predicted £10million black hole in the event's finances.

Meanwhile, Cosla, which represents most Scots councils, also said town halls should ultimately raise half their £10bn budget locally, with the other half from central government, instead of the current 18 per cent raised through council tax.

The extra would come from letting councils set business rates for the first time since they were centralised in 1990, and devolving land and building transaction tax to authorities.

Writing in The Herald recently, local government minister Marco Biagi and Cosla president David O'Neill said the Commission's work would inform the local taxation policy of whatever Scottish Government is elected in May 2016.

They said: "The commission will report our findings in the autumn of this year. In the meantime, we continue to seek the views of the public through our questionnaire and through our upcoming public events.

"By engaging with the public, understanding the real world constraints and analysing the options available to us, this cross-party and cross-government commission has the opportunity to pave the way for real change and a tax system that is fair and fit for purpose in the 21st century."