MINISTERS have no plans to legislate to allow councils to bring in a tourist tax despite it being a key plank of the government’s Budget deal with the Greens three years ago.

The proposals, which would give local authorities a new income stream, were put on hold in March 2020 before the first coronavirus lockdown.

But more than two years on there are no moves to bring forward the “enabling bill” which could have meant areas such as the Highlands could introduce the levy in time for the holiday season.

The Highlands experienced a dramatic tourist boom over the last two summers due to a major rise in staycations but the increase put major pressures on local infrastructure.

Shortcomings led to tensions with permanent residents complaining of human waste littering beauty spots and traffic jams on narrow country roads.

The Scottish Government have said the pandemic is to blame for not progressing the tourist tax scheme with hotels and bed and breakfast still under considerable pressure.

But the Lib Dems's remote and rural communities spokesperson Molly Nolan, who is also a candidate for the Cromarty Firth ward in Highland Council at the forthcoming local government elections on May 5, hit out at the delays. 

"For people who live on the route of the North Coast 500, a small levy on tourists would go a long way towards repairing roads, providing bins and public toilets and ensuring that communities can benefit from the influx of visitors," she said adding that councils should be given more funding to help improve infrastructure for tourists.

"As the Scottish Government have decided not to move forward with passing this power to councils, ministers should instead hand the equivalent money that this policy could raise over to local authorities to invest in the services that communities need."

She continued: "If the Scottish Government really wanted to put more money into people's pockets, they could also cancel their £250 million cut to local government which is either going to force councils to raise council tax to plug the gaps or lead to yet more cuts to local services."

Malcolm Cunning, the Labour group leader at Glasgow city council, said it should be up to local authorities to assess whether to introduce the levy or not depending on the situation on visitors returning to their own areas.

"It is about decisions being made at a local level. What we need to do is shift the balance so that local authorities have greater power to determine their own income," he said.

Joanne Walker, Scottish technical officer for the Chartered Institute of Taxation, last year told the Sunday National that the delay to the legislation suggested Holyrood’s powers were not being used to their full extent.

“The Scottish Government has been criticised for not making enough use of the devolved powers it has,” she said.

“Arguably, putting the transient visitor levy on hold again adds fuel to that view"

Many cities on the continent such as Barcelona, Paris and Prague have a transient visitor levy or tourist levy in place.

The charge is imposed on people visiting for a short period, including tourists and those on business travel, and is usually an extra fee added to the cost of accommodation.

An Edinburgh transient visitor levy report, published in 2018, said the UK was one of only nine countries in the European Union at the time that did not charge a tourist tax.

It also found a £2 charge to hotel guests’ bills could raise £11m to fund local services in Edinburgh. Glasgow city council said last year a £1 fee would have generated £168,000 during the two weeks of COP26 alone, based on all 12,000 hotel rooms in the city being full for 14 nights.

Organisations representing hotels and self-caterers do not support a tourist tax saying Scotland is already expensive to visit.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As we recover from the challenges of the pandemic and its impact on the tourism sector, while respecting the local election period, now is clearly not the time to take forward legislation.

 “The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture announced the pausing of the legislative process for the transient visitor levy, or tourist tax, on 18 March 2020. There is no change to that position.

“We continue to do all we can to support the industry, including a £16.5 million package of tourism recovery support.”

The Scottish Government is extending retail, hospitality and leisure non-domestic rates relief by offering a 50 per cent relief for the first three months of 2022-23, capped at £27,500 per ratepayer, following two years of 100 per cent relief uncapped.