Why the Labour leader of the Vale of Glamorgan isn’t keen on a tourism tax – despite tourism being a ‘huge expense’
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
The Labour leader of the Vale of Glamorgan isn’t keen on a tourism tax – despite tourism being a “huge expense” for the council.
But Cllr Lis Burnett, whose local authority includes the ever-popular Barry Island, said that the bulk of their visitors are day trippers and that they needed to encourage more tourists who stay overnight, who the tourism tax could deter.
After the Welsh Government launched a consultation on plans to grant local authorities the power to levy a tourism tax Cllr Burnett said the Vale Council has “no plans” to introduce a tourism levy in the county.
In a statement made in September she said: “We understand that the proposal is to give discretion to councils as to whether they do and we are not minded to at the moment.”
Since then the leader has come under pressure to provide more clarity on the council’s stance on the tourism tax.
When asked to shed more light on the issue and ton give a commitment on whether a tax will or will not be introduced Cllr Burnett said: “Commitments are always difficult because, factually, the details around the tourism tax aren’t set.
“I think if we look at it basically tourism is a huge expense to local authorities. If you look at, say, Barry Island, the cost of keeping that clean and tidy is phenomenal because quite often you’re emptying those waste bins hourly, right the way along the prom.
“During the pandemic in this area we had complaints because as soon as the waste bins were emptied they were filled.”
The leader added: “As it stands the suggestion on the tourism tax is it would go on to overnight stays. We know that the one thing that would help our tourism more in terms of people spending more was actually if they stayed in the Vale.
“We have got loads of day-trippers. They come in, use the services, and go back. If they came and stayed overnight they would go to the shops, they might go to a restaurant, they will spend money locally.
“So we want people to come and stay overnight and spend their money so if we can find ways of the tourist pound coming back into the Vale economy then it is worth considering if it is purely on over night stays when… if you have got a Premier Inn in Barry and it might cost £60 a night and the tourism tax adds and extra £10 is that going to make a difference to people coming to stay?
“I think I said I would not at the moment support charging it in the Vale but it is a question of saying: ‘Well, why are we welcoming visitors if there isn’t a net benefit to the Vale?’”
Cllr Lis Burnett has reassured people that the authority will “find a way” as it faces a major hole in its budget for next year.
As it prepares to go into 2023 the council will have to try and find a way to close a funding gap of £28m.
Lis Burnett admitted that setting up the budget will require some “unpalatable” choices she said she doesn’t want to worry anyone.
Sitting in a top-floor room of the Penarth Pier Pavilion which looks out on to the Bristol Channel Cllr Burnett spoke to the LDRS about some of the biggest challenges of her first months in charge and some of the biggest challenges that lie ahead.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to be worried,” said Cllr Burnett when asked how concerned people – especially those who rely on council services – should be about the financial pressures facing the authority.
“We will find a way. And then we have to look at how do we manage the other services that actually add the extras on to life that make it a good life in the Vale.
“I would say we have to think very creatively. We are not the only ones with good ideas so we are going to be talking to everybody about how can we do things differently, how can we adjust what we are doing, and how can we involved the community?
“It is why I haven’t even thought about figures in the sky at the moment because the last thing I would want to do is worry people, particularly vulnerable people, that they are going to be adversely affected because we know where our priorities lie and our priorities lie in those people that rely on our services.”
A report from the head of finance at the council said cost pressures are forecast to be £38m.
The report adds that funding of only £9.9m is likely to come from the Welsh Government and council tax.
Inflation is a key factor in causing the major budget deficit, with £21m of the financial pressure coming from pay awards, energy costs, and care and transport contracts.
When asked about what kinds of unpalatable decisions the council might have to make Cllr Burnett said: “There are a lot of things that we have charges for.
“I think we have to look at that because some of those aren’t cost-neutral. They are things that we don’t have to do but by doing them it actually costs us money.”
She added: “It looks like it is going to have to be a mixture of things about how do we manage money more effectively, are there things that cost us money to deliver that we don’t have to deliver so we have to make a choice on whether or not… we make them cost-neutral or stop doing them? Are there some services that we can do better?
“One of those things is whether or not we should cut all of the grass in the Vale within an inch of its life X number of times a year because we know that if we leave areas that don’t need to be mowed to grow then we get a much greater biodiversity of plants.
“I think down by Fonmon they have got about 20 different species of orchids or something when they left it down there so by being sensible and saying: ‘Okay, we have got all of this stuff that we maintain right across the Vale – what do we need to do?’
“We need to do sports grounds, bits of highway where people need to be able to see where they are going. We need bits of public open space for utility. But, actually, is there a lot of other stuff that we could be leaving?
“We are also looking at the cost of energy because that is huge. How do we make all of the buildings that we operate more cost effective? Can we be doing green energy stuff – are there any other places we can put solar panels on?”
A council tax rise is also a likelihood, according to the council leader.
She said: “I think it would be very unlikely that we wouldn’t see a council tax rise.
“We are currently modelling on 3.9%.”
She added that in the current situation the council is not in “any realm of possibility in being able to not have a council tax rise”.
‘Cost of living’
However, cuts to some of the council’s most vital projects could be off the cards.
When asked if schemes like Project Zero could be factored into any possible cuts Cllr Burnett said: “It is a very short-term thing to say ‘we will cut Project Zero’ when actually… climate change isn’t going away is it?
“We have got to move forward on that and part of the whole thing about looking at our assets or looking at schools and our house building initiatives and that sort of thing, or being either low or zero carbon, that is actually going to be part of our way of working going forward.”
Not long after she was announced as the new leader of the Vale of Glamorgan Council – succeeding Neil Moore – following the local government elections in May
Cllr Burnett said it felt strange being referred to as “leader”.
Reflecting on some of the biggest challenges she has faced since taking on the role Cllr Burnett, who is the second woman to have led the authority, said: “We start planning financially before the summer recess so within that period quite early on it became apparent the scale of the financial challenges that we were facing.
“That, alongside the cost of living crisis, because you can’t carry on with business as usual when you know the scale of challenges that are affecting some of our communities.”
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