Originally published in the Stirling Observer, 7th November 2018
As I have highlighted a number of times in this column, Stirling and the surrounding area offer a tourism mix which is hard to rival anywhere else in Scotland, the UK or around the world.
World class historic attractions such as Stirling Castle, The National Wallace Monument and the visitor centre at the Battle of Bannockburn attract visitors from across the globe.
Tourism brings around £350m into the local economy and directly supports over 9,000 jobs in the local area.
It was therefore concerning to read that the SNP leader of Stirling Council is considering introducing a new levy on visitors to the city, should the power to raise such a charge be devolved to local authorities in the Scottish Government’s budget.
Introducing such a charge would send completely the wrong message to potential visitors to the area.
We should be doing all we can to encourage more visitors to Stirling and other towns across Scotland, especially at a time when high-streets across the local area are struggling.
Hitting tourists in the pocket with this tax would only serve to do the opposite.
Speaking to many local businesses which rely on seasonal tourism, there are serious concerns that monies raised through this charge would not be spent in the local economy but instead be used to offset funding reductions coming from the SNP government.
On the subject of economic development, last week saw the Chancellor of the Exchequer reveal the UK Government Budget. The UK Budget was eagerly awaited in Scotland because it determines the overall size of the Scottish Government’s budget for the coming financial year.
The UK Budget delivered a number of significant funding increases for Scotland.
Overall, the UK Budget will deliver £1 billion of additional funding to Scotland. There will be an additional £550 million of funding available for Scotland’s NHS – and we have called on the SNP to guarantee that every single penny of this additional funding will be spent on Scotland’s NHS.
The UK Budget also makes available £43 million of funding to help Scotland’s high streets and a £41 million ‘pothole fund’ to improve local roads across Scotland. I will be making sure that the Stirling region receives a fair share of both these funds.
The budget also saw a freeze on whisky duty, a fuel duty freeze, measures to help the oil and gas sector and extra funding for our cities.
As a direct result of these decisions by the UK Government, the SNP Scottish Government will receive a significant budget boost ahead of the Scottish Budget being announced in December. We want to see some of that funding being used to help Scotland’s high streets.
Scottish Conservatives have consistently been clear that we want to see greater support for our town centres.
High-streets across Scotland, including Stirling, are suffering with a loss of a whole list of household names as well as smaller businesses struggling to stay in business.
Figures published over the summer show that over 500 jobs have been lost in retail in Stirling over the past seven years with a 10% reduction in shop numbers over the same period.
Given that the SNP-led Stirling Council have again chosen not to use their powers to ease the increasing business rates burden on local businesses, I am calling on the SNP government to step in to give the high street a break.
The UK Government has now given the SNP Scottish Government a £1 billion of additional funding – it is now time for the SNP Government to use this additional funding to help Scotland’s NHS and our high streets.