A series of requests to central government for more powers to raise money for essential services – which would give the council the ability to introduce levies on tourism and short-term lets – is being recommended to Bath & North East Somerset Councillors.
A report before full council highlights the current pressures on local services in Bath and North East Somerset and the impact of reductions in central government funding.
Currently Adult Social Care and Children’s Services make up 80 per cent of the council’s net budget for 2018/19 compared to 66 per cent in 2015/16.
The report also highlights a mix of challenges unique to Bath and North East Somerset. It points out that the council is custodian of a World Heritage Site attracting millions of visitors to the city, leading to significant pressures on services and infrastructure. It says that the city is under pressure from two successful universities and their growing student population which impacts services. Student households are rightly exempt from council tax, but it is estimated this has led to a £5 million loss of revenue in 2017/18 alone.
The report goes on to suggest that rather than simply ask central government for more money to meet these pressures, the council should urge ministers to consider providing more powers to the council so it can decide locally whether to raise more funding for local services.
One of the requests being considered is for central government to provide powers to introduce a tourism levy, as found in a number of European cities. Some UK cities- including Edinburgh, Oxford and Liverpool - are now also requesting such a power. There is also a proposal to request a power to introduce a levy on short-term lets, such as Airbnb, as well as allowing the council to introduce fees for listed building applications.
The council is also asking government to act to create a “level playing field” between the high street and on-line retailers to ensure town and city centres continue to thrive.
Councillor Tim Warren, Council Leader, said: “At present, we are simply not allowed to raise money in the new ways suggested here, and are too dependent on the funds we receive from Council Tax and Business Rates. Residents have frequently expressed their concerns about the constraints placed on the council by central government, and this report sets out new thinking. Crucially, it does not suggest that we should necessarily introduce any of these proposals, but that government should allow us the powers to do so, if we wish, at local level. It’s about us asking central government to help us help ourselves- not just going to them for extra money”.
The report will go before the full council on November 8, if agreed, the requests will be sent to ministers and MPs to help influence their decisions.