Bed Tax won't be introduced to fund Harrogate Night Marshals, council leader confirms

Harrogate Borough Council
Harrogate Borough Council

The leader of Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) has slammed a proposal to charge tourists a Bedroom Tax to fund the Night Marshals service.

HBC has financed the scheme since April this year after the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) announced that she would be pulling its funding after 2015.

Coun Richard Cooper

Coun Richard Cooper

A Task and Finish Group was constructed to review how the council could retain the service as well as identifying possible alternative funding sources.

In its report presented to Cabinet, the group recommended implementing a tax for customers staying in hotel rooms across Harrogate to fund the service.

However, HBC leader Coun Richard Cooper (Cons, High Harrogate) said he wanted to “make it clear” that the council would not be supporting the group’s recommendation.

He said: “Politicians often fall into two camps, some politicians want to tax more and some politicians want to tax less, that’s part of their make up. I’m on the side of wanting to tax less.

Alexa House - Google Maps

Alexa House - Google Maps

“I don’t think introducing a tax on tourists for Night Marshals is something we want to do, especially as they are a responsibility of the police.

“It would need council implementation and support from hotels and businesses and I doubt very much that would be forthcoming.

“It’s not up for our hotels to be a cash cow. What next? Are they going to pay for the Christmas Lights or are they going to pay for CCTV?”

The report has now been sent to the PCC for her response but Coun Cooper suggested town centre pubs and clubs may wish to fund the scheme in future.

Night Marshals have provided a patrol service in the town centre since 2011; supporting police and providing a “reassuring presence” for visitors and local residents.

The service costs the council £20,000-a-year, approximately £385 per weekend, and is due to finish in January 2017 unless alternative funding can be agreed.

Coun David Goode (Lib Dem, Knaresborough King James) chairs the Overview and Scrutiny Commission which presented the report to Cabinet on Wednesday, December 14.

As well as the Bedroom Tax, the report also recommended the development of a Harrogate Town Centre BID which could support the Night Marshals.

Despite opposition from the Cabinet as well as hoteliers, Coun Goode said a Bedroom Tax was “standard practice” in towns across the country.

He said: “We have to look at the rest of the world, in Europe and America this is fairly standard practice and it is a normal amount.

“It’s not a vast amount of money and as long as that money is used to support tourism projects then clearly it has the potential in Harrogate to improve the local economy.

“I personally think there is some merit to look at it but, as the report states, this is just one option or we could go a completely different way.

“Clearly if Harrogate has indicated that they don’t see it as their responsibility to provide Night Marshals and passed it back to the PCC then the reality is we will not have them.”

While 44 businesses were consulted on the benefits of the service, Coun Goode confirmed that hotels were not asked about the possibility of introducing a bedroom tax.

Sandra Doherty, owner of Alexa House Guest House, described the proposals as a “tax on tourism” and warned that the independent hoteliers would rebel against the proposal.

She said: “In Yorkshire we’re already seen as fairly tight so that would really put the nail in the coffin.

“If you wanted to stay in Harrogate and you knew there was a bedroom tax here you are going to stay in Knaresborough, Ripon or Ilkley and get a bus or a taxi into Harrogate.

“It would kill our business and it would spoil Harrogate as a tourism destination. It’s not a good selling point.

“The bigger chains would just up their rate to cover it but our margins are so tight that to add a bedroom tax on would kill off the small hoteliers.”