Call for Liverpool to adopt tourist tax

A tourist tax would help protect Liverpool’s cultural scene in the face of ever-increasing financial challenges, according to a senior cabinet member.

Cllr Harry Doyle, Liverpool Council cabinet member for health, wellbeing and culture, said in the midst of other major cities and local authorities having to make significant cuts to its cultural output, changes need to be made to how funding is made available.

The Labour member said a “unanimous cheer for change” was needed as the likes of Birmingham had to effectively halt funding for the arts.

The adoption of a visitor levy – known as tourist tax – would follow in the footsteps of Scotland, which Cllr Doyle said was making “great strides”.

He said, “It has been encouraging to see a more national conversation in recent weeks about preserving and nurturing the cultural sector as a whole, unfortunately, this had to come in the context of Birmingham City Council being forced into ‘cultural deprivation’ as a result of budget cuts. In Liverpool, we are well aware of the challenging financial decisions that have been – and continue to be made – in order to allow us to deliver essential core services.

“We are extremely proud that we have been able to continue to support our local arts organisations and deliver a cultural programme of events for residents and visitors, but as we scan the cultural horizon there isn’t an end in sight to austerity.”

Alongside Birmingham – which adopted a 21% council tax rise – Nottingham City Council is also expected to make major cuts to its budget. The pressure on councils prompted Cllr Doyle to suggest now is the time for change.

He said, “Cities and towns across the country need to come together as a collective – there needs to be a unanimous cheer for change. The power needs to be in the hands of all local authorities and we need direct say on how spend is distributed.  

“We would also welcome a change in legislation which allows us to introduce a visitor levy, or tourist tax if you will – we need to follow in the footsteps of Scotland which is making great strides in this area with it being overwhelmingly viewed as a force for good.”

In the last 12 months, Liverpool has delivered major events culminating in the Eurovision Song Contest. Cllr Doyle said there was “frustration” at having to continue to make the argument “underpinning the power of culture” suggesting it had already stated its case in spades.

He said, “Most iconic cultural organisations throughout the UK are based on a subsidised model. Similar to the NHS, the cultural offer we know and love today has been built over the decades by public investment, whether it be via central or local government. 

“But for over a decade, this investment has decreased year-on-year, and combine that with wage inflation, the cost of outgoings rocketing and audiences themselves facing a cost-of-living crisis, it’s the perfect storm for a turbulent arts outlook. And as a city that has whole-heartedly believed in this sector for more than 20 years, this weighs heavy on our cultural conscience.”

The senior Labour official said serious questions needed to be asked around funding “as it’s clearly not working” and said while arts organisations in Liverpool and across the UK had diversified income streams, “venues across the country are having to close their doors and artists are being forced to step away from their creativity and onto new career paths” – including the city’s own Epstein theatre.

He added, “There is an existential funding crisis in the arts that needs to be addressed if we are to save the sector that is so intrinsically linked to our cultural identity.  

“And then in the midst of that frustration, it’s still heart-warming when the sector reaches out and acknowledges the continuing support here from Liverpool City Council. It allows us to step back a bit and recognise that although we would love to help more, what we are doing in continuing to fund cultural organisations in Liverpool, really does make a difference.

“We need to think and act differently if any positive, viable change is to happen. And we’re all savvy enough to understand it’s not going to happen overnight. But the more we talk about the challenges facing our much-loved cultural sector, and the more noise we can make, surely someone has to sit up and pay attention?

“After all, it’s not for art for art’s sake – it’s art for everyone’s sake.”

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