Monday, 8 June 2015

Newspaper column 27 May - The Surf Tax

Last week I was formally sworn in as the MP for St Austell and Newquay. Today will see the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech which will mark the start of the new session of Parliament. I must admit that I am looking forward to getting down to business in the House of Commons and being able to begin representing and speaking up for this constituency.

There have been a number of important developments this week at County Hall, with the resignation of CEO Andrew Kerr after only a relatively short period in post, followed by the Liberal Democrat/Independent administration’s pushing through of the ‘Case for Cornwall’ which has had virtually no debate or consultation with the people of Cornwall. However what stood out for me was something close to many of us who live and work in Newquay and the surrounding area – the shambolic pushing through by the Council of a ‘surf tax’.

This ‘Surf Tax’, which proposes to charge beach based businesses, such as surf schools, a percentage of their turnover, potentially means a huge increase in taxes from the current fixed charge of £300 per annum. It was put before the full Council last Tuesday and stands out to me for all the wrong reasons.

Most importantly, Cornwall Council are potentially undermining the safety of our beaches by sending the wrong message to surf schools, which I see as almost another emergency service on beaches that already saved many lives. A reduced presence of qualified surf schools will in turn encourage more hire of surf boards without an experienced beach presence, making the beaches less safe.

As well as concerns about safety, this appears to be yet another case of Cornwall Council failing to support our local tourist industry, following on from the closure of public toilets and increasing car parking charges.

Apart from anything else, this scheme is simply unenforceable, even if large amounts of local taxpayer’s money were dedicated to its operation. It also only stands to generate approximately £40,000 in income for the Council, a relatively small amount for an organization that has recently spent £15 million, and rising, on unnecessary new offices in Bodmin.

I am pleased to see Conservative Councillors proposed a sensible fixed fee license of £500 as a compromise. This was actually passed through the Council, before inevitably being referred back to Council officers for further discussion. I hope clearer heads will prevail and a sensible conclusion will be reached to the benefit of local residents, businesses and visitors alike.