Surf (tax) is up

Cornwall Council’s plan to impose a new “surf tax” of up to £4,000 on watersports schools is not a good idea. The tax (officially a licence to operate) will be imposed on operators on 13 council-owned beaches with charges rising when on a per instructor basis.

The costs of this will almost certainly be passed on to either: consumers who will pay more for their surf lesson,  employees who will be paid less (or not be hired at all) or it will eat into the profits of the surf school. And these aren’t exactly corporate fatcats, these are small local businesses that probably cannot afford such extra costs.

The council argues that it will only take three or four lessons to make back the cost of this charge, but in a season only around 150 days long, this is actually a significant cost. Four half-day lessons take two days to complete which is over 1 per cent of the entire season. This assumes that all 150 days are suitable for lessons, which knowing the UK’s notoriously unpredictable weather this seems unlikely. So the time spent paying off the tax may actually take up a larger proportion of the time actually spent giving lessons.

Criticisms have also emerged over the cost of the scheme, with the suggestion that £35,000 of expected revenues will be dwarfed by the cost of collection and enforcement. And in context, £35,000 is a tiny amount of revenue given that the total cost of services for Cornwall Council was £1.2 billion in 2014-15. It hardly seems worth making trouble for a few local businesses for such meagre returns (if there are any after being netted against costs).

What will the surfing schools do? As noted earlier they might have to raise their prices or hire fewer staff, but more probably they will just move to another beach. I’m no expert but I would guess there are more than 13 beaches suitable for surfing in Cornwall and my suspicion would be that these other beaches will see a significant rise in popularity as surf schools relocate. This will redistribute the cash brought by tourists away from the council-owned beaches and this will consequently hurt other businesses at these beaches.

To sum up, this charge is unlikely to raise revenue, will probably hurt small businesses and local employment and does nothing for the consumer. Bravo, Cornwall Council, Bravo.

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