For a moment I thought it was April Fool’s Day. Reading the papers online before the first cup of coffee of the day is sometimes not the wisest move.
Top story in today’s Scotsman is all too wearily familiar, with business organisations bumping their gums about a plastic bag tax. The froth from their fulminating is laughable, particularly when there are not (yet) clearcut proposals to introduce such a tax. If the Scottish Government gets its way, and if it gets all the tax raising powers it is demanding from Westminster for a super-charged Scotland bill, one of these will include the power to impose a plastic bag levy, something which the Scottish Government may introduce. It is a classic case of attack being used as a form of defence.
Apparently, such a tax “could deal a devastating blow to Scotland’s economy”; CBI Scotland reckons such a tax “could act as a barrier to investment” and that this, and other measures such as sales or tourism taxes could make Scotland “a less attractive place to invest, live or visit”.
But winner for most over-hyped hyperbole is the Scottish Retail Consortium: “It (a tax) demonises bags, when there are things that are much more environmentally damaging such as energy loss from homes and transport.” What, not from badly designed, built and insulated supermarkets and stores? “To clobber people with charges would mean we were not taking the public with us on this issue” – a response to the fact that many customers have voluntarily eschewed plastic for eh, more heavy-duty plastic with the supposed bags for life and various expensive hessian options. A nice little earner for the supermarkets, by the by.
Clearly a slow news day then….
At the heart of it all, is CBI Scotland’s oft-repeated mantra that it is wrong for any shortfall in public spending to be made up by an increased contribution from the private sector. The Scottish Government could increase income instead of just applying cuts to lessen the impact of a tight financial settlement.
Well, doh. Isn’t that what any responsible accountant or financial guru would recommend? Isn’t this what businesses do day in day out? Raising prices, finding new ways to extract dosh from customers is all part and parcel of good business sense.
But of course, business doesn’t see itself as having any corporate social responsibility to the commonweal. There is no sense of “we’re all in this together”. They – or rather their representative organisations – expect to carry on untrammelled by what is going on around them, unencumbered by any sense of duty to contribute more to the kitty. I’d have more sympathy if both the CBI and SRC were targeting their concerns at the impact on small shop owners and independents. They, however, are likely to see such a tax – as their counterparts in countries like Ireland and Denmark which already have such a bag levy – as a potential wee moneyspinner. People going into a gift shop to buy one or two small things will either forego a bag altogether – as they do now – or value the purchase enough to add another 5p or so on to it. No one will object to a small shop ensuring it recoups all the costs of levying the tax in the cost of the plastic bag and if that means also making a small profit on the transaction, then good frankly.
We will, of course, be less impressed if the supermarkets or big retailers which already make huge profits by squeezing every penny possible from their transactions with the public try the same tack. They will find it more difficult to pass on the whole cost of the tax to customers because people will object, thus requiring them to absorb the administrative costs themselves, eating into their profit margins. The burdz heart bleeds.
When it comes to a choice between a plastic bag levy to raise more income to protect services like classroom assistants, home helps, libraries, community centres, health visitors, hospital cleaners and much more, then this is a no-brainer. Same with the likes of a tourism tax.
Local authorities’ prime responsibility is to provide services to the people who live in their areas and they must use all measures at their disposal to do so. If that means tourists contributing indirectly so that museums stay open and free where possible, so that local monuments and parks are maintained, so that walks and visitor centres are passable and staffed, so that public toilets are clean and available, then so be it. A clever council would hypothecate at least some of the tourism tax income to such endeavours ensuring there is a direct correlation between what tourists pay and how they benefit.
Business frothing at the mouth every time any ideas are mooted to help offset the worst of the ConDem cuts to our budget is futile and pointless. Their representative bodies would be far better deployed engaging constructively and proffering proposals on what they can do to help. In case, they had not noticed, Scotland has moved on from the tired ways of the past and is looking and travelling forward. Scare tactics no longer work: positivity triumphed remember?
Scotland seems committed to learning a new sang: it’s time business realised that and composed a fresh and compelling refrain.