TOURISTS staying overnight in Worcester could be hit by a new "beds" tax to swell council coffers, under radical new proposals.

The Local Government Association has called for a small charge to be added to guest house or hotel bills and passed on to the council. Either the visitor, or the hotelier could pay the charge, under the proposals.

The cash would reflect the pressures tourists put on council services, such as litter collection, public toilets and seating areas.


But critics argue it could deter tourists - who pump millions of pounds into the local economy - from visiting the city. In 2002, visitors were estimated to have brought £422m into the county.

Kathryn Wagstaff, tourism officer for Worcestershire County Council said any extra tax on tourists could be a case of "cutting off your nose to spite your face".

"We would be very cautious about something like that," she said.

"The whole tourism industry is so competitive we wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardise visitors to the county. We are also up against strong competition from abroad and we would not want to price ourselves out of the market.

"Of course, we would want to know more details about the proposals and whether the money would actually be used for what they say - would it really go back into flower beds in the city, for example?"

Miss Wagstaff said smaller operators, in particular, would be hard hit, because they would not be able to "swallow up" the added cost like the big operators.

Robert Gilchrist, owner of the Knight's Rest bed and breakfast, in Barbourne, agreed it would be tough.

"Anybody in the hotel business would not want to be taxed any more than they are now," he said.

"Our business rates have gone up year after year - it's never-ending. And anyway, it's doubtful that the council would put the extra money raised to good use."

Julia Seymour, acting manager at The Diglis Hotel, in Worcester, which has 26 rooms, was also wary of "yet another" tax.

"It's an added cost we don't need. We are already trying to keep our rates down as much as possible, to be competitive. If they did bring it in, I would hope they would reduce our council tax to compensate."

The tourist (beds) tax is one of a raft of new taxes proposed by the LGA, which represents councils across the country.

The LGA wants them to be able to raise a greater proportion of their income themselves rather than depending on central Government.

The plans, detailed in a LGA document published yesterday are intended to spark a debate ahead of the Government's forthcoming review of council tax.