First the “pasty tax”, now this. Cornwall’s two most treasured institutions, both subject to attacks by the Establishment within the last few years.
Cornwall Council recently voted in favour of a new levy, dubbed the “surf tax”, which is to be imposed on surf schools in proportion to the number of surfboards they hire out. Schools operating on council-owned beaches will be taxed to the tune of £72.15 per surfboard per year, which means the biggest surf schools could be saddled with a new bill in excess of £4,000 every year. Even a school with just eight boards will pay an annual fee of £577.20. The new fees are set to be introduced by next summer.
The news will be especially hard to stomach given the problems with water quality that have affected many beaches this summer, and the council’s failure to address these problems. There have been multiple sewage spills caused by South West Water’s combined sewage overflow in the past few months — ten spills at Fistral, nine at Godrevy — and Carve Mag reports that one Cornish surf school has had to turn away customers on 13 days this past August due to poor water quality.
The new tax has so far come under heavy criticism, not only from surf schools but also from certain councillors. John Fitter, councillor for St Mawgan, called it “an unfair attack on the surfing industry”, while councillor for Bude Nigel Pearce suggested the bureaucratic costs would outweigh the expected revenue of £35,000 a year, a point echoed by Fiona Ferguson, councillor for Truro Trehaverne, who added that the scheme was “extraordinary”. The Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay, Steve Double, said: “I think this is the wrong decision. It is yet another example of the Liberal Democrat/independent administration’s apparent declaration of war against the tourist industry, something which is so important not just in our constituency but across Cornwall as a whole.”
The general consensus among surf schools is that the new tax has nothing to do with increasing safety on beaches, as the council claim, and everything to do with saving money. Peter Abell (pictured above) of Mawgan Porth’s Kingsurf Surf School said he was “gutted” at the decision, and pointed to the negative impact it could potentially have on water-users’ safety: “The council are encouraging us to not go in the water with people and help them, but to send people out there with no supervision, which is dangerous.” Abell added that surfing instructors often act as lifeguards, noting that Kingsurf instructors had already carried out twenty rescues this summer.
Joyce Duffin, council cabinet member for housing and environment, defended the measure, arguing that businesses such as ice cream vans and bike hire companies are already charged by the council to use council land. “The fairest way to regulate and license [surf schools] is to introduce a licensing scheme that reflects the size and capacity of each business and we have done that by introducing a fixed licence fee per board. We have arrived at this point after conducting a full consultation with the industry and a number of discussions with members.”
She added that the council was facing cuts of £196m over the next four years, and that these funds need to be raised in order to ensure that such businesses are adequately insured and their staff properly trained — a point with which Surfing GB, whose statement can be read below, took particular issue:
“The council has stated that the licence is an ‘Income Generation Measure’ with a purpose of safety. Our issue lies not with the income aspect, but lies deeply within safety.
Surfing GB operates a National Surf School accreditation program with our focus as a scheme and as an organisation solely on SAFETY, we do this by working with Surf Schools and accrediting them and using our vast experience and expertise in Surfing to benefit others and the industry. We operate the world’s only dual branded scheme with the world organising body, the International Surf Association, and surf schools follow a rigorous process of document inspection, insurance checks, coach accreditation, monitoring, site inspections and most of all we LISTEN to the Schools.
We have relentlessly informed the council that our accreditation scheme can be used by the council for FREE so that the highest level of safety and service across ALL beaches, not just 13, can be achieved. They have opted to refuse to accept our scheme.
The Surf School industry is a developing industry and we are passionate about supporting it and guiding it where we can. We are disappointed that as an organisation we have been unable to do more in this ‘consultation process’ as a ‘consultee’ but our feedback and recommendations have not been used. We are not even sure they have been considered, and many of our questions remain unanswered.
We are committed to doing what we can to work with Surf Schools and the Council. We will not comment on the financial amounts that the council wish to enforce as this is not our remit. We would however state that from a safety point of view this scheme is not fit for purpose and we believe it may detrimentally effect safety on our beaches.
We would also like to congratulate all of the Surf Schools and Surf Coaches that constantly act as an additional lifesaving service, surf guides for tourists and whom stand up to their responsibility at the forefront of surf tuition to the masses and the growing sport of Surfing. Our concern lies with them and the financial and operational strain they will now face and we hope that they will all be able to continue to provide their service to the highest level of professionalism and safety following this ill constructed licence scheme.
We are here to work with and for you and will keep in touch regarding any further developments on the licence issue, we also welcome you to get in touch with us and engage on the topic, we want to here your thoughts and force them into the attention realms of the councillors.
We would invite any of you to click on this link and scroll down on the right to point 7 “Water based activity Concessions”. This is a footage and audio recording of the council meeting in which it was discussed and passed. We were almost speechless when watching this, the gross misconduct and miseducation from councillors is a worrying reflection of the incapable and disconnected leadership within council. This is because of the non-substantiated claims by councillors and hypothetical claims that are made and put across as actual points in a debate that are factually incorrect and simply the misguided opinions of individual councillors.
Below is also a video that we were directed to upon our questioning of the topic.
We currently accredit 38 Surf Schools in the UK, of which 13 are in Cornwall, all of these Surf Schools have gone through a rigorous process to be accredited with SGB and The ISA. We also have 11 Cornish Surf Clubs affiliated to us, again with the priority of safety and insurance being the focus.”