I regularly have meetings with representatives of the tourism industry, which includes the British Resorts and Destinations Association and the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions.
As Southend residents are already suffering because 20,000 people were left off the national census and a Select Committee report suggests that the Government have absolutely no strategy for assisting coastal resorts, will the Minister tell the House whether the Select Committee was right or wrong, and what further assistance the Government are prepared to give Southend residents?
First, my Department clearly has responsibility only for tourism in relation to coastal towns. However, I acknowledge the work of the Select Committee, and we welcome the report’s recommendations and are considering them. The hon. Gentleman might like to consider having a word with his unitary authority, which I believe is Conservative-run, as year in, year out, it has spent less on tourism: in 2002, it spent £835,000 but at the last recorded account it had cut that to £554,000.
Apart from the Government’s proposals for casinos, which will obviously increase costs in local communities, with increased crime and increased gambling addiction, what other plans do they have for the regeneration of coastal resorts?
Does the Minister agree that one of the problems—and one of the reasons why people choose to take their holidays abroad rather than in our excellent coastal resorts—is that often our hotels and bed and breakfasts are expensive? Does he share my concern about the practice in a lot of bed and breakfasts of charging on a per person basis, rather than hotels, where the charge is on a per room basis, which often means that people end up paying more for their holiday than they expected?
It is always interesting to hear Opposition Members making an argument against a free market. None the less, tourism this year will be worth about £86 billion to the economy. The numbers of visitors coming to England and travelling within England are at record levels; and in relation to the original question, I would point out to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) that in 1998 tourism in Southend was worth £135 million, but in the most recent figures, for 2004-05, the figure went up to £217 million.