[Mr David Crausby in the Chair]
It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, and to see so many colleagues from all parts of the perimeter of this country here today.
I am sure that the Minister was as pleased as I was when the Prime Minister described tourism as one of the best and fastest ways of generating the jobs that the country so badly needs. For too long, it has been the Cinderella business sector. It has been ignored for many years, but the Prime Minister put it on the pedestal that it deserves.
No one would be here today if they did not recognise the value of tourism to their constituency. In Thanet alone, it is valued at £162 million a year. We want to ensure that the tourism sector grows, that the small businesses in it thrive, and that new businesses are created in our coastal regions. Tourism and the associated economic activity are critical to our future.
Coastal communities are what I call pocket economies. They do not always react in the same way as the rest of the country; they often behave counter-cyclically. When the rest of the economy was thriving in the 1980s, seaside towns, and Thanet in particular, were suffering. During the Brown boom, Thanet did not benefit from the economic vibrancy of the rest of the country. Deprivation increased, worklessness was not addressed, and property prices rose only modestly. Coastal communities lag behind the rest of the economy and, in some instances, are passed by altogether.
Coastal communities have much more in common with one another than with their prosperous neighbours. If we compare Thanet with Canterbury, which is a mere 20-mile drive away, in Thanet, average salaries are £60 a week less than in Canterbury, there is double the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants, and vacancies are 25% of those available in Canterbury. There is no guarantee that our pocket economies will necessarily benefit from any upturn in the general economy. We also have high levels of public sector jobs, and few, if any, large company employers. Currently, my constituency is the 64th most deprived district in the country—not exactly the profile one would expect in the south-east.
On a positive note, perhaps the lack of modernisation and development can deliver a unique proposition. Cloned high streets have passed us by, large hotel chains and restaurants prefer more central locations, and developers have looked for easier pickings. We are unusual and quirky, and we have personality and character—a rarity in the world which should offer us a competitive edge. Thanet has 26 miles of sandy beaches, cliffs like those in the Algarve, walks suitable at any time of the year, and architecture that rivals any in the country. It is an historic mecca: from the Romans to the Beatles, we have had it all, with every invasion other than the Norman conquest and every major war fought from Thanet’s shores, and we have all the sights that go with those great British triumphs.
Two weeks ago, Thanet was nominated as one of the 12 most desirable locations in the world—can hon. Members believe that? We were celebrated in the same breath as Rio de Janeiro, Santiago in Chile, and Stockholm. This week, one of our local hotels was named the best small hotel in the country, and we have many more hotels and bed and breakfasts like it. However, we need a step change. We need to change the way in which our coastal towns are perceived and marketed. Traditionally, seaside towns have been marketed as locations for the sunny summer months but, to maximise the opportunities and great visitor experiences, we need clear strategies to increase significantly our out-of-season business.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. I represent what is perhaps an unknown part of the country in west Wales—the Ceredigion coastline. The hon. Lady is getting to the point where she is really talking about responsibility for the branding of our respective areas. I applaud local initiatives such as the Cambrian Mountains initiative, and I have hopes for the promotion of Cardigan bay. Who will be responsible for branding? Will we rely on local initiatives, or do we expect—and, I hope, anticipate—more of a lead from the centre, in particular VisitBritain?
Those are certainly questions for the Minister, but I think that what we need to do centrally more than anything else is to change the perception of seaside towns. The view is that if we put a beach on the website, the tourists will come over the summer months—and they do. Certainly Thanet does not need as much input for the summer months. However, we need to ensure that people appreciate the area whatever the time of year. I was walking on a beach with snow on it, and it was stunning. We have to understand that there is an all-year-round marketing opportunity.
Further to what my hon. colleague rightly said, we need a Minister for out-of-season marketing. Last weekend, I looked at the VisitBritain and VisitEngland websites. In many ways, they do a great job promoting this country, but it took six clicks to reach one seaside resort—Eastbourne—and no other. Under “things to do”, there is no mention of seaside towns. In the packages that they present for Canterbury and Lincoln, there is no suggestion that visitors extend their stay by a couple of days to visit the beauty of Thanet or Skegness, only a few miles down the road.
I accept that this is not an obvious time to visit our beaches, but I would like to ask the Minister what he thinks about the beaches in Weston-super-Mare at this time of the year. Would families not love to visit the SeaQuarium in Weston-super-Mare on their way to Wookey Hole? We need to ask our tourism marketers to be more creative about the opportunities that they offer to extend the season in areas that have been wrongly pigeonholed as summer locations, to think creatively about how they can add economic value and play a part in the regeneration of our coastal communities with taxpayers’ pounds, and not just be offered as window dressing for locations that are already international household names.
Extending the season is crucial for us all. If we could achieve that, we would increase revenues by 15% to 25%, increase employment, which is currently seasonal, and support our high streets and small retailers. That must be a crucial objective for us all. We need to be on the main websites all year around—that is fundamental—so changing the mentality of the marketers is crucial.
We must also look at what other countries do very successfully, not least social tourism, which is a concept not well understood in the UK; frankly, it is not understood at all. It is about offering out-of-season opportunities to people on lower incomes, people with disabilities and older people. The models range from those that involve public subsidy to those that cost the Government nothing. The Belgian tourism body will not register a hotel or holiday establishment that does not provide free or discounted holiday nights out of season. At no cost to the public purse, it incentivises accommodation owners to ensure that they provide discounted offers. In Spain, the Imerso scheme, which offers senior citizens off-peak holiday breaks by the sea, has led to a 10% increase in tourism revenue and a 16% increase in tourism employment. In France, 135,000 establishments accept vouchers available for those on low incomes, generating €3 billion for the French tourism economy every year. That system costs the Government nothing and is an incentive package that companies offer their lower-paid workers. I am sure that many hon. Members in the Chamber would like to establish a working group with the Minister’s Department to see if we can create a sustainable scheme that would generate such revenues for our seaside towns out of season.
There is one final issue on which I should like the Minister’s support. Many of us who spoke, or who wanted to speak, in the debate on the Daylight Saving Bill on Friday were a little disappointed. The measure would support our weaker pocket economies in coastal areas at almost no cost, and if they adopted it, the Government would increase Thanet tourism revenue by 10%. Nationally, the measure would boost tourism revenues by £3.5 billion and generate about 80,000 jobs —quite an impact for just one measure. The fact that the Government did not even want to investigate what measures could be put in place was particularly unhelpful. Even the Scottish nationalists, who are against the proposal, conceded that perhaps there is a case for putting back the date when we revert to Greenwich mean time. Even an extension to the end of November would make a serious difference. I hope that my hon. Friend, as Minister responsible for tourism, will make further representations to other parts of Government to consider this issue again.
I urge the Minister, who is a great champion of tourism and heritage and who represents a seaside town, to support us in this push for greater marketing out of season, for consideration of social tourism or other mechanisms to ensure that we can get the most out of our exceptional accommodation on the coast and for daylight saving to be regarded as a priority for the regeneration of our coastal communities. That is not just for our benefit. It would benefit the Treasury in increased taxes. The Minister could put a smile on the face of the Department for Work and Pensions by reducing unemployment in some of the most intractable parts of the country, help the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills increase the number of new business start-ups in coastal towns and help us break the cycle of deprivation and economic stagnation that so many of us face locally.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on giving a focus to this debate by analysing with great skill many of the problems in seaside towns.
I apologise if I do not sound like my usual cheerful self, Mr Crausby. I have a disease that I am trying to throw off. Were I in the sun-kissed environment of Southport, I am sure that this would not be so. I represent Southport, which some people say is only technically a seaside resort, because we have so much beach that it takes some time to get to the sea. None the less, it has regenerated itself successfully in recent years and I am proud of what has been achieved there.
It might help new hon. Members if I rehearsed some things that were done in the previous Parliament. There has always been a group of Members of Parliament from seaside resorts who have got together to co-ordinate their efforts and put pressure on the Government to deal with their specific concerns. In the previous Parliament, we were helped by a report on coastal towns from the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government. I sat on that Committee and I assure hon. Members that it was not easy to get Committee members to consider that matter, because they thought that it was a marginal issue and perhaps not sufficiently substantive to occupy a serious Committee. But that was done, and it was a surprising success.
Initially, the Government response to that report was fairly negative and bland. Phyllis Starkey, then Chair of the Committee, asked the Department to consider its response again and, to our surprise—there might have been a change of Minister—the second response was a great deal more positive. “Sea Change” funding appeared, which was to be administered by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, and there was a clear cross-departmental focus on the problems of seaside resorts, which was wholly helpful. At about that time, regional development agencies were given responsibility for tourism and asked to look specifically at the regeneration of seaside towns, in addition to other topics that they are more familiar with, such as urban regeneration.
We found from the Committee’s report that it was hard to generalise about seaside towns, because they are all so different; they are not only in different parts of the country, but are different in character and history. Some concentrate on fishing and others on fairgrounds. There really are quite stark differences between many resorts. Skegness is not the same as, or anything like, Brighton, although it happens also to be on the sea.
A cluster of problems can be found in most seaside towns. They normally have an interesting past, but equally they have a rather uncertain future, and sometimes an uncertain view of where they should go. I visited Margate with the Select Committee, not too far away from the constituency of the hon. Member for South Thanet, and found a town torn in two directions. People wanted to go different ways. Some wanted the old fairground back and wanted Margate to become a place of pleasure rides, and others wanted to build on the Turner heritage, and the light of that area, and have a more aesthetic development. I am not sure which direction that area went in, but that difference of opinion crystallises a general view that I have formed, which is that all seaside resorts, if they are to go anywhere, need some view of what they are essentially like.
Southport has been successful because it has not tried to rival Blackpool and has a concept of itself as a classic resort, which is distinctive, and it plays to its strengths, such as Lord street and, generally speaking, the Victorian environment—and as a market brand, it works. But like many other places, it also has problems with its housing stock, particularly the hosts of large houses built for the days when thousands of people trooped there regularly to fill out boarding houses. That means that such places end up with a skewed housing stock. In some towns on the Kent coast, that housing stock is filled with a disproportionate number of benefit claimants. There are genuine housing problems. Sorting out seaside towns’ problems is not just about attending to tourism, but about attending to housing and transport, which is a huge issue for most seaside resorts because they are often difficult to access, having been built and grown up in the days when trains were the way forward.
In making changes and developing the character of these places, we should consider that often seaside towns are blessed with a disproportionate number of retired people. That has a good effect, in so far as it ensures that there is a relative level of prosperity in the town. However, in respect of implementing change, as people get older they possibly do not welcome change in the same way as people do when they are young. In resorts that we Committee members visited, we often found contentious political divisions about the character of development in the town. An additional problem is generated by the fact that a lot of people living and working in seaside towns work in the public sector and will feel the impact of public sector cuts.
Sorting out the problems of seaside towns is not something that should just be thrown at the door of the Minister with responsibility for tourism; it should be thrown at the Government as a whole, because it is a matter of cross-departmental working. The previous Government recognised that.
I totally agree that the issue of coastal towns is a multi-departmental one; I do not detract from that, but I feel strongly that we in coastal communities have to address each of the issues with each of the Ministers, and then bring that together through the cross-departmental committee. It is crucial that Ministers with responsibility, who can have an impact on our communities, understand that we face many challenges and find out what levers they can pull to assist us. The fact that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), has responsibility for tourism and is the MP for a seaside town is a great asset for us.
Absolutely. I do not disagree with that analysis. Tourism genuinely helps in an extraordinary way. Too often in our tourist propaganda, we forget that our coasts are a fantastic asset. We tend to think of London, Edinburgh and bits in between, such as Stratford-upon-Avon. International publicity does not stress a strength that was well illustrated by the BBC programme. We have a fantastic coast, which is a fantastic asset, and we should make more of it. When I was at an embassy in France, I picked up propaganda for the north-west of England, hoping to find references to Southport, or at least Blackpool, but there were none. I found Oswaldtwistle, but I do not even know what it is, and I have lived in the north-west most of my life.
VisitBritain—I have said this before—has something to learn, but we must all learn how to deal with our new environment. If regeneration of seaside resorts is to progress, we will presumably have to work hand in hand with the new local enterprise partnerships, which will be centred predominantly in urban conurbations and will not have a natural feel for the problems of seaside resorts. They will need to be advised, instructed or directed not to leave out places that will, in most LEPs, be on the margins or the coast.
We must also recognise among ourselves—the community of coastal MPs—that whatever prospects we thought there were, before the time of austerity, of new transport links being delivered overnight have probably receded, and that that will not happen any time soon. We must work hard for our salvation. Most seaside resorts, their communities, and councils who understand the state of play recognise that. I believe that there is a role for the Government—this was the theme of the speech of the hon. Member for South Thanet—in sewing the pieces together and ensuring that good practice is spread, and in ensuring that when resorts have a clear vision of their own destiny and are prepared to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, they are given every encouragement to do so.
I want to focus briefly—I know that other hon. Members want to speak—primarily on the economic importance of tourism to Great Yarmouth and other coastal towns. We know that tourism is one of the largest employment industries in the country. I think it is the fifth biggest, involving more than 200,000 people. In Great Yarmouth, it is the biggest employer by quite a long way—the NHS is second—with 5,600 people involved. To put that in context, tourism is one of the largest industries in Norfolk, where there are about 11,000 people working in it. More than half of the entire county’s employment in tourism is in Great Yarmouth, so its importance to our economy is massive.
Tourism is driven primarily by local, private, often family-owned businesses, such as hotels and providers of bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and the tourist authority is very active. We are talking about 30% of the entire work force of Great Yarmouth, and half of that 30% work in seaside-related tourism. Those are the figures, and Steve Fothergill’s work on that is to be commended and should be read by everyone who is interested in coastal towns, but in a town such as Great Yarmouth, it is probably more like 80% or 90% who are tied to the coastal attraction. Our only other areas of tourism that do not have the seaside link are the broads, a third of which are in Great Yarmouth.
It is important when moving forward to consider how to market our coastal towns, and it is absolutely correct that we must consider how to develop them in the 21st century. Tourism in many of our coastal towns is that classic British archetypal postcard idea, but things have moved forward. Apart from the fact that there is more competition, because people can travel abroad more cheaply and find guaranteed weather more easily, we all demand more value for our money, particularly in times of austerity. It is important that coastal towns recognise that.
Great Yarmouth has done some excellent work in developing and improving tourism. Some independent and family companies, such as Potters, a family holiday resort, have upgraded to become five-star resorts, and that has a positive impact on the entire area, as does focusing on attracting people and explaining that there is more than just the seaside. There are zoos and the broads. We must be clear about that.
It is extremely beneficial to all tourism areas, especially coastal areas, to have a Minister who really understands the issues. He is methodical and careful about ensuring that he is briefed on the entire range of issues affecting tourism towns. I look forward to welcoming him to Great Yarmouth next year, and I hope that that will be when the weather is just a bit warmer.
It would be hugely beneficial to consider how marketing is carried out, particularly through VisitBritain and VisitEngland. At the moment, much of that marketing is funded through the regional development agencies, and a complaint that I often hear is that the RDAs, particularly the East of England Development Agency in the eastern region, do not understand or focus on what coastal towns want. We need a body that understands and focuses on tourism, and a body that our tourist authorities and local authorities can better understand, instead of the quango system. That would be a more logical way of moving forward.
There are opportunities, and their economic value is huge. In Great Yarmouth we hope to have one of the large casinos. That would bring the benefit of up to 1,000 jobs, and bring a different type of person to the town. The best we can achieve from debates such as this, and from the Government, is help to raise our profile nationally, and to show people the importance of tourism. Much tourism in coastal towns focuses on independent businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises that need extra motivation and support to ensure that they can develop. Many areas suffer from a limited season, including Great Yarmouth, where one of the most deprived wards in the country has unemployment of 16% and, in some years, 18% just because of seasonality.
We are moving forward. We are developing the energy industry and considering how, with the casino and other developments, to extend the season, but we need extra motivation and support. If we can find some economic drive, and courage to change the way in which we market such towns, that might help to stretch the season. We must incentivise independent business people to understand that they should invest further, and persuade some of the bigger organisations and companies who invest in coastal and tourism towns throughout Europe to look at the benefit of investing in British coastal towns. When they understand that even a town that is not the biggest in the world, such as Great Yarmouth, has a tourism industry that is worth around £500 million a year with more than 5 million visitors, they will see that there is a huge amount of business for people, and that will bring a real benefit to the British economy. I recommend that the Government support that as much as they possibly can.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on securing this debate. Just as tourism is often the reason for the existence of our seaside towns, it is often key to the ongoing regeneration and growth of those communities. The leisure and business facilities that attract inbound visitors also improve the economic and cultural lives of our residents. Anchor attractions, quality hospitality, retail facilities, festivals and events are key drivers in regenerating seaside towns, revitalising the image and refreshing the offering. I want to highlight a few ways in which the tourism sector can be a driver for the regeneration of seaside towns for the benefit of residents and visitors alike.
The first is cultural tourism. The reputation of seaside towns as backward and tacky is turned on its head when a more inspirational offering is added to the mix, such as has been done in Brighton and Hove. Recent years have seen a huge increase in the popularity of festivals and events, and Brighton and Hove can probably claim the title, “City of Festivals”, with its year-round calendar of major events incorporating music, arts and theatre, food and drink, sport and outdoor pursuits, fashion and retail, and many more.
Festivals are a relatively low-cost and self-contained way for seaside towns to reposition themselves. For example, the Brighton and Hove food and drink festival supports the entire supply chain from farm to fork, and creates year-round promotion of the city as a quality destination for food lovers. The Sussex fashion awards, which are scheduled for February 2011, are another example and had the good sense to invite me to be a judge. Brighton dome and festival is a pairing of a year-round cultural festival to provide joined-up thinking and resources. However, health and safety rules, licensing costs, and restrictions applied by local councils on outdoor events and carnivals can have the effect of de-incentivising organisers. As events are one of the key creators of a buzzing, thriving economy, this is one relatively straightforward area where local councils and the Government can act rapidly to allow the private sector to facilitate change.
My hon. Friend will know how lucky he is to represent a constituency that is so close to mine in the great tourist resort of Brighton and Hove. It has nearly 8 million visitors a year who provide £0.75 billion to the economy every year, and 14,000 people are employed in the tourism industry. He is right to say that tourism is not just about the beach and the sea. There is a variety of important cultural attractions in the city that we represent. Things such as music and arts, which I know are dear to my hon. Friend’s heart, are important drivers, together with traditional attractions such as the Palace pier.
I would like to raise one point, and I thank my hon. Friend for allowing this interruption—
I thank my hon. Friend for that speech, and for taking the impact of most of my speech away. If I may, I will return to the point about transport in a few minutes.
Unfortunately, many seaside towns in the UK have problems managing the night-time economy. Many councils and residents look with disdain at bars and clubs and their patrons, and a cultural shift is required to move on and recognise the economic benefits of that sector. Within Brighton and Hove, the night-time economy raises a figure in excess of £400 million a year, which goes a long way towards the figure mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet. A thriving night-time economy is one of the strongest draws for visitors to the coast and, increasingly, for the “silver mature” market, which includes myself. The night-time economy should be embraced and helped, not legislated against. Extended licensing hours, for example, have generally benefited the city, rather than had a negative effect.
One of the main blocks to feel-good tourism in the UK is the continued lack of investment in the infrastructure of seaside towns. That leads to limited and expensive parking and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) noted, inadequate rail facilities. Due to necessary but never-ending engineering works, Brighton and Hove is often inaccessible by direct rail at weekends, and the road works and lack of road capacity result in endless traffic jams at peak times. The cumulative effect of that has a negative impact on visitors, and the lack of investment in city centre parking in Brighton and Hove is a major obstacle to future development. The past decade of discouraging car use was a mistake; an integrated transport system is required, rather than forcing through one form of transport.
Congestion charging says to visitors, “Please do not come here.” Let us hope that that idea is never implemented in Brighton and Hove, which depends on welcoming visitors rather than turning them away. The same applies to parking fines. Car parking should be a council priority when looking at investment in buildings and other attractions. I would also like to see proposals for the monorail along our seafront progressed. That would be an innovative scheme, and a first for the country. Such proactive development will boost the importance and desirability of the city as a destination.
I welcome the coalition shift towards having more planning decisions taken locally, and I hope that that does not lead to fewer planning approvals. Our record in Brighton and Hove over the past 20 years may be attributed to the proposal of inappropriate schemes, and to intransigent developers trying to foist their schemes on the city. It is also due to a cumbersome planning permission regime.
Although it is important to protect the unique Georgian and Victorian architectural heritage of our seaside towns, which have no equivalent in the world, it is equally important to see them as living, breathing spaces with economies to support. We need to get the balance right between protecting the best bits, and being bold enough to replace the mediocre.
In summary: it is time to regenerate. Tourism is vital to my constituency, and we should encourage investment in destination hotels and attractions—the relaxation of some planning controls would help. We should also embrace the night-time economy, avoid excessive legislation and red tape, improve transport infrastructure, especially car parking, and recognise the importance of the tourism sector with tax breaks for small companies. For example, I would like to see the national insurance scheme currently proposed for the rest of the country extended to those cities in the south that require an occasional boost to tourism. Such issues are vital for Hove and Portslade, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and to working with the Government.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on securing this important debate. Like a moth to a flame, as a Blackpool MP I find it hard to resist any debate on tourism and seaside towns. Today, however, I do not want to talk about Blackpool. Close observers of the annunciator will have noticed that I represent Blackpool North and Cleveleys. Cleveleys is also a seaside town with a tourism industry, although it does not receive as much attention as its big brother to the south.
Many people holiday in Cleveleys without going anywhere near Blackpool. It offers a wonderful expanse of coast and some of the finest promenade architecture that we have seen built in this country over the past 25 years. Bus trips come for the day from far and wide. During the general election, I had a street stall in Cleveleys. By half-past 10 in the morning I was spending more time convincing voters from constituencies such as Stoke-on-Trent Central to vote Conservative than I was convincing those from my constituency. Obviously, I did not do enough because we failed to win the seat in Stoke-on-Trent Central, but I did my bit.
Cleveleys has flat pavements. Hon. Members may wonder why I mention that, but flat pavements are unusual in seaside towns and they make the town accessible. A large number of coaches come to Cleveleys full of disabled tourists who know that it is an accessible resort that they can get around despite their mobility problems. Large numbers of pensioners also come to Cleveleys—again, because it is easy to get around.
Cleveleys has a good variety of shops and a large number of cafés for people to sit in should a shower pass over. One such place is the Carousel Café, which is run by the president of the chamber of trade, Martin Hunns. Although Cleveleys has some wonderful, positive aspects, it also has a few downsides. If one asked Martin about Cleveleys, as I am sure people do, he will say one thing:
“We have gone on for years about parking in Cleveleys. All this money has been spent on this beautiful promenade but people are being turned away because there is nowhere to park.”
The town is concerned about the sustainability of the range of shops on the main streets, and the future of its indoor markets. One such market is to close suddenly, although I gather that an improved version is on the way. A medium-sized seaside town such as Cleveleys has positive and negative aspects, but the main challenge it faces is that of marketing, branding and communication—something that other hon. Members have also mentioned. Who should do that marketing, and how?
I want to pay tribute to a lady called Jane Littlewood who runs a small business, Rabbit Design. She moved to Cleveleys from South Yorkshire, and saw the opportunity the moment she arrived. She now runs a website that promotes tourism in Cleveleys, which she does entirely on her own without any public funding. Unsurprisingly, the website is called visitcleveleys.co.uk, and I encourage hon. Members to do just what it says and visit Cleveleys. As Jane says,
“the coastal Wyre area hasn’t previously been strongly promoted as a tourism area, and Cleveleys has plodded along under its own steam…Promoting the website and promoting Cleveleys are inextricably linked, and a raft of publicity has gone out this year in north west publications, including Lancashire Life. Links are being developed with the local authority and tourism marketing agencies to develop the brand much further for the future.”
What Jane does is more than a voluntary initiative and a nice idea; I think that it is the future for destination marketing in this country. For too long, we have assumed that the responsibility for marketing our seaside towns should lie with some sort of public body, be it local government, VisitEngland, VisitBritain—or visit whoever—or even the Minister’s Department. Here, however, we have someone taking the initiative and doing something for the benefit of their community without a public body intervening. I hope that hon. Members will not groan when I say that that might just be an example of the big society in action.
If we look a little to the south of my constituency, although not as far as Southport, we see that South Ribble and West Lancashire have the Heart of Lancashire Tourist Association. It was recently spun off as a community interest company and is owned by the very businesses that it promotes. It is a true co-operative and does not need to be sustained by public funding. When we see the Minister’s domestic tourism strategy, I hope that VisitEngland will have become not a body that picks and chooses the places that it promotes, but a repository of understanding and knowledge about how best to promote tourism in the UK.
VisitBritain’s role is quite distinct: it is to encourage overseas visitors to come to the UK. I hope that it will work hard to encourage Chinese people to come and enjoy Blackpool pleasure beach, which will certainly be a cultural experience for them in many ways. VisitEngland, however, really has to focus on understanding how we promote domestic tourism. We all talk about the cliché of the “staycation”, which might well be a passing, transient phenomenon, but we need to understand that there is a wide variety of holidays that our citizens can take in this country.
I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet mention the concept of social tourism, which is close to my heart. I urge anybody who does not know what it is to come to the inaugural meeting of my all-party group on social tourism next week, where they can find out far more about the subject. They might even take part in the inquiry that the Family Holiday Association is organising for the start of next year on defining just what we mean by social tourism. We should try to find new ways of developing tourism and spreading its wider benefits to disadvantaged groups.
I wonder how many Members here have heard of the Family Fund, an organisation that spends almost £30 million of Government money on giving families with disabled children short breaks in the UK. Many people say that we do not do social tourism in the UK, but we do, and the Government already spend £30 million a year on it. We need to understand what goes on already and what could go on in the future, and my hon. Friend mentioned many examples. We need to understand what benefits that could bring us.
I am really looking forward to reading the Minister’s domestic tourism strategy, and I hope that it is a long read, because there is a lot that we need to deal with. When he presents it, however, we will have to address the fact that tourism does not stand in isolation. Tourism promotion, particularly in places such as Blackpool, can be hampered by some of the negative feelings that people have about seaside towns. Branding is not just about Blackpool town, the pleasure beach or the nice seaside; it can also be about some of the negative headlines on social problems that people read in our newspapers.
Before the debate, I asked the Library to put together a ranking of all Conservative-held constituencies by deprivation. I had a theory that there would be a concentration of very poor Conservative-held seats in seaside towns, and that is indeed the case. Of the top 10 Conservative-held constituencies by deprivation, six are seaside towns, and the list is topped, unfortunately, by the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd)—that is perhaps not a list that she would wish to top, but she does none the less. I come in at No. 4.
Clearly, the role of tourism in the economic regeneration of seaside towns is crucial, but we cannot see it in isolation, and we must tackle every other silo of Government activity. That is why I am so pleased that responsibility for this issue, in addition to being based in the DCMS, ranges across several Departments. That is crucial, because until we get the whole picture right, we cannot hope to get tourism right.
I am delighted to take part in the debate, which gives many of us in the Chamber an excellent opportunity to share our concerns about tourism in seaside resorts.
I want to begin by talking about deprivation. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), I have done some research, although not just into Conservative-held seats. When I looked at the ranking of towns according to the number of personal insolvencies and bankruptcies, four of the top five were seaside towns. I am afraid that one of them was Hastings, while another, which is closer to my constituency, was Plymouth, although it was a little further down the list.
One reason why such towns are so deprived is that they have relied on support from industries such as engineering and fishing. Teignmouth, in my constituency, used to have a much more active and profitable fishing industry, but that is no longer the case, and most of the catch must now be landed in Brixham. Solving the problems of seaside towns is not, therefore, just about tourism, although it plays a key role. We must also look at how we build supplementary businesses and industries. Much as I agree with hon. Members that the challenge is to ensure that tourism continues all year round, we must accept that there will always be more of it in the summer and that there will be a fair few part-time, rather than full-time jobs.
I completely support my hon. Friend’s point. Does she agree that year-round interests, such as food tourism and heritage, are a particularly important part of the tourism offer? I am thinking particularly of food tourism in Kent, which has been a big growth area in the Canterbury and Faversham area and in Romney marsh, in my constituency.
I certainly agree, and that well-made point reiterates that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley).
The value of tourism is enormous. Members have mentioned several figures, but when I last looked at the issue, the prediction was that tourism would be worth £180 billion in this country by 2020. By that point, it will also be responsible for providing 2.89 million jobs, which is phenomenal. That would make a big difference to the current parlous state of the economy.
I represent part of Devon, which has 5.3 million visitors each year. That accounts for 7% of the Devon economy, which is well above average. In Teignbridge—the small heart of the part of Devon that I represent—32% of the work force are involved in tourism in some way or other. That is a very high figure, but it is not out of line with many of the figures that hon. Friends have mentioned.
Help is needed, because tourism is valuable for the growth of our economy and the recovery, but we need to identify how we make that help available, as many hon. Members have said. Perhaps I can briefly mention the key seaside towns in my constituency to help us see what the right solutions might be.
Dawlish Warren is a huge success story, and I am pleased about that. We have 800,000 visitors a year—on a good day, there are 20,000, which is a significant number. Why do we get those visitors? We have some excellent blue flag beaches and 505 acres of nature reserves, which attracts an interesting mix of tourists. However, we face the challenge of erosion, which is slowly pulling the beach back. As many hon. Members have said, the ability to solve such problems is not, dare I say it, in the gift just of this Minister, and I am pleased to say that I have had favourable responses on these issues from some of his Front-Bench colleagues.
Teignmouth is beautiful. It is a quintessential Victorian seaside town, but it, too, has its challenges. It has an ageing pier. It would be lovely if some of the suggestions made about lottery funding before the election could become a reality, because that could help. The town also has an ageing fish quay, which could receive EU funding and input, but those are proving quite elusive, and help from the Government in enabling seaside towns to make the most of EU opportunities would be extremely welcome.
Dawlish, which is a regency resort, is best known for its black swans. Jane Austen also stayed in the Strand, which is the main street running through the town. In answer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys I would say that the big society is here in seaside towns. All three communities that I have mentioned have put together their own plans. They are well supported by the local community; there is not a great division. Indeed, the Dawlish plan is today on the Strand, ready to be inspected. What they need, having come up with the plan, is help with the solutions.
Clearly, No. 1 is marketing. I must declare an interest, because I am a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and the issue is close to my heart. One of our concerns is that, while we need the big society, with communities doing their bit, we also need an appropriate framework and strategy, and a toolkit for making tourism work, and marketing it, as my hon. Friends the Members for Hove and for Blackpool North and Cleveleys were saying earlier. South West Tourism is the body that provides that guidance and framework at the moment in my part of the world. It will be disbanded in 2011 because it was under the aegis of the regional development agency, which clearly will not survive. What will replace it is an issue that is dear to my constituents’ and my heart. VisitEngland and VisitDevon provide some help and assistance, but they do not go to the heart of the need.
We need to grapple with the question of what the target market for tourism is. As hon. Members have articulated, the days of the bucket and spade brigade have declined, because those people are going to sunnier climes where they can guarantee the weather, and it is cheaper because they do not have to pay for entertainment when it is raining. We must think about not just social and cultural tourism, which are important, but those people who no longer have children at home—the so-called empty nesters—who are looking for a different type of holiday. They may want to combine a holiday across seaside resorts and rural sites. We need to think about what the target market is and how we segment it— by the type of holiday that people want to enjoy, or by geography? We need such a strategy, because otherwise all the efforts made locally will be fighting against each other. That has been one of the problems to date. In Dawlish the community has got together as a group to ask, “What do we do about our brand? What does Dawlish stand for? How could we market ourselves, together with Teignmouth, and perhaps some of the other destinations out on the moor?” Marketing is a key thing, and that is clearly one of the solutions.
The second issue relates to regenerating not just the housing stock but the fabric of the landmarks in the relevant communities. I have referred to our pier. I should love to find some money, perhaps from the lottery, to sort it out. One of the challenges with refurbishing seaside towns is VAT. VAT on new build, which is not really appropriate in this case, is zero-rated. However, we shall feel the full weight of the 20% rate next year. Would not it be wonderful if, for that type of regenerative building, the VAT rate could be 5%? I know that that is not in the Minister’s gift, but it is perhaps in that of some of his colleagues.
My hon. Friend will be aware that we are one of only six countries left in Europe who charge double figures for hotel accommodation. The 21 who do not are all reporting increased turnover, increased tax take and an increased ability to create jobs. Does my hon. Friend agree that our Government should seriously consider that?
I certainly agree. The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) has raised that matter over the years. As my hon. Friend says, the rate is much lower across the continent. France has just brought it down to 7%. We need to look at that issue.
I suggest also that the Minister should consider business rates. They are the bugbear of many small businesses. Might we conceivably consider enabling communities to reinvest the business rates that are charged back into the community, the small businesses, and particularly tourism, which, certainly in my constituency, makes up a large part of the small business?
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is encouraging that the Government, in their local growth White Paper, are including consideration of how councils can invest in the business infrastructure of their community and recoup that investment through tax increment financing in the future?
I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend makes a good point.
I want to talk now about the challenge of part-time workers. There is often a disincentive for them to take jobs because of the way the tax system works. If they are not working enough hours to take them over the threshold below which they do not pay tax, when they take a second job they are instantly thrown into paying the full base rate. There needs to be a way to simplify the process, so that individuals who take on several part-time jobs are not penalised, and do not have to reclaim overpaid tax.
I know that Front Benchers are considering the issue of people working 16 hours before losing benefit, which has meant that holiday businesses that employ people on a short-term basis find that when they want the flexibility for that individual to work a couple more hours it cannot be done without a huge problem for the employee.
I want finally to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) about local enterprise partnerships. They can play a crucial role in providing the strategy and support that will enable community plans to become a reality. They can also play a crucial role in enabling us to find the funds for the different plans. It would be helpful if the Minister and his Front-Bench colleagues could reinforce that point.
I look forward positively to the domestic tourism strategy. I am delighted that the Prime Minister said that he would like domestic tourism to increase from 35% to 50%. That is fantastic, and I am delighted to have had the opportunity to make my case.
I shall keep my comments brief, Mr Crausby, and, if hon. Members do not mind, turn their attention to Wales for a short moment, in the full understanding that some of what we have been discussing this afternoon is devolved; the issues are common to seaside towns throughout the UK.
There are a few areas on which I should like the Minister, if possible, to comment, and reassure us. In my constituency we have 10 seaside towns, and no two are the same in their complications and economic and environmental circumstances. First, national parks are without a shadow of doubt a great asset, to be protected, and essential for a successful and effective tourism industry. However, there is a feeling, at least in my part of the world, that national park planning departments are a barrier to investment, progress and individuals who want to expand their tourist industry. It would be encouraging to hear from the Minister whether consideration will be given to merging in some way the local authority and national park planning functions, to minimise the chance of complications, which inevitably lead to the rejection of perfectly reasonable and positive planning applications, to the detriment of the local economy.
Secondly, I want to raise a planning-related matter—it has been mentioned before, but I want to put it in the specific context of agriculture: that is ensuring that the people on the fringes, not necessarily in the seaside towns, can diversify their agricultural businesses in a way that benefits the overall tourism attraction of the area. That issue is common to national park planning applications and to local authority applications.
The hon. Gentleman is completely right. His constituency is only a few miles up the coast from mine and I recognise his concerns.
My third and penultimate point is about road and rail infrastructure. Of the 1 million international visitors to Wales, who have brought in £321 million in the recent past, a significant proportion—92%—made their journey to Wales in a car, but once people get as far as about Swansea it is almost impossible to travel any further west with any degree of comfort. It is even more difficult on a train. That is a subject for a future debate, when we will discuss the electrification of rail lines. We are not making things easy for the tourism industry in the west of Wales in that respect.
Finally, for the sake of brevity, let us not lose sight of the fact that although tourism is the subject of this debate, in my part of west Wales at least, coastal town regeneration is just as dependent on other industries as it is on tourism. To take the Milford Haven waterway as an example, in that location, there are two oil refineries and two gas terminals, and the biggest gas-fired power station in Europe is under construction. The inward investment to those enterprises is vital not only for the people who are immediately connected with them. The surrounding tourism industry and economic environment are linked to large-scale industrial investment just as much as they are to tourism. We must not lose sight of that. This is not a case of either/or; it can be both. I hope that in the Government’s proposals, those few points are taken into account.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this important debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on initiating it. I will try to be brief, and I will of course add to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), in that I am bringing Wales to the table today.
I have the privilege of being the Member of Parliament for Aberconwy. That means that I represent the seaside resort of Llandudno, which is recognised in Wales as the queen of Welsh resorts. The experience of Llandudno is very positive, because it has been a success story in many ways during the past few years, but before I focus on Llandudno, it is important to point out that seaside resorts and former seaside resorts have developed in different ways during the past 15 to 20 years. For example, the resort of Llanfairfechan in my constituency, has developed into a dormer village or dormer town. People live there to enjoy what is available there: the scenery, the beach and so on. Tourism can play a part in the further regeneration of Llanfairfechan, but the town has played its own game and decided to serve as a residential community, which is obviously perfectly acceptable.
Penmaenmawr is another resort in my constituency. Believe it or not, Penmaenmawr was the favourite resort of Gladstone, the former Prime Minister. He used to go there every summer to recharge his batteries. Penmaenmawr became an industrial area, dependent on quarrying, but it is now rediscovering tourism as a means of regeneration. The residents of Penmaenmawr, who are very proud of their association with the former Liberal Prime Minister, would be more than delighted to welcome the current Deputy Prime Minister. If things become a bit hot in London during the next few days, he is more than welcome to come to Penmaenmawr, where he can enjoy the seaside and the mountains and contribute to the redevelopment of the tourism sector in that town.
However, the real issue for me today relates to Llandudno, which is a great success, as it has retained its Victorian ambience but has also tried to modernise itself and ensure that it is a seaside resort that works all year round. A previous contributor commented on part-time work and casual work. One of the big challenges in relation to tourism and economic redevelopment is to ensure that the tourism sector can provide year-round employment. Llandudno is keen to ensure that it develops year-round tourism, and it has done that by being proactive about its marketing, ensuring that it draws in the Christmas market and so on. However, it has also worked in partnership with the local authority to ensure that it can offer conference facilities and entertainment. The local authority has worked with the tourism association in Llandudno to develop Venue Cymru, for example, where there are a large theatre and conference facilities. That means that Llandudno attracts tourists all year round, which has the added benefit of allowing businesses servicing those tourists and visitors to employ people and give them proper jobs for 52 weeks of the year, as opposed to the casual employment that they had to depend on in that sector in the past.
Another of Llandudno’s successes results from the fact that it has not seen tourism as something that works in isolation. In addition to being the queen of Welsh resorts, it has been the main shopping centre for north Wales for generations. The investment in retail has continued, and the important thing about that investment is that it is not just about the high street multiples, which are obviously very important to the local market. The wonderful thing about Llandudno is that it also offers independent retailers, who add to the experience for tourists when they come to the town. They have the feeling that they are in an old-fashioned resort. They can see the high street multiples, but they can also go to the back streets and find interesting retailers offering something completely different.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a council working with other councils in the region could bring in tourists for everyone? If a push is made to bring tourists to one village on its own, sometimes that does not work, but if a council works with other councils and other tourist destinations, with all their different attractions, everyone can benefit.
That is a very valuable contribution. Conwy council, which represents Llandudno, works in partnership with other local authorities, especially in relation to marketing the advantages of Snowdonia, for example, so yes, I agree with that point.
We are very fortunate that a large part of the town of Llandudno is under the management of Mostyn Estates. One of the strengths of Llandudno is that it has retained its character, due to the sympathetic management of the town by Mostyn Estates. That management has ensured that, for example, when people hit the prom in Llandudno, it looks extremely impressive. There are controls over the colour of the paint that can be put on hotels and there are controls in terms of not allowing buildings to be turned into houses in multiple occupation. That has kept the character of the town and has contributed to Llandudno’s success.
I shall finish with these questions and points for my hon. Friend the Minister, because I am aware that time is pressing. The Llandudno Hospitality Association has a number of concerns, including one that was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. I am referring to VAT on hotel rates. One of Llandudno’s successes is that it has turned its attention to offering a broad range of accommodation, from bed and breakfasts to high-class boutique hotels. However, there is a concern that we face a VAT rate of 20% on hotel accommodation, compared with much lower rates in the rest of Europe.
It is worth mentioning that 3.1 million people live in seaside resorts in the UK. That is more than the population of Wales. Wales has a Secretary of State and a Welsh Assembly fighting its corner. Is the voice of seaside resorts heard across Government? I am sure that the coalition Government will ensure that that is the case, but I would like reassurance on that point.
Tourism should not be seen as a Cinderella sector in economic development. Local enterprise partnerships in England offer the opportunity to ensure that tourism development is part of those strategies. I hope that the LEP process in England learns the lesson from Wales. I am very disappointed, because the Welsh Assembly recently announced that it was targeting six specific sectors of the Welsh economy for growth and, for some bizarre reason, tourism was not included. I hope that the Minister will have more success in selling the importance of tourism as an economic development tool than his colleague did in the Welsh Assembly.
I have sprung to my feet in defence of the town of Hastings in my constituency, as it was placed in a not very positive category by a number of my colleagues. Deprivation in seaside towns is a fact. The point is well rehearsed and has been repeated by many hon. Members here today. It is true that Hastings suffers on many indexes of deprivation, but I will not refer to that now, because I should like instead to draw attention to some of the many wonderful aspects of Hastings. It has a large natural park around it. We have wonderful food and drink, and next year will see the arrival of the new Jerwood art gallery, which I hope will contribute to regenerating the town.
I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister about the amusement industry. We all know that the seaside tourism industry is linked to the amusement industry, and if the amusement industry is hampered, so is the economic growth of seaside towns. The amusement and bingo industry has been under pressure as a result of the Gambling Act 2005 and, as we know, that has been exacerbated by the recession. Given the wider debate about the economic viability of seaside towns, it is very important that the amusement industry is supported. We have heard today about many new initiatives to support seaside towns and their industries, but we must not forget the old one—the amusement industry and its slot machines, which are important in attracting tourists to our towns.
The regulatory framework of the 2005 Act is robust and exhaustive and went a long way in defending and supporting people, but it also had some unintended consequences, damaging seaside towns. I know that at the moment a Government consultation is under way about maximum stakes, premises and entitlements. I hope that the Minister will be able to introduce some positive changes when the consultation finishes, because many seaside towns have been suffering under those measures. I am thinking particularly of private clubs that are no longer allowed to offer high-paying slot machines. People who wish to use such slot machines must go instead to casinos and gambling places, which have a less benign atmosphere than private clubs, which causes problems. Will the Minister consider carefully what can be done to support the amusement industry, which is so important to seaside towns?
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on securing this important debate. She spoke passionately about the issues, which are vital to the lives and livelihoods of many people in her constituency, as they are to the people and economies of many other seaside towns up and down Britain. I hope that she and the other hon. Members who spoke will use their influence with their parties to bring the issue to the attention of the Government, and to press for the necessary steps to secure the future of our seaside towns and ensure that the regeneration of seaside and coastal areas does not slip off the agenda.
Tourism is incredibly important for the survival and regeneration of British seaside towns. It creates huge numbers of jobs, both for people directly employed in the industry and for many thousands more working in related industries. Millions of people visit the seaside every year—after London, Blackpool and Scarborough are the country’s second and third most popular destinations for overnight stays. In total, about 25% of domestic tourism is made up of people taking holidays at seaside and coastal towns. I have learned that Cleveleys is an attractive destination. The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) spoke about the town’s accessibility, and I shall certainly look at the website he mentioned.
Many hon. Members noted that tourism alone cannot be held responsible for ensuring the future of coastal communities, but it has also been noted that it is essential to start with the industry that made these places popular and, in many cases, famous and well loved. That means supporting tourism and directing support to seaside towns that rely on it as an economic lifeline. As the hon. Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) said, it means adopting a cross-departmental approach to help seaside and coastal towns tackle the problems that they face, and ensure that they remain, or return to being, places in which people want to live and work, as well as visit.
The coalition Government must take steps to end the cycle of seasonality that particularly affects coastal communities and to tackle joblessness and youth unemployment. The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) spoke about the importance of the tourism industry in providing jobs for his constituents. The coalition should also act to provide better-quality and more affordable housing; to support the delivery of strong public services and infrastructure; to take steps to reduce the anti-social behaviour and crime that blights so many of our seaside towns; and to safeguard the growth of small and medium-sized businesses. The amusement industry, to which the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) referred, falls within that sector.
I have spoken to members of the tourism industry, and I was told this morning that, after a period of neglect and decline, it was the previous Labour Government who ensured sustained investment in seaside towns, delivered in particular through the regional development agency, which the coalition has scrapped. The previous Labour Government backed coastal tourism and worked hard to ensure that the British seaside was becoming, once again, an attractive place for people to live, work and enjoy simple pleasures, such as the beach and the sea, and popular visitor attractions.
Earlier this year, Labour launched its strategy for seaside success, which included £5 million to help the most deprived seaside authorities, building on its record in government of targeting an additional £127 million of funding on coastal local authorities to help them meet the particular challenges that seaside towns can face. The hon. Members for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby), for Hove (Mike Weatherley) and for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) discussed additional provision and activities in our seaside towns. Labour’s strategy also involved a “seasiding” campaign to promote festivals, other cultural initiatives and the non-seasonal economy, and to support the development of heritage attractions, for example, the renewal of historic piers. Those things are needed to make our seaside towns year-round destinations. The campaign involved plans to improve infrastructure, tackle disproportionate levels of deprivation in seaside towns, and work with regional and local bodies to ensure that seaside towns and seaside tourism could flourish. Hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris), talked about the problem of deprivation in such areas.
The coalition’s cuts to RDAs and the budgets of organisations set up to promote tourism will hit hard and hurt at a time when the industry needs support, particularly in seaside towns that still depend heavily on tourism. The Government, from the Prime Minister downwards, have yet to show that they have the plans to secure the future of our seaside towns. Yes, we have heard lots of warm words about the state of seaside tourism in Britain, but I argue that they are simply an endorsement of Labour’s record, rather than a strategy that the Government will pursue while in office.
The Minister has taken the trouble to visit Britain’s seaside towns, which is to be welcomed, but we have yet to hear his findings, and we look forward to doing so. If the Government are to support seaside towns and continue Labour’s work to regenerate such areas, the coalition must tell people, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) said, how seaside holidays and attractions in coastal towns will be advertised to appeal to visitors, following the 34% cuts to VisitBritain and VisitEngland and the 32% cut to the English Heritage grant. As the hon. Member for Southport said, what role will local enterprise partnerships play now that the Government are going to abolish regional development agencies? Will LEPs have any responsibility for the regeneration of our seaside towns?
The hon. Members for Newton Abbot and for Ceredigion referred to the impact on the tourism industry of the VAT rise to 20%. Has there been an impact assessment of its effects on our seaside and coastal towns? If so, I would like to see it. In short, what is the Government’s strategy for ensuring that tourism is supported so that it can continue to play an integral part in our seaside and coastal towns? Without Government support, British seaside towns and the people who live and work in them face another period of decline.
It is not enough to rely, as the Conservative party so often does, on the power of the private sector. I spoke to Peter Hampson, director of the British Resorts and Destinations Association, this morning, and he shares my concerns that, if the challenges facing seaside resorts are not addressed, if resorts are not protected and developed, and if budgets to attract tourists to them are consistently cut, then people will simply go elsewhere.
The coalition needs to answer a question for the tourism industry: the people whose livelihoods rely on seaside and coastal tourism and those who have chosen to make their lives at the British seaside. How much of the overall spend on promoting tourism will be directed to seaside towns? What plans do the Government have to ensure that work to support and regenerate seaside towns will continue? How can the Government expect the private sector to invest in seaside towns without seeing a clear lead from Government and the public sector? Without a clear and cohesive public policy to support seaside tourism and seaside towns, the risk is that places such as Ramsgate in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Thanet and other coastal resorts, about which we have heard a lot today, will decline once again.
It is a pleasure to have you as our Chairman today, Mr Crausby. I echo other hon. Members’ thanks and congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on securing the debate and leading it so well. She demonstrates that she is sticking up for her constituents in an incredibly effective fashion. Her lead has been followed during the debate by a great many other Members from seaside towns all around the country.
I think it was the hon. Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) who pointed out that although the problems and issues faced by seaside towns have a common thread running through them, seaside towns are different in different parts of the country. However, on the basis of today, if one thing about every seaside town is clear, it is that they all have a pretty determined local Member wanting to stick up for them here in Westminster. To put it politely, we are all as biased as each other, and convinced that our seaside town is far better than anyone else’s. I suspect that I fall into the same category, because I am of course convinced that Weston-super-Mare is the best seaside town in the country—I am getting frowns from the rest of the room.
Important points have been made. I will not take them in any particular order, but will endeavour to respond to as many of the questions and points raised as possible in the limited time available. There has been a shared conviction throughout the debate that tourism is an incredibly important part of the regeneration opportunities available to any seaside town. Tourism provides a superb opportunity for rapid economic growth in a financially efficient fashion.
We are lucky in the coalition Government to have a Prime Minister who was willing to mark his enthusiasm for the sector and recognise its importance by making a speech about it in August. Older hands at DCMS tell me that they cannot in recent decades remember a Prime Minister making a speech about the visitor economy within the first 100 days of a new Administration, and making the point that the sector is so important to the British economy that he wants to put it front and centre of the Administration’s economic plans. We are lucky to have the prime ministerial wind in our sails; it is tremendously helpful to have that kind of support. That is because, as a number of Members have rightly pointed out, tourism cuts across a wide variety of different Departments in Whitehall, so it is up to me and anyone else interested in the visitor economy to make the case for tourism in the Department for Transport, in the Home Office and with the UK Border Agency, and in all the different Departments that tourism touches. It is essential to ensure that everybody knows that we have high-level patronage and a great degree of importance attached to the industry.
The most commonly mentioned concern and opportunity was marketing. It was raised by a series of Members—my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris), the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), the hon. Member for Southport, and my hon. Friends the Members for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), and for Hove (Mike Weatherley); apologies to anyone I have left out. Marketing is essential, because since the 1980s seaside towns have faced the difficulty of establishing a new USP, or unique selling proposition—a new position within the market to bring people to them in the wake of the relative decline of the UK seaside bucket-and-spade holiday, after everyone started going to Spain and other places on cheap charter flights.
Some places have managed that brilliantly. We can all think of examples round the country where seaside towns have done well: Bournemouth has done extremely well out of the conference trade; Rock in north Cornwall has done well out of food tourism; festivals have brought seaside towns to life; and funfairs are one of the major draws to Blackpool, even now. A lot of development capital is going into the Blackpool seafront as we speak. There are ways of re-positioning a seaside town, by establishing a new marketing position that creates a new draw and underlying raison d’être. However, it is up to that individual seaside town to come up with its specific local example and to put it out there, so that people know why they might want to come to Weston-super-Mare, Hastings or wherever.
It is essential that the Government help that process to happen. The Government cannot do that from the centre, and tell any one seaside town what its new USP ought to be. That has to come from the local economy and the local tourism industry, supported by the local authority. One of the coalition Government’s most important initiatives is to assist the birth of a new kind of destination management organisation—a new kind of local tourism board, whatever it is called. It will be led by the local tourism industry, which lives or dies by the success of its local destination. We all have examples in our constituencies of well-run, high-powered, large and small local tourism firms that know what is right for them, and for Weston-super-Mare, Hastings or South Thanet. It is up to them to tell us what to do, and for us to ensure that they can create a destination marketing organisation that will position the town and attract new visitors to it on a sustainable basis.
That means that we need to have an organisation that is primarily managed and led by the local industry, rather than by the public sector. The public sector needs to support, help and do what it can, but we want the local industry to take a hard-headed commercial look at what the town can offer to visitors, and then market the heck out of it in the most commercially savvy way.
That means that the new DMOs, or whatever we want to call them, will essentially be managed and led by the local tourism industry. It is essential that that takes place. Equally, it is worth remembering that the phrase “destination management organisation” is not the same as “destination marketing organisation”, though they share an acronym. It is vital that when we have created the local destination marketing organisation, it acts as the voice of the visitor in the local community. The local industry should say, “It is essential that, working in conjunction with the local authority, we are able to frame our local tourism industry and attractions, and organise the local public spaces, in a way that shows off our town and its attractions to the best advantage.” That means it must have a strong voice—a seat at the table—with the local authority, and act as the voice of the industry and the visitor in any decisions that the local authority may take, in order to ensure that each seaside town’s unique charms are shown off to their best.
That is how we need to reform marketing. There will be a new kind of partnership marketing, a partnership between the local tourism industry and the local authority—ideally with matched funding—so that we can maximise the money being spent in an effective, commercial way to promote each seaside town to the utmost.
A number of Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, and for South Thanet, mentioned social tourism. That is a particularly interesting idea that I discussed recently with Mr Tajani from the EU. There is an EU-wide programme called Calypso under way at the moment. It is an interesting notion that we need to explore carefully. Members will be aware that there is a very limited pot of public funding. Therefore, anything we do in this area has to be done in the way described by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet; as she said, we do not have to spend additional public funding on it. I welcome that instinct; I think she is absolutely right to say that we need to come up with solutions that will not add to the burden on the taxpayer. If there are proposals coming out of the new all-party parliamentary group that is being set up, I will be interested to hear them. We are also engaging with the European effort via Mr Tajani.
The issue of daylight saving was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet. I will not add much to that, because the subject was debated fully on Friday. The tourism industry is very much behind the initiative. It is convinced, as are other industries such as retail, that it will greatly help the sector. However, it is not as simple as that, as I am sure my hon. Friend will realise, because grave concerns about the impact on quality of life have been expressed by our colleagues in the north of Scotland. It would be dangerous—and potentially divisive—for the rest of Britain, and certainly England, to impose a solution without the consent of Scotland. A point made strongly on Friday was that any progress needs to be made through consensus, having built up a democratic voice across the UK, rather than having one sector of the country trying to impose the change on another. We have the opportunity to build such a consensus, because the Bill is to go into Committee, and I welcome that.
There were a couple of comments about VAT and business rates. That is a tremendously important area, but I am conscious of time coming to an end, so I shall be brief. We dealt with business rates during an intervention, pointing out that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already announced that there will be an opportunity in future for local authorities to keep some of the proceeds of growth from the additional business rates that are created by local economic growth, potentially generated by the tourism industry. That will provide local authorities with a powerful incentive for getting behind local tourism bodies that are trying to drive economic growth through tourism; they will have a strong financial incentive to take part and assist, which they did not in the past.
I have received representations from the tourism industry about VAT on a number of occasions. I have given the industry the following challenge on that issue. We all appreciate that we have a huge financial deficit—bequeathed by the previous Government—that needs to be closed. It would therefore be extremely difficult for any Chancellor of the Exchequer to hand out tax reductions in the short to medium term. The challenge the tourism industry needs to face up to is this: if it wants a better deal than any other sector of the economy, it needs to explain why it is more important than all the others, which will also be asking for a special deal on VAT or other taxes. That will include the miners, the banks, the IT sector and all other sectors of our economy. If that case can be made, I will be delighted to make representations to the Treasury—but not until then.