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The Caterer

Viewpoint: Let's start a sea change at the coast

09 August 2016
Viewpoint: Let's start a sea change at the coast

Dermot King, managing director of Butlin's and chairman of the Cut Tourism VAT campaign

There is much to admire in our coastal resorts and in the 7,700 miles of coastline around the UK. Some 250 million visits are made to the coast each year and, as a national asset, it contributes hugely to our cultural identity and wellbeing. However, more needs to be done to harness the economic potential of these coastal communities and improve the opportunities available to the people who live in them.

You will have noticed that in her first speech on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street, the prime minister pledged to tackle the 'burning injustice' of poverty, race, class and health. One clear example of this social injustice can be found in seaside communities across the country. Statistically, people living on the coast are more likely to be poorly educated, unemployed and living in low-quality housing than those living in similar inland communities.

Many elements have contributed to the deterioration of seaside towns, including the collapse of the shipbuilding and fishing industries, the decline of the traditional annual seaside holiday, cutbacks in budgets affecting maintenance of public places, a dearth of tourism promotion and a lack of provision of education. As such, many of these seaside communities are dependent on the hospitality industry, which employs one in 10 people in coastal communities and 873,000 people across coastal local authorities. It is increasingly clear that tourism and hospitality is the only industry that will deliver the social and economic regeneration these communities are in need of.

A recent survey found that more than half of the British public have not visited the seaside in the past three years, 30% have not visited as an adult and 65% believe the seaside is run down and in need of investment.

Last month the British Hospitality Association launched a plan to revive seaside communities. It was positively received by the industry, parliamentarians and the media and will be discussed by the All- Party Parliamentary Group for the Visitor Economy in Parliament.

The plan states that the first step is to appoint a seaside tsar, someone to co-ordinate government and local authority spending. This person would oversee the creation of enterprise zones to bring in investment and encourage businesses to move to the coast.

The second initiative is to create a tax environment that encourages people to visit and that incites coastal businesses to invest. The obvious incentive for visitors is a reduction in tourism VAT to 5% on accommodation and visitor attractions. The benefits would be felt immediately, with investors likely to spend more from day one.

An area of particular concern is education. There is proof that there are lower levels of education and skills attainment among young people in coastal areas and this leads to a lack of ambition. The plan calls for improved education provision for young people and adults to ensure they have the skills to work in a variety of sectors, including, but not limited to, tourism. It also calls for investment in critical infrastructure, including improved broadband, rail and road connections, as well as protection against the threat of rising sea levels.

Our industry has the potential to rebalance the UK's economy in the long term and deliver export growth by creating a seaside that is worth going back to. If you would like to be involved in the campaign, please email vernon@bha.org.uk.

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