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Hugo Swire MP, Conservative shadow minister for tourism

31 August 2006

Hugo Swire MP is the Conservative Party's shadow minister for tourism. He launched a campaign this summer against the bed tax being considered by Sir Michael Lyons in his review of local government funding. He spoke to Emily Manson

Why do you oppose the bed tax? People running hotels and B&Bs pay enough tax already, particularly compared with their European competitors. In my area, the West Country, it could result in 5,000-6,000 job cuts because of the negative effect on tourism.

What have you done to voice your opposition? We recently launched our campaign in an ice-cream van on Brighton and Bournemouth sea fronts. It's an unfair tax, and we are urging everyone to sign our petition opposing it. It's not a tax at the moment, but anything that would disadvantage the industry when it already has to deal with high fuel prices and increased competition must be strongly resisted.

Would a bed tax be justified if it were to plough money back into industry? We are nervous about that, as it's disingenuous. The idea that it would be collected by the Treasury and then sent back out to the areas it was collected from is ridiculous, and simply won't happen.

What would you advise hoteliers? To oppose this tax now before the Lyons report comes out. They need to join our website campaign and send one of our postcards to Gordon Brown and make their opposition hit all areas of government.

Is Shaun Woodward providing enough support for the industry? He's new in the job and certainly hasn't ruled it out yet, but I would urge him to listen to what people are saying in the industry. I hope he's spent time travelling around the UK, listening to hoteliers and B&B owners. If he does that, he'll hear what we've heard - which is almost united opposition against this form of taxation.

What would you do, if you were tourism minister, to promote the industry? Look at ways of rationalising, as there are too many different tourist organisations. We need to look at the amount of support Scottish tourism gets compared with English tourism, and start a healthier dialogue with the Treasury to make sure the sector thrives. We have a one-off opportunity in the run-up to the Olympics to really make the UK the place to visit. We need to maximise that advantage, and the Government is not doing that at the moment. We also need to look at training, and extending the tourist season.

How would you improve the industry's image? There are too many places in the UK that charge large amounts - and, frankly, people can get a better deal abroad. We need to recognise that we are in a global economy. We also need to encourage young people in this country into this industry and persuade them they have a future in the sector - and that comes down to training.

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