Council under fire for tourism push

A CASH-strapped local authority is todayunder fire after thousands of pounds of public money was spent on a brochure promoting tourism despite cuts to public services.

A CASH-strapped local authority is todayunder fire after thousands of pounds of public money was spent on a brochure promoting tourism despite cuts to public services.

Essex County Council produced the 12-page guide to the area in association with a national newspaper to highlight what the county offers.

However, the supplement, which links to the council's Real Essex website, has angered people affected by cuts in services, who believe public money should be spent more wisely.

In a further twist anyone taking the opportunity to visit www.realessex.co.uk to look for more information, is instructed to contact the Essex tourism office at Harwich - a centre which is set to be closed and part of the cuts.


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Peter Martin, the council's cabinet member for planning, enterprise and regeneration, defended the brochure, saying Government money was ring-fenced and could not have been spent on saving any services and insisted the guide represented good value for money.

Earlier in the year fury erupted after 11 officials from the authority took a trip to Spain to look at a waste disposal plant amid growing frustration at services cuts and record council tax hikes.

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Last week the East Anglian Daily Times launched a War on Council Waste campaign asking readers to suggest ways their local authorities could save money.

Ans Bartholomew, MBE, who managed the Harwich Tourist Information Centre for 29 years said: "To be quite honest, you can make people come the first time, but it is the repeat business we want and that comes from having friendly faces telling people what to do and enjoy.

"I feel the tourism office should be there in Harwich – there is no way anybody can justify closing it.

"It seems a bit strange that there is the tourist brochure from the same authority which is trying to close its centres. It's just incredible.

Phyllis Webb, who campaigned in vain against the privatisation of Essex care homes by the county council, said the amount of money spent on the brochure was "disgsuting."

She said: "All that money could have been spent on care homes and care in the community - they are scrapping services, left right and centre."

Dr John Cormack, a South Woodham Ferrers GP and press secretary for the British Medical Association, said: "I personally think there are better ways of spending public money. Smart public relations can often get you a story in a national newspaper, which is much less expensive than running a big advertisement.

"At a time when the council is struggling to make ends meet, they should be a little more circumspect about it."

Current commercial rates for advertising in a part-colour supplement in The Independent average £10,000 a page, Mr Martin insisted the whole deal had cost no more than £12,000 because of a special working relationship between the council and the paper.

He explained the money for the brochure could not have been spent on any of the under-threat services because it was from the Government and part of a public service agreement (PSA).

He said: "It is part of the work we have been doing with the Essex Economic Partnership to improve the image of the county, to bring tourism into the county and to promote inward investment.

"We negotiated the PSA with the Government and if we hit targets with things, such as increased bed occupancy at hotels and number of companies which move into the county, there will be more funding available."

Mr Martin said he still hoped the tourism information centre in Harwich could be saved.

"We are having to make cutbacks but we still want to promote tourism and still will be spending on tourism but because the Government has cut funding back we have been forced to cut back here and there."

"We don't want to close Harwich Tourism Information Centre and we are working with other agencies to see how we can keep it going and we are still hopeful."

Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for North Essex, said Essex County Council had an impossible job making ends meet with its minimal Government grant and continuing demands from Whitehall.

nReaders can suggest ideas for our campaign by writing to War on Council Waste, EADT Newsdesk, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, calling 01473 324737, faxing to 01473 211391 or email at eadt.newsdesk@eadt.co.uk.

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