Councils urged to keep backing tourism

By Liz HearnshawTOURISM bosses have warned a squeeze on the public purse could threaten some of the county's leading attractions.The warning comes as local authorities attempt to make cuts to keep future rises in their council tax bills as low as possible following anger over huge hikes last year.

By Liz Hearnshaw

TOURISM bosses have warned a squeeze on the public purse could threaten some of the county's leading attractions.

The warning comes as local authorities attempt to make cuts to keep future rises in their council tax bills as low as possible following anger over huge hikes last year.

Tourism bosses now fear the pressure placed on councils could result in a reduction in the financial support they are willing to give to tourism.


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Tess Wright, managing director of the East of England Tourist Board, said: “Local authorities are big funders of tourism, providing infrastructure as well as marketing cash, beach cleansing and environmental maintenance, for example.

“But this is a discretionary activity for councils and as there is a squeeze on local authority budgets at the moment, with council tax being such a huge issue, authorities are naturally looking at where they can trim their expenditure.

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“Tourism, which is not a statutory requirement, is a candidate, and in the current climate it may be threatened.”

She added: “We need to know the value of tourism and ensure its importance to the economy is recognised, while councils need to think twice about cutting expenditure.

“We do not get visitors by accident - we need to invest to get them here and recognise the importance to the economy and the fact that Suffolk is perhaps underperforming.”

But a spokesman for Suffolk Coastal District Council, which boasts Snape Maltings and the picturesque town of Aldeburgh among its tourist draws, said funding had not diminished this year.

“It is true that Suffolk Coastal is facing financial pressures and in the coming year is making savings of around £1.3million in its overall budget. However, for 2004/05 the budget for tourism is unaffected,” he said.

“Suffolk Coastal recognises the importance of tourism to the local economy - it is estimated to bring in about £143m and supports 2,000 jobs - and tourism will remain a major priority for the council.

“But it is unrealistic in the current financial climate to make any long-term commitments about future funding levels.”

A spokesman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which covers the famous Abbey Gardens and the Anglo-Saxon village in West Stow, said its level of expenditure on tourism would be maintained for the coming year.

A spokesman for Babergh District Council, which boasts Gainsborough country, Lavenham and Long Melford among its high points, said the importance of tourism, which brings more than £80m to the area each year, had long been recognised.

“Babergh's tourism and arts manager works closely with other Suffolk councils and agencies in imaginatively and assertively promoting the Babergh area to both UK and overseas visitors,” he added.

“We also have a policy of tourism management aimed at moving people around the district to the less well known areas to spread the economic benefit.”

Judith Phillips, owner of Kentwell Hall, said: “I think that, as a county, we have to work very hard on tourism as I think we have great potential which is not being realised.

“We need to have a more positive attitude and embrace tourism by also improving infrastructure and transport.”

liz.hearnshaw@eadt.co.uk

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