Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  120. But the suggestions have probably been in people's minds for many years and nothing has been done about it.

  (Mr Britten) I cannot say that, I have only been here for 18 months. In my time we do not have enough money but I do thank the Secretary of State for giving us an extra £2 million next year and £2.5 million the year after. Of course it is not enough, I am sure he knows that as well, but he did do us the honour of saying that although everybody needed more money he was persuaded the ETC's need was greatest.

  121. But influence is more important than money, you can have the money and not have the influence. Would you agree?

  (Mr Britten) I do. I hope I can have influence without money but money helps.

  Chairman: If I have influence it is certainly without money.

Miss Kirkbride

  122. I am quite at a loss to understand what you do if you do not promote England as a tourist situation.

  (Mr Britten) We are a strategic and research organisation. The responsibility for tourism, the operational side of tourism, is devolved to the regional tourist boards and they are actively involved in promoting tourism in their area. The kind of things which the ETC does are looking at national issues like, as I say, IT. We cannot look at that locally, it has to be looked at nationally; transport needs to be looked at nationally and not locally; quality, you need one quality brand for the whole area. There are things like research, it would be pointless to undertake consumer research in ten different areas so we do research for the whole industry. There are things like our papers on sustainability which we promote. We have really honed down our responsibilities into what we call competitiveness, quality and wise growth. Those are the things which we try to look over nationally and, of course, we give advice to Government. We are responsible for co-ordinating all the tourist industry activities and advising Government accordingly.

  123. So when you advise the Government do you ever point out in that advice that England gets a completely unfair deal on this?

  (Mr Britten) Yes.

  124. How do you express that to the Secretary of State and what do you say ought to happen?

  (Mr Britten) He knows as well as we do that England relative to (a) its need and (b) the devolved administrations is seriously under-funded. He knows that and we discuss it and I am sure whenever he gets the chance he brings it forward.

  125. Why do you think nothing has happened?

  (Mr Britten) You would have to ask him. I can only say I get support from him.

  126. Do you take up with him the fact that in the devolved areas those businesses with turnovers worth £50,000 a year get 100 per cent rate relief whereas in England they have to be worth only £12,500 a year to get 95 per cent rate relief? How can that be justified? What are you as an organisation doing about that?

  (Mr Britten) The question of rate relief on the foot and mouth issue, you mean?

  127. Yes.

  (Mr Britten) That is primarily done through the Rural Task Force which Mary sits on. I must say my concern primarily—and Mary will respond in a moment—from the ETC is to get business back into tourism. The most fundamental thing we can do is to create an environment, and this is what our £35.5 million is intended to do, so we can recreate business in the tourist areas. That is the greatest favour we can give any of them, I believe, to regenerate the tourist activity which has been lost.

  128. Would not the greatest favour be to stop them being lost in the first place and therefore lobbying more effectively to the British Government as to why England gets a wholly unfair deal compared to various businesses in the devolved assemblies?

  (Ms Lynch) The issue of rate relief and a series of other fiscal measures was put forward at the first meeting of the Task Force and at that point the Treasury and the Government undertook to look at a range of measures and came back and announced some changes, particularly in relation to rate relief. It was after the announcement in relation to England that Wales then announced their package, and I am not quite sure when Scotland announced their package, but it became obvious there was some disparity between the three countries. That has been raised at every meeting of the Task Force and brought forward by many representatives as an issue that is felt to be unfair. It is not just in relation to rate relief either. In the tourism industry, for example, if you are a business in Scotland you qualify for a 50 per cent reduction this year in membership of your area tourist board and a 50 per cent reduction in the fees you will pay for hotel inspections, and that does not apply in England. Many of us have pointed this out. The Government's response to date has been that is an automatic by-product of devolution and that three administrations will not necessarily behave in the same way.

  129. That is all very well, but from your point of view it is a pretty supine position to say that is a matter for the Government and that is the difference between the devolved assemblies. You are there with a remit to help English tourism. You are faced with a grossly unfair situation in which the British taxpayer—bearing in mind that most taxpayers are English taxpayers in the United Kingdom—is facing a wholly unfair deal. I do not hear you say this outside the confines of this room. As the Chairman pointed out, it will remain a secret except to those inside because there is no-one here to report it. How will you get the message across that English visitors are being treated grossly unfairly? What are you doing?

  (Mr Britten) It was made very clear to me on my appointment that we are not a lobbying organisation. We are a body which gives advice to government, and we give that very clearly, very openly, very freely and quite directly.

  130. But any meetings do not involve the press or the wider public.

  (Mr Britten) No, they do not, and that is the business of a quango. We do not go out and lobby for certain things. We are completely open with government bodies of this nature. We are open when we meet the press, we are open, of course, with all the tourism bodies that exist, but we are not a lobbying body.


  131. I would have thought that whether you are a lobbying body or not, if you are given a job to do, you can make a case for how the job should be done.

  (Mr Britten) We make that case extremely clearly whenever we get the opportunity.

Derek Wyatt

  132. You said you got £3.8 million extra. Was that new money or was that drawn down money that was going to come through the financial year at a later period?

  (Mr Britten) That was genuinely new money.

  133. How have you spent that?

  (Ms Lynch) To follow up the point the Chairman has made, it had to be genuinely new money because we do not have a marketing budget, so there was no existing resource to re-allocate. Of the £3.8 million, £3 million has gone on advertising and promotion and the balance has gone to fund the call centre, the provision of data collection for building web sites and provision of leaflets and information, and the collection of research information, because one of the things that was obvious very quickly was that the public were confused and that people were planning promotional activities without a clear idea of what was in the public's mind. So we have been commissioning surveys and feeding those through to the task force and to the regional tourists boards so that they can make better use of the promotional funds they have.

  134. Of the ten regional boards in England, how many did not have web sites at the beginning of this year?

  (Ms Lynch) Six.

  135. Do you not find that rather alarming?

  (Ms Lynch) Absolutely, and I think it is fair to say that the Chairman has been in post for 18 months, and I have been in mine for a year. For the whole of that time we have been raising the issue of investment in ICT, and the critical importance of new media to the success of the industry. Over the course of a year we have made four bids for additional funds, and three of those four bids failed.

  136. Presumably you have written papers to the rural task force.

  (Ms Lynch) We table documents and we have put forward proposals at every meeting. I suppose the difference between the rural task force and our other activities is that the rural task force is looking at the impact on the whole rural economy. Part of it is feeding in the particular impact on the tourism industry and making recommendations on how to help the tourism industry, but also part of our role is to collect the most up-to-date information, advice and guidance and feed it back out to the industry.

  137. Do you not think there ought to be a tourism task force? Is this not back to front? Farming is 0.8 per cent of GDP; tourism is 9 per cent.

  (Mr Britten) There is a Tourism Cabinet, which we have formed in the light of the foot and mouth crisis. It has participation from people in the Cabinet Office, the BTA of course, and the regional tourist boards represented by the North West Tourist Board in this case, and representatives of the industry, both operators and bodies like the National Trust.

  138. What have you recommended? What does it do?

  (Mr Britten) It recommends things which then go into the tourism task force.

  139. What?

  (Mr Britten) First of all, it recommends the messages that should come out—a little bit of this lobbying area. It is primarily a communications lobby. It gathers data, it releases data, and it makes the points which are available for public consumption, and those have been fed out quite successfully. It also gives information for the standard report which comes out every day now from the Tourism Council.

  (Ms Lynch) To clarify on the rural task force, I believe it has now met five times. The part that we played was that in the first two meetings we put forward three main proposals. The first was that the most important issue for businesses was cash, because at the stage of the first meeting many businesses had not actually taken a single pound over the preceding month, and therefore we put forward proposals for rate relief, for a VAT holiday, for sympathetic treatment for people who were having to lay off staff and for soft loans. We put a series of proposals together because we said the first issue was to help the businesses to stay in business. The second issue was to clear up the confusion about what you can and cannot do, because the public certainly believed that the right thing to do was to stay at home. That had to be the second thing, to provide clear, honest and accurate information to the public. The third thing to do was to promote. The first two meetings were focusing very much on the fiscal measures and the cash issues, and we then moved on to the next two measures.

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