Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee Second Report

3  Coastal economies

Overall employment levels

47. Some witnesses drew parallels between a perceived economic decline in many coastal towns to the circumstances surrounding old industrial areas, such as coalfield communities.[126] In marked contrast, it was argued in the Seaside Economy report that "there has actually been strong employment growth in seaside towns. Between 1971 and 2001, total employment in seaside towns grew by around 320,000, more than 20 per cent over that 30-year period; so this not a situation like the old coalfields".[127] Indeed, Professor Fothergill told us that this was "a very different scenario to that which you find in some of the old industrial areas".[128] Statistics provided by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) indicate that, overall, employment levels in coastal and non-coastal areas are broadly comparable.[129] In 2003-04, the employment rate in English coastal towns was 74.6% compared to the English average of 75.1%.[130] Jobcentre Plus stated that unemployment levels in coastal towns are "not particularly different from other parts of the country".[131] Such statistics are broadly consistent with the findings contained in the Seaside Economy report which indicate that the average employment and unemployment rates in coastal towns are similar to the average rates in non-coastal areas. There are a number of coastal towns, however, that have below average levels of employment; in Great Yarmouth the employment rate is 69.6% and in Blackpool it is 71.4%.[132] We note that there has been employment growth in many coastal towns and that there is little significant difference between coastal and non-coastal towns in terms of overall average employment levels. We note, however, that a number of coastal towns do still have significantly lower than average employment levels.[133]


48. Witnesses commented on the high proportion of people living in coastal towns and claiming benefits, particularly incapacity benefit.[134] Lincolnshire Coastal Action Zone Partnership told us "19.4% of the working age population are claiming Incapacity Benefit in some coastal areas of East Lindsey in comparison to the national average of 7%."[135] The Seaside Economy report indicated that the growth in recorded permanent sickness "is a little higher" in seaside towns than in Great Britain as a whole, but that such growth is a national trend.[136] Government figures confirm that the proportion of the population in coastal towns claiming benefits is higher than the national average. The figures showed that in 2006, 15.2% of the working age population in coastal towns were claiming benefits compared to 12.65% across Great Britain.[137]

49. A more detailed examination of sickness and disability benefit claimant numbers shows that while overall average levels in coastal towns are higher than that in non-coastal areas there is an even greater difference in the rate of the rise. Official figures show that in Great Britain there has been a 2.2% increase in the number claiming incapacity benefit, special disability allowance or income support for disability claims since 1997 but that "there has been a 12.3% rise in the number of claimants in coastal towns" over the same period (see table one below).[138] These figures are in stark contrast to the impression given by earlier DWP evidence, which stated that there had only been a "slight rise" in the proportion of sick and disabled benefit claimants in coastal towns and that this trend was "similar to national trends".[139]

50. There is some noticeable variation between coastal towns. For example, in Blackpool there has been a 3.5% fall in the number of sickness and disability benefits claimants since 1997 while over the same time Great Yarmouth and Eastbourne have experienced rises of 33% and 30% respectively.[140]

Table 1: Percentage changes in the number of Working Age Benefit Claimants between May 1997 and Feb 2006

Data Source: Department for Work and Pensions, Ev 123

51. We requested further information regarding the high growth rate in sickness and disability benefit in coastal towns in comparison to the average across Great Britain. The DWP told us that it had not done any analysis which would reveal the causes of this difference, justifying its position by saying that coastal towns were only similar "for the most part, in that they are situated on the coast". [141] This seems inconsistent with its recognition of historically higher than average numbers of incapacity benefit claimants in some coastal towns. Even so DWP told us that it could not "say when the gap in coastal towns emerged or describe the labour market changes that caused it in those areas".[142]

52. A number of witnesses put forward possible reasons for the difference: some suggested that those claiming benefits are attracted to coastal towns specifically, perhaps by the availability of cheap rented accommodation or by the lure of a coastal lifestyle (see para 43).[143] For instance, Professor Fothergill highlighted, "evidence of a very specific process going on whereby some benefit claimants are drawn into seaside towns […] because of the availability of […] private, rented accommodation, often flats in former boarding houses".[144] Yet the DWP stated that there was "no evidence to suggest any additional movement of incapacity benefit claimants to coastal towns than anywhere else in the UK".[145] It supported this claim with statistics showing that only 3.9% of all incapacity benefit claimants in coastal towns had moved there in the last 12 months and were already claiming incapacity benefit where they previously lived.[146] We do not find the DWP's argument convincing: analysis which looks only at movement of benefit claimants in the last 12 months reveals little about the overall proportion of those in receipt of incapacity benefit who made their first claim before they moved to the coast. Thus it remains true that inward migration of incapacity benefit claimants could account, at least partially, for the higher than average growth rate of incapacity benefit claimants in coastal towns. Given the priority that the Government has assigned to reducing the number of people on long-term incapacity benefits in recent years, it is both disappointing and surprising that the DWP should have overlooked analysis of this phenomenon.

53. It is unacceptable and extraordinary that the Government should have no knowledge of a potentially significant national trend in which coastal towns have experienced a disproportionately high rise in the number of people claiming sickness and disability benefit levels. It appears likely that the scale of inward migration of benefit claimants could be a contributory factor. We recommend that the Government investigates this trend with a view to identifying and addressing its causes.


54. Historically economic activity within coastal towns has encompassed traditional industries that have declined, including manufacturing, ship-building, fishing and other maritime sector work, in addition to tourism.[147] Official statistics show that the economy of seaside towns is diverse and that the range and trends in job sectors are broadly in line with the national experience, but with some noticeable differences in specific sectors.[148] Professor Fothergill stated that recent employment growth has been "surprisingly broadbased", indicating that the tourism sector is not the dominant industry in coastal towns to the extent that is commonly perceived, although it may be in some traditional seaside resorts.[149]


55. Tourism has long been important to a number of coastal towns commonly identified as 'seaside resorts'. Seaside resorts became popular destinations during the Victorian era and, according to BRADA, tourism peaked "in terms of volume in 1973".[150] Some witnesses argued that tourism has declined in seaside resorts as foreign holidays and short-haul flights have become more affordable and popular.[151]. BRADA stated that this is not the case and that the "coastal tourism sector has not collapsed, but changed dramatically […] The simplistic views that everyone now goes abroad, therefore no one holidays at home misses the point. For the average UK resident, holiday no longer means just a week or a fortnight in the summer."[152] Its position is supported by official statistics which show that the proportion of tourism-related jobs in coastal towns is still higher than the English average: 11.7% compared to an English average of 8.2%.[153]

56. Although tourism is only one of the employment sectors in coastal towns, for many traditional seaside resorts tourism is of significant economic importance. Domestic visitors to the English coast spent some £4.8 billion in 2005.[154] Data on domestic destinations shows that "Eight of the top 20 (40%) are beach destinations".[155] Only 7% of domestic day trips, however, are to the coast and these trips appear to be concentrated in a relatively small number of seaside resorts.[156] In addition, "the average spend per visit for tourism day trips to the seaside or coast was £18.50, markedly lower than the average spend for tourism day visits to either cities or the countryside (£30.80 and £20.70 respectively)".[157] This relatively low spend can be viewed as confirmation that a visit to the seaside is a 'cheap day out'.

57. There is limited data on the numbers of visitors to the UK who travel to the coast or how much they spend during their visit. The main source of data on overseas visitors is the International Passenger Survey (IPS) which in 2006 introduced for the first time the option of listing a visit to the coastline/countryside.[158] It showed that Brighton was the only traditional seaside resort among the 20 most popular destinations for overnight stays on the part of overseas visitors.[159] This suggests that coastal resorts are less popular with overseas visitors than with visitors from other parts of the UK. The paucity of data relating to overseas travellers visiting the coast would make it difficult to determine the effectiveness of any efforts to encourage overseas visitors to the coast.[160]

58. A number of witnesses commented on the need to improve the quality of the tourism on offer to attract visitors to coastal towns in an increasingly competitive environment.[161] The East Kent Partnership stated "more often than not in a lot of coastal towns, as a result of dilapidation and lack of investment over decades, the quality of the product is sadly lacking".[162] The Lincolnshire Coastal Action Zone told us "coastal branding is weak and needs to be highlighted".[163] While we accept the need to improve the quality of the tourism offer in some coastal towns, our evidence demonstrates that a number of coastal towns have already done so. Particular attention was drawn to examples of coastal towns where a greater number of visitors had been attracted through the development of niche markets. The Market and Coastal Towns Association highlighted Newquay and its focus on surfing, stating "they have almost invented a USP [unique selling point] for themselves".[164] During our visit to Whitstable, we learnt about the regeneration of the area, in particular its successful tourism marketing based around oysters and seafood.[165] Further examples include Southport which has capitalised on golf tourism, Hull with its submarium, St Ives with the Tate gallery and many other seaside towns with their piers. [166] Coastal towns also have the opportunity to capitalise on the attractiveness of their national environment to draw visitors in. For instance, in Exmouth we heard about plans for a visitor centre to take advantage of the town's position on the Jurassic coastline.[167] Other towns have the opportunity to develop in the increasingly popular eco-tourism market. Those towns that have been successful in their development of 'niche' markets and improving tourism tend to be ones where the local community has united behind a common vision for their area (see para 76).

59. The Minister for State for Sport, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Rt Hon. Richard Caborn MP, gave his support for such development of niche markets as a means of improving tourism in coastal towns. He referred to his department's work to "drive the quality up" and acknowledged an historic lack of investment that has characterised the "Cinderella" industry of tourism.[168] We note, however, that neither the Government nor the lead national agency for tourism, VisitBritain, has a national strategy for coastal tourism. In contrast, the Welsh Assembly Government, has published a Welsh Coastal Tourism Strategy, stating that its intention is to establish a clear vision for the development of coastal tourism and realise the economic potential of the coastline.[169] Welsh coastal towns that rely on tourism will undoubtedly welcome this development, and the impact of the coastal tourism strategy may have lessons for tourism approaches in England.

60. Tourism continues to be an economically important sector for many coastal towns, and it is important that the Government recognises this. We recommend that the Government conducts an immediate study on coastal tourism, including evaluating the levels and spend of domestic and inbound visitors to the coast in comparison to non-coastal areas. We urge the Government to ensure that action is taken at a national level to promote visiting the English seaside, and to consider the merits of introducing a national coastal tourism strategy, following the example of Wales.


61. Many witnesses have also commented on the need for coastal towns to develop a diverse economy and to reduce dependency on tourism.[170] The Lincolnshire Coastal Action Zone argued that economic strategies to support tourism and the diversification of industry do not have to be mutually exclusive but can be complementary.[171] The rationale for diversification is particularly linked to the nature of the jobs within the tourism sector and the seasonality of work (see para 62). Professor Fothergill stated that Brighton was an example where diversification had been achieved successfully: "At the core there is clearly a seaside tourism industry […] but Brighton is a town with a big commercial sector, with two universities […] it is a commuting settlement for London".[172] The Seaside Economy report concludes that it would be advantageous to create jobs across a wide range of sectors in order to provide the greatest economic opportunities for seaside residents.[173] Local strategies to increase jobs in high-skilled growth areas, such as IT and creative industries may be attractive to employers as many coastal towns are desirable places for employees to live. Strategies that encourage people to live as well as work in the local area are likely to bring increased economic and social benefits to those existing communities. Some coastal towns have successfully diversified their economies and reduced their dependency upon tourism. Many others would benefit from similar developments, particularly given the seasonal, low-skill and low-wage nature of employment in tourism. Economic diversification should be taken into account in regional and local regeneration strategies and development plans. We recommend that the Government encourages the sharing of best practice on economic diversification approaches for coastal towns.


62. The seasonality of tourism in England is widely recognised. Tourism in coastal resorts is particularly limited to the summer months, given the preference of visitors for warmer weather for outdoor activities. BRADA stated in its publication UK Seaside Resorts that in 1996, for instance, "51% of all domestic holiday spending took place between July and September."[174] A large number of our witnesses pointed out that such seasonality resulted in a high proportion of temporary and short-term employment in coastal towns.[175]

63. In contrast to the evidence provided by our witnesses on seasonality for coastal towns, Jobcentre Plus initially downplayed the significance of seasonality as an issue in coastal towns. It stated that seasonality was less significant than it had been in the past. It acknowledged that this was an issue in some coastal towns but stressed, "the vast bulk of employment tends not to be associated with tourism".[176] The DWP did not comment specifically on the seasonality of employment in its original written submission. It did, however, comment on levels of temporary employment—a category that covers seasonal employment under this definition.[177] It stated that there was no marked difference between coastal and non-coastal areas in levels of temporary employment and that there was "little evidence that employment in coastal towns is particularly concentrated in temporary or self-employment" and "no prevalence of temporary employment in coastal towns".[178]

64. We were not satisfied with this response, which could be viewed as misleading, and therefore requested further details. DWP provided statistics subsequently demonstrating that seasonal work in coastal towns was more than double that found in non-coastal towns.[179] This data establishes that there is a significantly higher level of seasonal employment in coastal towns and that this characteristic is not solely historic but rather a significant feature of employment patterns in coastal towns today.[180] This conclusion, based upon the statistical evidence, appears to be at odds with the views expressed and impression left after receiving evidence from Jobcentre Plus and the original DWP evidence. We find it surprising that the significance of seasonal work in coastal towns was not recognised by the Department of Work and Pensions, and only became apparent as a result of further investigation by the Committee.

65. The seasonal nature of tourism has economic and social consequences, particularly for traditional seaside resorts. One of the suggested consequences is higher unemployment levels during the winter months. In the Seaside Economy report it was stated "it has long been known that there is a problem of seasonal unemployment in seaside towns".[181] Caradon District Council provided a clear example: it told us "there are still around twice as many claimants in Looe in the winter as there are in the summer".[182] Seasonal unemployment may also contribute to a sense of social isolation. The Foyer Federation argued that the winter closure of facilities and services used by young people had an adverse effect: "without anything to do, young people can get involved in negative behaviour—drug and alcohol misuse".[183]

66. Many witnesses commented on the low-skill, low-wage and often part-time nature of employment in many coastal towns. The part-time nature of employment is linked to the nature of the tourism sector: indeed, "approximately 40% of the hotels and restaurants sector workforce in the UK as a whole works part-time".[184] Professor Fothergill stated that "the disproportionate share of the overall jobs in seaside towns are part-time, and that this obviously raises worries about what the implications are for household incomes and so on".[185] The Minister for State, Industry and the Regions, Department for Trade and Industry, Rt Hon Margaret Hodge stated that "If you talk about a feature of a coastal town, the low-wage, low-income, low-skill, seasonal employment is a feature".[186]

67. The seasonality of the economy in coastal towns presents economic and social challenges that need to be considered by national and local policy-makers. The Department of Work and Pensions' failure to highlight the significance of seasonality in its original evidence is suggestive of a wider lack of understanding in Government of the specific employment patterns in many coastal towns and the challenges associated with those patterns.


68. Evidence highlighted the low levels of aspiration and educational attainment by young people in some coastal communities, but this is by no means a universal pattern, with some coastal towns showing high levels of educational achievement. For example, in Hastings the proportion of school leavers with GCSEs grades A to C in 2003-04 was 14.9% below the national average.[187] The Learning and Skills Council stated that the issue of low attainment levels and aspirations "certainly applies to coastal areas" but were no more prevalent than in inner cities or other areas with a high rate of deprivation".[188]

69. The educational profile of coastal towns is linked to the nature of their economy and environment. The Coastal Academy argued that many young people in coastal towns have low aspirations "by virtue of career and job opportunities not being available in their home area".[189] The Foyer Federation stated that the poor provision and high cost of public transport acted as barriers to young people staying on in education and attending college in some coastal areas.[190] The Learning and Skills Council agreed that this was a factor and that "in any periphery area or rural area there is always an issue of access to education".[191] Some witnesses pointed out that those young people in coastal towns who did attain higher level qualifications often left to pursue higher education elsewhere and did not return, reinforcing the low-skill levels in coastal towns.[192]

70. The New Economics Foundation argued that it was important to break the link between, on the one hand, low aspirations and low educational attainment and, on the other, a low-wage economy which currently serve to reinforce one another.[193] During our visit to Margate and Hastings local people stressed the importance of raising educational attainment levels to facilitate local regeneration. They argued that this would make the area more attractive to private sector investors and employers.[194] Others stressed the importance in building stronger links between the education and business sectors to promote the development of vocational education.[195]

71. The evidence suggests that a high number of young people in some coastal communities have low educational attainment levels and low aspirations. While we accept that raising educational achievement and career aspirations is an important element in local regeneration, we have no evidence to convince us that the experience of coastal communities in this regard is significantly different from other areas, such as inner cities or areas of deprivation, where the aspirations of young people and their level of educational attainment are lower than the national average. Any national initiatives to increase educational attainment levels in targeted geographical areas, should ensure that coastal communities with low attainment levels are included.

126   Ev 69, 117, HC 1023-II and Margate Visit Note, p2. See also Coalfield Communities, HC 44-I of Session 2003-04, Fourth Report of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Committee. Back

127   The Seaside Economy, p. 5 Back

128   Q 89 Back

129   Ev 100. See Table 1: Employment Rates in Coastal Towns Back

130   Ev 100. See Table 1: Employment Rates in Coastal Towns Back

131   Q 361 Back

132   Ev 100. See Table 1: Employment Rates in Coastal Towns Back

133   See also Ev 122, HC 1023-II Back

134   Ev 47, 96,100, HC 1023-II Back

135   Ev 124, HC 1023-II Back

136   The Seaside Economy, p. 42 Back

137   Ev 123. See Table 3: Percentage of Working Age Population on Benefit - May 97 & February 06  Back

138   Ev 123. See Table 2: Actual and Percentage Changes in Working Age Benefit Claimants between May 1997 and Feb 2006 Back

139   Ev 98 Back

140   Ev 123 Back

141   Ev 123 Back

142   Ev 123 Back

143   The Seaside Economy, p 39 Back

144   Q 100 Back

145   Ev 101 Back

146   Ev 101 Back

147   Q 288 Back

148   Ev 106-107. The four sectors with variables of more than 2% between coastal towns and the English average are; tourism, health and social care, real estate, renting, business activities, and manufacturing.  Back

149   Q 93 Back

150   Ev 93, HC 1023-II Back

151   Ev 147, 91, HC 1023-II Back

152   Ev 92, HC 1023-II Back

153   Ev 106-107 Back

154   Ev 110 Back

155   VisitBritain Press Release VB42/06 p 1. These destinations are Blackpool, Scarborough, Isle of Wight, Skegness, Bournemouth, Great Yarmouth, Brighton and Hove, and Torquay. Back

156   Ev 110-112 Back

157   Ev 110-112 Back

158   Ev 110-112 Back

159   Ev 110-112 Back

160   Ev 110-112 Back

161   Q 185 Back

162   Q 148 Back

163   National Coastal Futures Symposium: The Report, 18th - 19th July 2006, Royal Renaissance Hotel Skegness, October 2006. Background paper from the Lincolnshire Coastal Action Zone, p 17 Back

164   Q 116, See also Q 187 Back

165   A Committee visit to Margate, Whitstable and Hastings took place on 18 October 2006. Back

166   Q 192 Back

167   Annex A Back

168   Q 485 Back

169   Welsh Coastal Tourism Strategy: Draft Final Strategy, Welsh Assembly Government, January 2006 (consultation period ends March 2007) Back

170   Ev 18, 6, 65, 103, 121, HC 1023-II Back

171   National Coastal Futures Symposium: The Report, 18th - 19th July 2006, Royal Renaissance Hotel Skegness, October 2006. Background paper from the Lincolnshire Coastal Action Zone Back

172   Q 105 Back

173   The Seaside Economy, p. 107 Back

174   UK seaside resorts: behind the façade, BRADA (formerly the British Resorts Association), 2000. Back

175   Ev 1, 4, 5, 11, 14, 16, 23, 30, 34, 36, 62, 67, 80, 90, 93, 140, 159, 160, 166, HC 1023-II Back

176   Q 353 Back

177   Ev 100 Back

178   Ev 94 Back

179   Seasonal employment in coastal towns 2005 was 15% in comparison the English average of 6%. Back

180   Q 353 Back

181  The Seaside Economy, p 20 Back

182   Ev 11, HC 1023-II Back

183   Q 330.See also Annex B and Annex D Back

184   UK seaside resorts: behind the façade, BRADA (formerly the British Resorts Association), 2000 Back

185   Q 99 Back

186   Q 447 Back

187   Ev 23, HC 1023-II Back

188   Q 410-411 Back

189   Ev 1, HC 1023-II Back

190   Ev 90 Back

191   Q 405 Back

192   Ev 17, 37, 131, 171, HC 1023-II. See also para 19 Back

193   Ev 23, HC 1023-II Back

194   Annex B, Annex D Back

195   Ev 68, 131, HC 1023-II Back

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