Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee Second Report


5  National policy and initiatives

Departmental action

100. No one Government department has specific responsibility for coastal towns and responsibility for policy areas affecting coastal towns is shared across a number of Government departments.

101. The Department for Trade and Industry has policy responsibility for the RDAs. RDAs are required to report on their inward investment levels and business growth levels, including disaggregating their output data on a rural/urban basis. The RDAs do not currently disaggregate their data by coastal towns. We requested that this be done but were told that it was not possible as the information was not available from RDA Management Information Systems.[278] Without data collated at a regional or national level on coastal towns, an evaluation of the economic situation and the adoption of appropriate policy responses is difficult, as is any evaluation of the effectiveness of RDAs in meeting the needs of coastal towns. The Minister for Industry and the Regions told us that her Department was currently reviewing the evaluation and monitoring data on the performance of RDAs. She agreed that at present it was not possible to determine the performance of RDAs in meeting the needs of coastal towns and that in her view the department did not monitor coastal towns in sufficient detail.[279] Given that the Government does not collate or analyse data on the investment levels and business growth in coastal towns it is difficult to see the basis for any confidence that coastal RDAs are effectively meeting the economic needs of the coastal towns in their respective regions. We note that currently RDAs disaggregate their output data on a rural/urban basis. We urge the Government to require RDAs to disaggregate their data in relation to coastal areas in their region. This would enable the Government to evaluate the effectiveness of RDAs in developing the economies of coastal towns within their regions.

102. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has policy responsibility for tourism. There are a large number of other bodies and partnerships with delegated responsibility for tourism. VisitBritain is the national tourism agency with responsibility for advising Government and the promotion of Britain worldwide. The RDAs have a strategic responsibility for tourism within their regions. BRADA stated that there is "a multitude of different regional and sub regional structures" for tourism, including 110 Destination Management Organisations nationally with responsibility for promoting their areas.[280] It argued that the structures are confusing and asserted that "if tourism interests find it confusing what hope [is there] for the [Government] and others trying to deliver broader policies with tourism implications".[281] The British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers & Attractions argued that at present there "is insufficient co-ordination in the development of many of the tourist destinations that we have around the UK, particularly on the coast" and that this "is causing some of the difficulties they are facing".[282] VisitBritain agreed that there are "a lot of bodies that are involved that are not necessarily networked in the way that they should be, and one of the challenges for Partners for England is to network them successfully."[283] The Minister for State for Sport, Rt Hon. Richard Caborn MP, agreed, "there are far too many bodies […] and that really needs to be streamlined".[284] Fragmentation within the tourism support sector is a national issue and not specific to coastal towns. Coastal towns, as well as other tourist areas, would benefit from a more coherent and streamlined national structure.

103. Much of our evidence suggests insufficient appreciation on the part of Government of the experiences and needs of coastal towns.[285] BURA stated that the Government had no understanding of the ways in which national policies on HMOs or the benefits system, for instance, impacted on coastal towns specifically.[286] The Government recognises that there is a range of common characteristics found in many coastal towns but has admitted that in recent years it has not undertaken any large scale research on the problems facing coastal towns.[287] Levels of understanding about the needs of coastal towns also appear to vary between Government departments. As discussed previously, the Department for Work and Pensions appeared to have little awareness of the continuing levels of seasonality of employment within coastal towns and any policy implications resulting from this (see para 42). In contrast, the Minister for Industry and the Regions accepted that seasonal employment was a feature of coastal towns.[288] The Minister for Local Government stated that, in his view, further research on the impact of policy would help the Government to understand fully the needs of coastal towns and inform policy-making.[289] We agree.

104. The Government told us it did not have a standard definition of coastal towns.[290] This is reflected in the evidence provided from various Government departments. The DCLG's evidence drew upon data from a sample group of 30 coastal towns, while the views expressed by the DWP appear to be based on evidence from 17 selected coastal towns.[291] Such variations have implications for policy development. It is difficult to see how a unified, Government-wide understanding of coastal towns can be developed without a common evidence base. The Seaside Economy report states "Seaside towns are the least understood of Britain's 'problem' areas".[292] We concur with this view and believe the Government does not sufficiently appreciate the needs of coastal towns.

105. A number of witnesses stated that they were unable to comment on the effectiveness of Government or specific departments, due to their lack of awareness of any Governmental action taken specifically on coastal towns.[293] Where witnesses were able to comment on cross-departmental Government liaison, they often argued that a more joined-up approach was needed.[294] The East Kent Partnership, for instance, told us that the onus is currently on local authorities to pursue different Government departments to support sustainable development strategies and projects, rather than one coherent Government approach to supporting local regeneration and that, this can be a barrier to successful regeneration.[295]

106. There is, nevertheless, some evidence which suggests that in a few specific policy areas that affect coastal towns, there is cross-departmental liaison. For example, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment and Food and Rural Affairs, Barry Gardiner MP told us that DEFRA has liaised closely with the DCLG on the development of recent policy planning statements and on rural housing issues.[296] The DCMS, for example, has also worked with the DCLG to produce good practice planning guidance for tourism.[297] All Government policies can be seen to affect the lives of residents in coastal towns in some way. Given this situation, and that generally cross-departmental liaison takes place on policies, it is arguably easy to demonstrate that cross-departmental liaison takes place on general policy areas that these affect coastal towns. It is less easy to demonstrate that there is liaison on a strategic level specifically on coastal towns.

107. The Rt Hon. Margaret Hodge MP explained that, at a ministerial level, no regular discussions currently take place on coastal towns specifically but she thought that it would be a "good idea" if they did.[298] The DCLG did not provide any evidence of inter-departmental liaison specifically on coastal towns but provided examples of specific liaison on policy areas that affect coastal towns such as casino policy and coastal flooding.[299] There is no evidence of any strategic interdepartmental co-operation taking place specifically on coastal towns.

108. The Government has accepted that there are some common features shared by many coastal towns and that they face particular challenges.[300] Many of these challenges cannot be addressed successfully without inter-departmental liaison. Examples of issues that would benefit from greater cross-departmental liaison include:

  • Addressing the high levels of deprivation in many coastal towns, through close liaison between DCLG and DTI, RDAS;
  • Improving the transport links to many coastal towns, requiring the DCLG to work with the Department for Transport;
  • Dealing with the policy implications of the high elderly and vulnerable population found in many coastal towns through joint working between DCLG and the Department of Health;
  • Tackling the challenges of seasonality in coastal towns through close liaison between DCLG and the DTI, and
  • Reducing levels and concentrations of benefit dependency in coastal towns through a joint approach between the DCLG and the DWP.

109. The lack of cross-departmental liaison on coastal towns is disappointing, indicating that there is a national policy vacuum on coastal towns. Given the common characteristics shared by many coastal towns and the cross-cutting nature of the common issues facing them, cross-departmental joint working must be put in place. This would be facilitated by greater understanding and transparency over the situation of coastal towns. The Government should establish a permanent cross-departmental working group on coastal towns led by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Its role should include monitoring and promoting cross-departmental understanding of the needs of coastal towns, consideration of the effect of Government policy on coastal towns and overview of any national initiatives for coastal towns.

A NATIONAL STRATEGY FOR COASTAL TOWNS

110. The Lincolnshire Coastal Action Zone called for a National Coastal Regeneration Strategy to address the needs of coastal towns.[301] It called for this to include a number of national initiatives such as: the establishment of a coastal enterprise zone; a housing-led regeneration scheme; the re-location of public sector employment to coastal areas and 'coastal proofing' of national policies.[302] It argued that such a national strategy was essential to address effectively the common issues affecting coastal towns.[303] BURA also supported the principle of having a national strategy for coastal towns, stressing the need for shared learning, although it acknowledges some risk if the strategy were to be seen as imposed by central Government BRADA commented that theoretically a single national approach to coastal towns, including funding, sounded desirable, yet was sceptical that this could be practically implemented.[304] Professor Fothergill stated that a "one-size-fits-all approach is not necessarily appropriate" given the level of diversity among coastal towns.[305] SEEDA argued that coastal towns were too diverse to have a meaningful national strategy but that greater national recognition of the common issues faced in coastal towns and appropriate interventions in response would be welcome.[306] Our analysis of the evidence has demonstrated that coastal towns are diverse but that many coastal towns do share some common features, including deprivation. We are convinced that there is a need for greater Governmental understanding and appreciation of the needs of coastal towns. The variety of the challenges and opportunities that exist for coastal towns, however, make it difficult to conceive of a national strategy that would both an effective tool for delivery and sufficiently localised to reflect the diversity of conditions and needs in coastal towns and on this basis we are not recommending the adoption of a national strategy solely for coastal communities.


278   Ev 109 Back

279   Q 450 Back

280   Ev 97, HC 1023-II Back

281   Ev 97, HC 1023-II Back

282   Q 174 Back

283   Q 212 Back

284   Q 494 Back

285   See for example Ev 59, 62, HC 1023-II Back

286   Q 284 Back

287   Ev 166, HC 1023-II Back

288   Ev 65, HC 1023-II Back

289   Q 522 Back

290   Ev 166, HC 1023-II Back

291   Ev 175, HC 1023-II. See also Ev 92. Back

292   The Seaside Economy, p. 9 Back

293   Ev 8, 41, HC 1023-II Back

294   Ev 68, 99, 116, 137, HC 1023-II Back

295   Ev 44, HC 1023-II Back

296   Q 469 Back

297   Q 501 Back

298   Ev 67, HC 1023-II Back

299   Ev 168, HC 1023-II Back

300   Ev 166, HC 1023-II Back

301   Ev 116, HC 1023-II. See also Ev 53, HC 1023-II. Back

302   Ev 119, HC 1203-II Back

303   Ev 116, C 1023-II Back

304   Q 132 Back

305   Q 103 Back

306   Q 69 Back


 
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