Previous Section Index Home Page

22 Jan 2009 : Column 308WH—continued

That is a bizarre question to have even asked. It is like asking, “How many people prefer to be in the sunshine than in the rain?” Such questions are obvious. A more
22 Jan 2009 : Column 309WH
pertinent thing to ask would be what percentage of people are lacking digital TV and what plans there are to introduce it. That would be more pertinent than asking whether they enjoy the facility.

The Minister congratulated the city of Liverpool on being the capital of culture and that is endorsed by the Opposition. However, a recent report by Visit Britain, which I am sure the Minister with responsibility for tourism is familiar with, mentions Virgin Trains’ concern arising from its wanting to build on that initiative and to provide a service to encourage people to visit Liverpool. I understand that it wrote to the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the city of Liverpool, Visit Britain and Visit England—I stand corrected if that is not so—and myriad other organisations, because it did not know who was responsible for the tourism marketing strategy for that city.

We in the Opposition feel that the marketing capability in respect of tourism in the UK has gone a little awry. That has been compounded by devolution, since 1998, by Visit Scotland and Visit Wales doing their thing and by the nine regions doing their own thing, too. Until we pointed it out to the Government, six different offices representing different corners of the UK were marketing their patch in Boston, Massachusetts. How ridiculous is that? Instead of having one voice saying, “Come to Great Britain”, all those organisations were spending a lot of money, with overlapping interests, trying to market their corner. People are not even aware of what is in the north-west of England, by way of a brand name, and certainly not the south-west—although they may have heard of Blackpool and Liverpool—but they will certainly have heard of Great Britain. That should be the starting point.

I am pleased that Visit Britain has now put forward a major review that starts to reconstruct our marketing capability to ensure that our overseas marketing tactics have one voice and that, as we filter to the lower levels, there is better co-ordination. Huge sums have been wasted and money has been prevented from getting to the front line of tourist destinations. I come from the south-west and represent Bournemouth, which is a great tourist seaside town, yet money gets stuck in the South West of England Regional Development Agency, never to be seen by the front line of tourism. That must change.

Of course, the tourism review was forced on Visit Britain, because the Department cut the budget over the next three years by 20 per cent. That is shocking when we are to host the Olympics in 2012, the most important sports event in a generation. We should be harnessing that opportunity and taking advantage of the pictures that will be broadcast to billions of people around the world. Has any money been put aside to take advantage of that opportunity? Not one single penny. Instead, the overall budget has been cut. That budget was stagnant for 10 years in a row at £35 million, which, year on year, means a decrease in real terms. Will the Minister look at the structure, ensure that we are getting value for money and, most importantly, see whether we are really harnessing the benefits of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

The Minister touched briefly on the money that is going to seaside towns: £14 million—

22 Jan 2009 : Column 310WH

Mr. Sutcliffe: Fifteen.

Mr. Ellwood: Yes, £15 million over the next three years. When that is divided up and sliced even further and given to the various seaside resorts, that is not a huge amount of funding. We need to look at that in more detail.

We have another opportunity in the sense that there is a recession on at the moment. People will revise where they may go on holiday. Certainly, from a domestic perspective there is now more opportunity, because people will say, “I cannot afford to go on that big holiday abroad any more. I’ll stay local.” But they will only stay local if they know that there are places and fantastic attractions to visit around the UK. That goes back to the marketing model that we have in the UK. We have some great brand names that are almost over-marketed—we know where they are—but other places do not even get a look in.

That is about our capability to encourage the domestic audience to stay in the UK. The situation I mentioned earlier is reflected in going to any travel agent, which will have a mass of leaflets, booklets and illustrative magazines enticing people to all corners of the globe, particularly Spain. There will often be a little section on Great Britain. On speaking to the travel agent, that person has probably actually visited Spain and stayed in a tourist resort there, so they can say, “Yes, I like this place”, and really encourage people to go there. We need to ensure that all travel agents are up to speed on the fantastic offerings that we have in the UK.

We are the sixth most visited place in the world. That is a fantastic position to be in, but if we compare that fact with the numbers involved in global tourism from 1997 to today, the statistics are sad to see. In 1997 we had 6.9 per cent. of the global tourism market, which is an impressive statistic. Today, that figure has dropped to 3.3 per cent. Of course, the Government say, every time, “Well, more people are coming to Britain.” That is true, but that is because more people are travelling, there is more money in our pockets and the easyJets of this world make it easier to travel. But as everybody’s ability to go abroad is increasing, we are actually losing out on the net global increase. Competition is getting tougher. Dubai did not really exist as a tourist destination 10 years ago and places such as Thailand were probably out of reach for many people, because it was too expensive. We need to continue to reinvent our offerings here in the UK.

Mr. Don Foster: On that point, given that the general thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks is that the Government should take tourism seriously—as he knows, that is also the name of the campaign being run by the industry—does he not share my view that it was pretty disgraceful for the Prime Minister to claim that there was increased support for tourism and to announce huge tranches of additional money, only for us to discover that that money was coming from a combination of a further take from Visit Britain and from the industry, with no additional money from the Government?

Mr. Ellwood: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I think that he is referring to the speech made in Liverpool only a couple of weeks ago. It is a prime example of double-accounting. No doubt the Minister
22 Jan 2009 : Column 311WH
will say what he always says when we put that case to him—I saw the notes being passed from the support element at the back—which is that it is not just £35 million; it is also the £350 million that is passed to the RDAs throughout the country and spent on tourism. But it is not spent on tourism—that is my point. It is not spent on the direct tourism market. It is lost in the mĂȘlée of how RDAs run themselves. That is what we are saying. If we are to be serious about tourism, we need to ensure that there is not the double-accounting referred to by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), with the Prime Minister standing up and saying, “Yes, I very much support tourism.”

Mr. Sutcliffe rose—

Mr. Ellwood: I was about to come on to Stonehenge, but before I do that, I will generously give way.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We do not often get the opportunity to have this type of debate among the three spokespeople on these issues. If he feels that the investment is not going in, will he explain how that would be helped by the announced policies of the leader of his party to cut public spending? It is all right attacking the Government for not putting in more money, but how would we cope with less money if the day ever came when the hon. Gentleman was part of the Government?

Mr. Ellwood: I do not quite understand the intervention. I am happy for the Minister to intervene again. Can he explain where he sees any costs being cut?

Mr. Sutcliffe: The announcements were that our spending plans would not be matched and that there would be a reduction in public spending. If that were the case, how could the hon. Gentleman achieve his objectives, including that of more money being spent on tourism?

Mr. Ellwood: Unfortunately, the Chancellor of the Exchequer now comes regularly to the main Chamber to tell us that things are slightly worse than they were before. In fact, he popped in on Monday to say, “Well, I’m going to have to borrow a bit more,” as though he had just come back from the supermarket and had to pop back for another pint of milk. Things are getting bad in this country. I would not even be surprised if the Chancellor turned up one day and said, “Well, I now have to go to the International Monetary Fund for a bail-out.” I do not disagree with the Minister in saying that things are tough and money is tight, but if he is trying to encourage me to commit now to a certain amount of funding, of course I will not do that. It would be irresponsible when the world is changing so much around us. We will not even know the state of the real figures until there is a general election.

However, I can assure the Minister that there will be a new look at the way in which the current money is spent to ensure that there is better value for money. There is a lot of money kicking around at the moment that is being prevented from getting to the front line because it is getting stuck in the RDAs and because there is overlap. There is not even, from the perspective of a local authority, encouragement to get tourism going. I shall come on to that.

22 Jan 2009 : Column 312WH

Mr. Sutcliffe: This is important; I am not trying to engage in a knockabout debate. The Leader of the Opposition has made statements in the House that there will be a reduction in the spending of each Department, including the DCMS. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that would be the case—that the Conservatives would try to find efficiency savings and there would be a reduction in spending in the DCMS?

Mr. Ellwood: The Minister is doing his best to set traps for me, but I will not wander down that road. As many times as he asks me, I will not say here today that we will spend x amount more funding. Obviously, I will say, “Let’s take advantage of the opportunities.” That makes sense. Visit Britain makes it clear that for every £1 that it spends on advertising abroad, it brings £40 back into this country. We have seen the benefits of advertising not only to the UK market—the domestic market—but beyond. I do not think that I made this point strongly enough. The fact that the euro and the dollar are so strong means that those areas are looking for opportunities. They need to be harnessed. I am pleased that Visit London announced just this last week an extra £200,000 to market London to the continent.

That illustrates another problem. London is the powerhouse behind British tourism. Two thirds of all visitors coming to the UK for tourism go to Heathrow. Of course, the Heathrow experience is a whole other debate. Half of all tourists coming into the UK go to London. That is great. It obviously reflects the importance of the culture and heritage, the fantastic attractions and the retail opportunities. However, we need to ensure that people are aware that there are places other than London—other than Buckingham palace, Madame Tussauds and Oxford street. We need to make them aware that there is Stonehenge, the Lake district and the Bournemouth seaside—that they can go to other places in the UK. That is not being done at the moment. We are not sharing the huge tourism benefits that London produces with the rest of the country. Again, that reflects the system. London is very good, but there is not that communication with the nine RDAs.

I know that Visit England has been given a new voice, finally, because of the review, to say, “Let’s forget the nine RDAs. Of course there are some things we can do on a regional level, but let’s have a voice for England so that it can compete on a national basis with Scotland and Wales.” That will ensure that there is more cohesion between the many voices that make up our tourism industry, which is important.

Tourism is a £90 billion industry. It is the fifth biggest industry in the UK—bigger than fishing and bigger than the IT services industry. However, it is given scant regard in the House. I asked the Leader of the House whether we could have an annual debate so that hon. Members representing all corners of Great Britain could talk about tourism, but that request was denied, even though tourism is such an important industry. The 200,000 small and medium-sized businesses that make up our tourism industry need Government support. I know that the Minister has responsibility only for about one fifth of the tourism industry. I mentioned Heathrow. That is the responsibility of the Department for Transport. The fire regulations, which are the real burden on any farmhouse that is trying to run a bed and breakfast or hotel, were suddenly changed, which affected every bed
22 Jan 2009 : Column 313WH
and breakfast in the country. Was the Department for Culture, Media and Sport even questioned about that or consulted? No.

The price of visas jumped by 130 per cent. According to the Tourism Alliance, that means that we have lost out on tens of thousands of visitors, mostly from the Orient, to the UK. The UK has about 100,000 Chinese visitors every year. Compare that with France or Germany, which have 500,000. Why is that the case? Visas and all the other extra costs were imposed without any consultation with the Department that was supposed to be looking after tourism. I could go on and on. All sorts of legislation created in other Departments was put through with no consideration of the impact that it would have on the tourism industry. That is why greater cohesion is needed.

I tabled a parliamentary question on the issue. I asked how often the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport meets his colleagues from the Department for Transport, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the other Departments to which there is a tourism aspect, but still there has been no reply. I am happy to be corrected, but I suspect that the answer is that there is no regular meeting whatever; they may touch base occasionally.

Stonehenge came up in parliamentary questions on Monday. The Government have spent £30 million on a paper exercise to work out what to do. That is our premier outdoor tourist attraction, yet we ignore its requirements. It is a timeless monument, and it seems that the Government have no time to look after it. Responsibility for whether there should be a road closure has been pushed around. The Minister knows that the spur road could be shut straight away, but the responsibility is being pushed around. Is it a regional responsibility? Is it the responsibility of Salisbury? Is it the responsibility of Visit England? Is it the responsibility of the DCMS? Is it the responsibility of Visit Britain? We need leadership in that regard, and that is exactly why a higher-profile role needs to be taken by the Minister responsible for tourism. That is one major change that a Conservative Government would make. We would have a Minister for Tourism with sole responsibility for communicating the messages from the industry and communicating with other parts of the Department.

We would examine structural issues. We need a more efficient process for marketing the UK. That is what I wanted to see in the annual report, but it pays scant regard to tourism. It talks about various other issues. As glossy as the document is—it is very colourful—it misses some of the most important aspects of that. I know that I have been talking for a long time and that other hon. Members want to speak, and I see that I am testing your patience, Mrs. Anderson, but I would like to touch on two other areas.

The Minister mentioned bingo, and I know that he will be upset if I do not bring that up, particularly after our debate. The issue of gambling is a difficult subject, and requires the right level of legislation, whether someone is in a penny arcade at the seaside or in Crockfords casino. We must ensure that we protect those who get sucked into the world of gambling and find that they cannot get out. That is important.

22 Jan 2009 : Column 314WH

The prevalence survey, which is run by the Gambling Commission, looks at how many people get caught on the wrong side of gambling. It shows that bingo halls and arcades are not as great a concern as some other aspects of gambling—such as internet gambling and fixed-odds betting terminals—which are growing in popularity. Fixed-odds betting terminals are found in bookmakers and are here to stay. They will not change. We need to view the bigger picture by stepping back and looking at what is happening to all aspects of gambling, rather than taking things in individual slices.

This week, we debated a statutory instrument on category B3 machines in bingo halls. It was as if we could somehow tweak that issue on its own without really looking at its impact or at any other aspects. The measure was bizarre in its own right because it moved the number of category B3 machines that bingo halls are allowed to own from four to eight. If a bingo hall has only eight machines, every one of them can now be a B3 machine, which is a heavy-duty, big-stake, big-prize machine. However, if it is a massive bingo hall with 50 machines—and there are some—it too can have only eight big, high-paying B3 machines.

That statutory instrument takes an illogical approach. I would have suggested that a percentage—one fifth—of all machines in bingo halls should be allowed to be B3s. There are myriad consultations on various aspects of gambling and they are all reporting at different times rather than taking stock of gambling in its entirety. The changes that are taking place with the advent of technology are not really covered in the report, yet the advent and growth of internet gambling, and the concerns linked to that, are some of the biggest issues that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will be dealing with over the next five to 10 years.

Finally, I would like to look at the annual report and ask the Minister to comment on some of the targets mentioned in it. I begin with the sports target on page 34:

In its own words, the report describes the progress made as “slippage.” I will not read out all the targets, but the same applies to the arts target on page 35—progress is reported as “slippage”. Progress on the museums and galleries target on page 36 is reported as “slippage.” The historic environment target—

Mr. Foster: Slippage.

Mr. Ellwood: Slippage, we hear. I did not even need to say it. For all the targets set by the DCMS, the progress has been summed up as slippage. Surely the Minister should give us some reason why that is the case, and tell us what is being done to rectify it. The purpose of our annual debate on culture, media and sport is to understand where this is going.

I shall end where I began by saying that the DCMS is a wonderful Department and provides for those important aspects of life that are perhaps less serious than in other Departments, but just as important because they regard quality of life. We are all united in wanting to support
22 Jan 2009 : Column 315WH
that. However, the report suggests that the Government are missing their targets, and the Minister should respond and tell us what is being done to change that situation.

Next Section Index Home Page