Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
THURSDAY 26 APRIL 2001
100. The point I made in Dorset, which has not
yet been taken up, is that the tourist information centres are
normally tucked away in the-back-end of a town or near the council
offices. The point was well made by members of the public at the
meeting I attended, why do the tourist organisations not go out
to petrol stations beyond the towns where people fill up their
cars and say, "When you come in, this is where you can go"?
There are easy measures like that where everybody can chip in
together. Derek Wyatt talked about VAT and the differential between
Britain and Europe, can you pass comment on anything else, like
interest free loans, deferment of income tax packages and packages
for laid-off workers?
(Mr Bell) Hopefully one of the things
which might come out is a review of the cost of running a tourist
business in this country as opposed to others which is wider than
just VAT. On the interest free loans, we need a variety of measures
to deal with the complexity of the different problems. Some of
the measures now are fine for Torquay but they will not help the
Forest of Dean or Exmoor or Dartmoor.
101. And laid-off workers?
(Mr Bell) There will be a third wave
of the problem, and we are now in the second wave, and come the
end of the August/September period there will be a lot of people
laid off who would not normally be laid off, and they will be
laid off because the profits have not been made. That is really
worrying the businesses because they are part of the core asset
of the business. One of the things we need to work on and lobby
for is a core staff retention support measure which might include
the payment of the jobseekers allowance to the business to retain
them, combined with training help from people like the Learning
Skills Councils. I seriously do worry that come September we will
have great lay-offs and business shut-downs which normally would
carry on working.
(Mr Jenkinson) This comes back, Chairman,
to the point you made earlier this morning, there is an immediacy
about these issues. Whilst we talk about business support and
dealing with the Revenue, these things are required now.
(Mr Stephens) One other thing that has
been suggested is the possibility of rebating the last six months
of business rates that have already been paid. That would enable
them to function currently as a business and to give them a rebate
on their previous business rates which would give them cash to
see them through the next period. Grants for marketing have been
mentioned, particularly with lead times in preparation for next
year. Over the next three or four months we will be putting together
the 2002 marketing materials (next years') and it is essential
that some sort of market grant scheme is available to get these
essential communications materials in place so that we are ready
to launch next year. In addition and in support of the previous
speaker, I also strongly support the need to get some income support
for key skills which are going to be lost from these areas.
102. Just to amplify what you are saying there,
you say there is an immediacy about the problem, can you elucidate
that and suggest how close you feel some businesses are to the
(Mr Jenkinson) We already know that many
of our businesses are laying off staff now. We did a return last
week and 25 per cent of those who responded said they had already
laid staff off. The common life cycle of small businesses in this
particular field is that people live on the profits they make
over the summer during the winter period, and then they revisit
their bank manager. At the moment they have nothing to revisit
their bank managers with in terms of a viable future. In that
sense this is immediate.
103. We have the Minister coming next, what
do you want us to impress upon her as the best thing to do?
(Mr Jenkinson) As I said, immediate action
104. But specifically what?
(Mr Jenkinson) If we are going to say
that the Revenue should be reasonable, let us get that message
out proactively from the Revenue. Let us not just wait until the
third warning letter goes out from the Revenue about something
needing to be done.
105. Can you expand on that?
(Mr Jenkinson) The point I am making
is that Government has itself indicated this sort of thing is
available. It has been indicated from here in London, but I am
not aware it has been communicated locally.
106. What kind of attitude are your businesses
getting from the Inland Revenue, that they owe their tax and they
must pay it, and that is an end to it?
(Mr Jenkinson) When we did a survey of
businesses some of the comments back included concerns about the
approach which might be taken by that sort of agency. All I am
saying is, from where I am sitting, I have not seen anything locally
from the Revenue and other agencies involved.
(Mr Bell) Part of the problem is that
these businesses, and we are particularly talking about blighted
businesses rather than general tourism businesses, are grasping
at any straws, so when something is announced they have to get
down to the local office at Totnes or Exeter or Taunton. People
are on the phone within seconds because they are so desperate
for help. That is the problem and often that is not connected
107. How are the councils dealing with business
rates and the help which is given there? Is that working well
or do you have concerns about that?
(Ms Broatch) Certainly in Cumbria we
are trying to give support on the business rates. There is a cost
associated with that and we estimate it is a potential £14
million across the authorities, but it is giving some help to
our businesses and has been welcomed by them.
(Mr Stephens) You are only stopping payments
going out. The problem is that
108. there is no money coming in.
(Mr Stephens) Exactly. Going back to
the point about restoring access to the Fells, if we can have
our product back we can start getting money back into the local
economy. There is a whole range of issues behind that, like vaccination
of special flocks, getting sheep off the Fells, etc, Risk limitation
and evaluation really going through that rigorously with MAFF
with the economic case being considered alongside it is essential.
At the moment we feel we are poles apart. It is vital that we
get access so the product can be returned as soon as possible.
109. Is it realistic at this point, having gone
so far, a change of policy can be produced other than the one
we have, which is to wait until the cases simply drop to zero,
then waiting until the incubation period is over and we can re-open?
(Mr Stephens) We have seen quite radical
changes in policy over the last 24 hours. There is still a huge
difference of opinion between the various vets within MAFF. We,
as a tourist industry, are finding it incredibly confusing to
understand some of the logic behind some of the restrictions in
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
As with our last group of witnesses, it has been very useful to
have your perspective. Thank you.