Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 109)

THURSDAY 26 APRIL 2001

MS HAZEL BROATCH, MR IAN STEPHENS, MR PHILIP JENKINSON AND MR MALCOLM BELL

  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.

Miss Kirkbride

  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 edge?

  (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 up locally.

  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 place.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. As with our last group of witnesses, it has been very useful to have your perspective. Thank you.





 
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