Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 6

Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association

1.  THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION

  1.1  The Local Government Association (LGA) was formed by the merger of the Association of County Councils, the Association of District Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities on 1 April 1997. The LGA has just under 500 members, including all 238 shire district councils, 36 metropolitan district councils, 34 county councils, 47 English unitary authorities, 33 London authorities, and 22 Welsh authorities. The LGA provides the national voice for local communities in England and Wales and promotes democratic local government, delivering safe, prosperous, healthy and pleasant communities.

2.  BACKGROUND—LOCAL AUTHORITIES AND TOURISM

  2.1  Local authorities play a fundamental role in the provision and promotion of tourist destinations. They deliver a wide range of services to ensure a high quality and safe visitor experience, including:

    —  tourist information;

    —  marketing and promotion;

    —  environmental health;

    —  building and planning control;

    —  street lighting;

    —  street cleansing;

    —  conservation of the natural environment and Local Agenda 21 planning;

    —  preservation of historic buildings;

    —  coastal protection and beach cleanliness;

    —  water safety;

    —  theatres and public halls;

    —  public conveniences;

    —  footpath maintenance and development;

    —  accommodation inspection;

    —  attractions eg museums and galleries;

    —  car parks and park and ride schemes;

    —  illuminations;

    —  entertainment;

    —  parks and gardens;

    —  conference and event promotion; and

    —  camping and caravan sites.

  2.2  In addition to direct provision of services, local authorities:

    —  provide support and advice to tourism businesses, particularly micros and SMEs;

    —  research the volume, value, impact and trends of tourism;

    —  lead public/private sector partnerships to develop a strategy for the future of the destination and its community; and

    —  ensure that tourism forms part of a council's corporate strategy and community plan.

  2.3  Of the 561 Tourist Information Centres (TICs), over 90 per cent are provided by local authorities. It is estimated that councils invest over £75 million in tourism development and promotion (Tomorrow's Tourism).

3.  BACKGROUND—LOCAL AUTHORITIES AND FOOT AND MOUTH

  3.1  Local authorities are playing an essential role in curbing the spread of the foot and mouth disease and tackling the effects of the disease on communities. This includes:

    —  maintaining a safe network of public footpaths and bridleways;

    —  giving financial relief and advice to affected businesses;

    —  delivering personal and welfare support to families and individuals in crisis;

    —  providing landfill sites for the burial of animal carcasses;

    —  serving restriction notices on farms and operating the animal licensing scheme;

    —  providing up-to-date information on the disease and its effects to residents, businesses and tourists alike.

  3.2  In response to the Committee's inquiry into the promotion of the UK as a destination for overseas tourists and the provision of tourism information to domestic and overseas visitors, examples of the essential and effective role of local authorities are given below. The LGA has defined "tourism information" as covering practical guidance and promotional messages, both of which are of value to the industry and its customers alike.

  3.3  It should be noted that the LGA's evidence demonstrates that all types of tourist destinations are having to support their local industry in response to foot and mouth—coastal resorts, cities, market towns—not just rural locations.

  3.4  The LGA has gathered these examples of good practice through its close liaison with councils during the crisis. The LGA itself has an important role in the foot and mouth communication chain. The LGA is sending almost daily updates to Chief Executives, sharing Central Government messages, LGA advice and good practice from councils.

4.  LOCAL AUTHORITIES—GATHERING INFORMATION

  4.1  The first step in the provision of tourism information is the collection of reliable and up-to-date facts. Local authorities have close relations with their local tourist industry from accommodation providers to attractions, through Chambers of Commerce, TICs, marketing partnerships and industry fora. Therefore, councils are important in gathering and maintaining information on what services and facilities are open for business in the public, private and voluntary sector. Local authorities have fed this into local, sub-regional and regional databases, and onwards to the English Tourism Council and British Tourist Authority, in order to enable the construction of a national picture of the industry.

  4.2  For example, Wiltshire Tourism has undertaken two mail shots to over 700 tourism operators sharing useful foot and mouth information and in return requesting details of opening hours etc. Wiltshire TICs are collating the data for promotion on the Wiltshire website and are sharing it with South West Tourism and the Wiltshire Call Centre.

5.  LOCAL AUTHORITIES—ENSURING A CONSISTENT MESSAGE

  5.1  There are many vehicles for, and providers of, information at local, sub-regional, regional, national and international levels. In order to deliver a consistent message to tourists it is essential for key players to share information and work together. All over the country, both long-established and newly formed partnerships are being used to maintain a flow of information from the industry to the consumer. Local authorities are working particularly closely with Regional Tourist Boards.

  5.2  Plymouth Marketing Bureau established the Plymouth Task Force on 15 March. This meets weekly to steer the local response to foot and mouth and to engage key stakeholders, especially from the accommodation and attraction sectors. By also including elected members and the council's Press and PR Officer, and linking into South West Tourism, Devon County Council and DACOM (Devon and Cornwall Overseas Marketing Consortium), the Taskforce can ensure all sectors of the tourist industry, at all levels, are briefed with the same facts and guidance.

  5.3  Lancashire County Council hosted a foot and mouth conference on 11 April for officers from the county, district and borough councils, the agriculture and tourism industries and business advisers. Speakers included the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the National Farmers Union and the North West Tourist Board. As a result of the conference, a task force has been established to tackle county-wide strategic issues.

  5.4  The majority of action outlined in this submission is additional work, specifically in response to the emergency created by foot and mouth. Local authorities are investing significant additional funding to support their local tourist industry, which will impact upon their future ability to invest in tourism. Partnerships between local authorities enable them to not only deliver a consistent message but also to pool resources. For example, Gloucestershire Tourism has mounted a county PR campaign, involving the county council and all six county district councils.

6.  LOCAL AUTHORITIES—DELIVERING INFORMATION

  6.1  It is clear from the LGA's research that local authorities are utilising a wide range of communication methods to deliver a clear, consistent and easy to understand message to tourists. Different vehicles appeal to and reach different audiences and the main methods are highlighted below.

6.2  TOURIST INFORMATION CENTRES (TICS)

  6.2.1  Over 90 per cent of the 561 TICs are run by local authorities. They are the first place to which consumers turn in search of domestic tourist information. All reports from councils to the LGA are that the number of enquiries to TICs has increased significantly during foot and mouth. TICs are advising:

    —  visitors on what they can visit;

    —  visitors on where they can stay, walk, cycle, fish, ride etc;

    —  visitors on what precautions they should take; and

    —  tourism operators on what services they can offer their customers.

  6.2.2  TICs in Cumbria are also acting as a "sounding off" point, helping tourism operators to release their feelings of frustration and isolation.

  6.2.3  TICs are also an essential element of the national response to tourist information needs—the England Visitor Hotline, which has been established by the English Tourism Council. This one, national telephone number redirects callers on to the most appropriate information source for their needs—mainly Regional Tourist Boards and TICs.

  6.2.4  The LGA has called on local authorities to ensure TICs are fully equipped with well informed staff, in order to support the Hotline, which is being heavily promoted. Many local authorities have extended the opening hours of TICs, particularly pre-Easter, in order to support the Hotline.

  6.2.5  It is clear that local authorities are using TICs to give factual information, to reassure customers, to retain bookings and to promote new and alternative attractions. For example, South Lakeland District Council has developed a series of guided walks through towns and villages whilst fell walking is not possible.

6.3  WEBSITES

  6.3.1  The Internet has been an invaluable means of providing up to the minute consumer information. Like many local authorities, in response to foot and mouth, Chester City Council has created special tourist advice pages on its website with both internal and external links to related webpages. This is also backed up by a Chester tourist information hotline. In Dorset, the County Council, with the support of its district and borough councils, is collating and promoting all information on open visitor attractions and events on its website. TICs are accessing and downloading this information daily.

  6.3.2  Whilst not all consumers have Internet access, local authorities also provide mass access to electronic information via computers in libraries and electronic information points in shopping centres, TICs and other public places.

6.4  MEDIA CHANNELS

  6.4.1  Television, radio and newspapers are powerful means of communicating with mass audiences. It has been evident that whilst the national media has focused upon the negative impact of foot and mouth, there is more potential for local and regional media covering "good news stories". Therefore, local authorities have been using both the editorial and advertising sections of a wide range and level of media.

  6.4.2  The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead sent its "open for business" press release, promoting its Easter message that all but four of its 33 attractions were open to:

    —  31 editors of national newspapers;

    —  six main tourism trade magazines;

    —  56 regional news editors;

    —  four major TV channels; and

    —  84 travel writers.

  6.4.3  Local authorities recognise the importance of rallying the support of local people for the tourism industry during the crisis, and the economic impact of the day trip market. Local visitors can deliver immediate income for the industry whereas the overseas market will take longer to win back. Local promotions are therefore important. For example, coverage of the new Lancashire "Great Days Out" brochure in the County Council's public newspaper in March, which was sent to every household in the county, generated over 300 brochure requests in just 14 days.

6.5  DIRECT MARKETING AND INCENTIVES

  6.5.1  Local authorities' provision of information to tourists is both reactive and proactive. Councils are not just ensuring that staff are ready to answer queries when approached but are also sending positive messages directly to receptive audiences, with the aim of securing continued support, interest and visits.

  6.5.2  Restormel District Council is conducting a direct mail campaign to 25,000 potential holiday takers who have previously requested tourist information from the council. The mailing, in the form of a greetings card, reinforces the message that the "Heart of Cornwall" is still beating strong and the area is ready for business.

  6.5.3  South Lakeland District Council has invested £5,000 to send out its Accommodation Guide free of charge (instead of £1.99) to bolster local trade.

  6.5.4  Plymouth has fast tracked the launch of its new discount voucher leaflet. It offers reduced admission at 11 attractions, plus discounts in shops and restaurants. It costs £1, but will be given free of charge to all 14,000 cruise ship passengers sailing into Plymouth and all conference delegates staying in the city this year.

  6.5.5  Bournemouth has written to all domestic and overseas tour operators involved in the summer Music Makers Festival, which brings over 1,000 participants to the resort, to reassure them that festival is still going ahead, the area is perfectly safe and their experience will be unaffected. This is after the All-England Netball Association cancelled its April tournament for 2,000 people in Bournemouth, apparently on the advice of MAFF.

7.  LOCAL AUTHORITIES—EFFECTS ON THE FUTURE

  7.1  It is clear from the information above that local authorities are playing an active and varied role in the provision of information to tourists. Without them, the industry would lack support and a promotional vehicle with local presence and a regional, national and international voice. Certainly, the England Visitor Hotline would not have been able to provide such detailed and up-to-date information.

  7.2  However, foot and mouth is a significant cost to local authorities. Carlisle Council currently estimates foot and mouth is costing it £250,000. In Oxfordshire, the Council has lost £12,000 in revenue from the forced closure of educational residential centres. East Devon District Council has stated that their waste collection costs for cleaning beaches have soared as dog owners are using beaches rather than fields to walk dogs. TIC income has fallen throughout England and Wales due to lost commission on accommodation bookings. Therefore, future local authority support for the industry and promotion of destinations will be under threat. Especially as the private sector, which ordinarily invests in local authority promotional material, will be similarly cash poor. This will be at a time when promotion is essential to rebuild the industry, communities and people's lives.

  7.3  Therefore the LGA is calling for:

    —  An extension of the Government's hardship relief from business rates policy to all local authorities (not just the 151 "most rural") to cover businesses with a RV of up to £50,000, to provide 100 per cent of the costs of relief, to allow relief support to be available for longer than three months.

    —  Central Government financial support for Councils in their work to rebuild the tourist industry at a local level in the medium and long term. Investment at only a national and regional level will not reach the people really affected by foot and mouth.

    —  Central Government investment in the ageing TIC network which has played an important role in addressing foot and mouth but could have been so much more effective with e-communication between all centres and Regional Tourist Boards.

April 2001


 
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