Examination of Witnesses (Questions 74
THURSDAY 26 APRIL 2001
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed
for coming to see us today. We are particularly pleased that you
are able to come because obviously your areas are suffering particular
74. When I was in Cumbria talking to Chris Collier
about the problems we are facing in the tourist industry, particularly
in guest houses, she talked about a rescue package and also the
problem with the current loan guarantee scheme. Could you explain
in a bit more detail the ideas about traditional schemes that
you have been putting forward in addition to all the things you
are trying to do to bring all the tourists back into the area?
(Mr Stephens) Apologies from Chris Collier.
She is having to meet the Prime Minister today. On the initiatives
we have been putting forward, obviously there has been a terrible
crisis over the past few weeks. There have been a lot of ideas
coming forward on getting direct support for businesses who are
urgently in need of help. The loan guarantee scheme and some of
the initiatives that have been taken with the tax breaks and the
rate holidays are going some way to helping but frankly it is
just skimming the surface. People are facing desperate circumstances.
We know that a number of people have gone under already. About
1,000 jobs have been lost, we estimate. Very importantly, a lot
of the key skills, a lot of very highly qualified chefs and other
marketing personnel, have been laid off and are leaving the area,
going to other parts of the country and abroad. That is a very
serious matter. Turning to your question, obviously we have been
trying very hard to get initiatives which make sure that we do
not lose our vital skills. We need some sort of income support
for those key personnel, that is some immediate cash injection
to help people with their loss of income over the short term and
a recovery package to get them up and running as soon as possible.
There have been a whole range of issues and they are still unfolding
daily as the various agencies consider the different options.
75. There was one specific proposal I understood
you were putting forward with regard to a model of effects upon
economies from oil spillages that we have seen in coastal towns
in the past.
(Mr Stephens) Yes. It is one example
where we thought a tried and tested methodology was in place.
I assume the panel knows what this is about. It is basically a
compensation scheme that was implemented in west Wales where tourism
businesses were compensated for actual and consequential losses.
What was encouraging is that the authorities were able to find
a way to assess what losses were incurred in comparison to trading
patterns in previous years. The difference in that scheme is it
was based on an insurance scheme where oil companies and governments
have put into a pot of funding which the compensation claims could
be made against. Unfortunately, we do not have that pot of money,
other than central government funding or European funding, which
possibly could do that. There are other models: the Manchester
bomb compensation scheme. I am sure there are other schemes that
could be appropriate. We felt this should be brought to the attention
of government and we believe there is a very strong case for helping
those most in desperate need.
76. Could I extend the question to the others
as well and ask what is the single most important thing that you
believe either agencies or government could do to assist the tourist
industries in your area in the short term?
(Mr Bell) I think there are three things.
One is the opening up of the product, especially the footpaths
and parks. Second is promotion and marketing. We have roughly
banded our businesses into three sorts. It is basically a matrix:
how close you are to an infection. Devon is not that far. How
closely your business is aligned to farm animals and farming in
real rural areas. The third aspect is in terms of the national
parks and openness. If you are in Devon, like a company called
The Big Sheep which runs a tourist attraction based on mixing
with animals and seeing sheep, you are blighted, as opposed to
a resort hotel in Torquay. Some have been dented; some have had
consequential loss; some have had quite considerable loss and
can come back hopefully and some, quite honestly, are blighted.
Our concern across the south west and Devon is that blighted businesses
and individual work forces will not survive commercially long
enough for the customers to come back.
(Ms Broatch) If you had asked me that
question a month ago, I would have said the eradication of the
disease. That was a priority determined by joint partners on the
foot and mouth task force in Cumbria. On the basis that we are
being told that the disease is now under control and likely to
be running to a halt in June, the next thing would be about "open
for business" in terms of getting that message out there.
Our dependency on tourism as an economy is significant and the
impact we are anticipating will be significant on our GDP and
on jobs. The other critical issue is the interdependencies, so
getting that message that we are open for business is critical.
In order to do that in Cumbria, where we have 98 per cent as an
infected area, we need to get some sound advice about what the
risk assessment of that is. We are working hard on that. We also
need to know when the farms that are now culled come out into
what is technically known as the release period. In other words,
when we can start to open up things in those areas. Cooperation
with MAFF, getting good information from MAFF and getting that
open for business message is critical in terms of us all standing
by wanting desperately to do it, to get people back to Cumbria
and to help our tourism industry to recover.
(Mr Jenkinson) In terms of open for business
in Devon, one of the messages we try to put out is that much still
is open for business. However, there is this great swathe, not
least because of Dartmoor, that effectively tourists can no longer
use in the way that they have used it in the past. We have the
problems identified earlier on of the media images on the one
hand and our wish to promote on the other.
77. We have all been saying that it has been
terrible because of foot and mouth. Undoubtedly there has been
a knock-on impact from that, but we have to be honest with ourselves.
If we look at areas in the south west, rural tourism, not the
beaches, going to historic cathedral cities or whatever, but real
rural tourism, have we not been having problems with that year
on year, because the majority of people that go there are United
Kingdom residents who now go not for a week sort of walking around
the countryside but actually go abroad?
(Mr Bell) It is an interesting perception.
My perception is different, that one of the most highly prized
products we have been developing over the last year is the real,
authentic, rural experience. That is staying on a real farm that
is working. That has become extremely attractive, for the short
break market, I will admit. People do not want to stay on a farm
for two weeks, although the enthusiasts do, but it is a very valuable
package for three or four nights. It has been very popular with
the northern European market, particularly where it is linked
to within long distance walking paths or the coastal paths. It
has been a market that we have been promoting and encouraging
through European funded schemes in certain parts of the region
for farmers to get into. There has been a lot of investment, but
it is still quite fragile in terms of growing the market.
78. The biggest problem with that market is
that there are lots of things you can do in the countryside. You
can always go to the pub; you can always go and look at an historic
church; you can always look at a shop or whatever but what people
really want to do is to be able to walk in the national parks
and on the footpaths. I wonder if you can tell us what sort of
role you have played in pressing for areas that have been maybe
not in an infected area or the infection was long ago but the
footpaths are still closed; or as in the case of the Forest of
Dean where we have cleared all the animals out of there. We have
gone past 14 days. Why are we not opening the statutory paths?
(Mr Bell) The issue should always be
why is the path closed, not why should it be opened, because we
have to get them opened as soon as possible. Tourism is in the
hospitality business and it is very important that the right influencing
is done on the land owner and land user so that you do not end
up with unfortunate incidents, because that would fuel more media
stories. We want to push hard and fast but I would not want to
push to the point where the land owner and land user were very
anti and therefore we ended up shooting ourselves in the foot.
(Mr Jenkinson) Obviously it is always
going to be a question of balance but the reality in Devon, which
is a very badly affected county, is that 30 per cent of our footpaths
79. People can walk in certain locations?
(Mr Jenkinson) They can. Research does
show that people are not anxious necessarily to walk 100 miles
but they are more than happy to walk just a few miles. We can
cater for that at the moment.
(Mr Stephens) Part of the Cumbria task
force work is a sub group that looks at lifting restrictions on
footpaths and rights of way. They have been working extremely
hard to undertake the risk assessments over the last few weeks.
We have about 100 sites, probably about 80 walks, various car
parks and various other rights of way, open. That is a tiny percentage
of what we would normally consider as our rural walking product
in Cumbria. It is a major problem and I think it stems from some
of the larger expanse areas of access being under the control
of the National Trust or the National Park Authority or the large
land owners. As has been previously said, significant headway
in lifting restrictions will only be by negotiation between the
land owner and the authorities and the pressure groups wanting
to open. This is essential if we are to see a recovery in 2001.
It is still being worked on daily. I understand that Government
Taskforces are making encouraging noises about defining an acceptable
level of risk. We then can get a clear message out saying it is
unlikely that an individual is going to pass on or spread this
disease. It is all mixed up in the veterinary science advice and
the advice we are getting from various MAFF advisers. Of course,
the tourism industry will really want to press hard to get restrictions
lifted as soon as possible.