David Cam is sick of empty promises to tourism and tired of successive Prime Ministers pledging to put the nation’s leisure industry at the top of the economic agenda – until the next incumbent arrives at Number 10.
With British Tourism Week starting this weekend, Cam, Pleasure Beach company secretary, director, and new Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire, has sent out a strong message to government ministers.
“Blackpool isn’t looking for hand-outs but hands on help to help itself. Come and see for yourself.”
He says Blackpool is still reeling from the loss of the North West Development Agency. “It brought real benefits to Blackpool,” says David. “The legacy is all around.”
With the so-called quango on its last legs, a local enterprise partnership proposed for the Fylde coast has been rejected in favour of a Lancashire-wide scheme.
“Why call it local?” says David. “Why didn’t the Government say it wanted big, county, regional, rather than what made perfect sense – a coastal unit representing the Fylde’s travel to work, health, school, play area?
“Lancashire is too big in terms of local enterprise partnerships, there are very different areas, coastal, Preston, motorway, East Lancashire, very different economic aspirations. We’re already divorced from the rest of the county – it was natural for the Fylde coastal strip to team up.”
Cam’s a man with a mission. He’s worked in tourism for more than 40 years, following in his dad’s footsteps.
He visited the Pleasure Beach at nine for the first time and never wanted to leave.
“My parents were local but we’d lived in Southport. Southport’s so sleepy it still makes me nod off when I visit. Blackpool’s got a buzz.”
He visited the fun park once a year although both parents worked there. “Money was tight, we weren’t spoilt kids.”
David took the bus from his grandparents’ home in North Shore for a penny, ha’penny to the Odeon Saturday morning club and would gaze wistfully across at his favourite Big Dipper.
“I still do,” he says. “Far more fun out there than in here. I’m out to prolong adolescence for as long as possible!”
He’s giving Conservative MPs Paul Maynard (Blackpool North & Cleveleys), Mark Menzies (Fylde), Ben Wallace (Wyre & Preston North) and Labour’s Gordon Marsden (for Blackpool South) a tourism week walkabout tour of the park next week – before grilling them over lunch on just how supportive respective party policies really are.
No such thing as a free lunch. Top of the menu is a reduction in VAT for starters, a push for a proper economic development zone here, and support for double summer time so tourists don’t desert too early.
“Merlin now highlights the VAT people pay on admission to attractions,” he adds. “It helps spell it out, but I don’t think we would do that. It would depress visitors at the start. Why should we pay 20 per cent tax here on top of everything else? It’s been reduced to about five per cent across much of Europe and has really helped.”
Then there’s double summer time.
“Visitors who stayed a fortnight, have gone, we need to tempt day trippers to stay longer, and maybe even overnight. Longer brighter days do that. The bill’s with the House of Lords now. Scotland will object. It always does. Farmers will protest. But cows are milked in the dark anyway. Isn’t it time to lighten up for the rest of us?”
David’s greatest hope is for a tourism development zone.
“We need to offer the same opportunities as economic development zones, soft loans, soft rates, proper financial incentives to tempt investors, manufacturers, small industry, get people into jobs, off benefits, out and about again.
“We’re well placed regionally. We’ve got success stories here, not all in tourism. Glasdon export to 28 countries. Why should we lose out to Salford Quays or Rossendale? We’ve already got a unique place in people’s hearts nationally.
“Yet we don’t tick the right boxes to qualify, not enough brown land, they say, but we have. It’s just covered with out of date buildings people want out of, can’t sell, can’t develop because banks won’t lend because not enough income’s generated, and they can’t borrow the money to redevelop them and it goes on.
“Blackpool’s on board. We’ve invested in Nickelodeon Land, there’s Merlin’s commitment, the Sandcastle’s, Blackpool Council’s, Blackpool FC’s, Comedy Carpet, new trams, European-style seafront, positive TV exposure.
“Blackpool’s on the up. We’ve got good open dialogue with the council. Accommodation has to improve or make way for something that works. We started with the Big Blue Hotel, it’s doing immensely well. Hotels that close are those that haven’t invested in quality.”
As an accountant, he’s clued up on the figures. He says: “Social deprivation here costs the state £1bn and £62m a year in housing, unemployment, other benefits.
“If I was in Whitehall I’d want to know why. I’d send someone out from the Cabinet to sit in our town hall for 12 months, talk to people about what can be done to halve the costs and help the area. Government North West never comes to see us. The Bank of England does, sends a representative to talk to financial directors locally and see life on the sharp end, and act from a position of knowledge, understanding. That’s the way to do it.”