A tourism warning for Blackpool

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TOURISM minister John Penrose warned there will be less cash for regeneration and told businesses they should work together to ensure Blackpool’s future success, during a visit to the resort.

Mr Penrose toured attractions including the Winter Gardens, the Tower and the Pleasure Beach as part of a day-long fact-finding tour of the resort yesterday which also took in the £4m Comedy Carpet, the new Promenade and the £20m tram depot at Starr Gate.

David Cam, MP Gordon Marsden, John Penrose, MP Paul Maynard and Howard Lewis.

David Cam, MP Gordon Marsden, John Penrose, MP Paul Maynard and Howard Lewis.

The minister praised the multi-million pound investments made so far but said money would be less forthcoming in future and dismissed calls for a VAT cut to help the tourism industry.

He said: “It’s clear Blackpool is part-way through a process of transformation with a convergence of private money backed up by the local council and it’s reminding people about what’s so great about Blackpool.

“There isn’t as much public money around as I think everybody knows. There is some and we are trying to put as much as we can towards tourism which is growing faster than other parts of the economy. There is regional growth funding and some of that will be coming to Blackpool.”

Business leaders in the town, who also met with Mr Penrose yesterday, have called for VAT on tourism to be slashed to five per cent, as some other European nations have done.

But the minister told The Gazette it was the wrong time to be cutting taxes.

He said: “Money is tight and I think everybody understands that. So reducing VAT I’m afraid, when we have governments struggling in Greece and Italy, is asking a bit much but perhaps people recognise that.”

He added around £150m was being set aside to market Britain to both foreign and domestic holidaymakers, but urged businesses to take the lead themselves.

Mr Penrose said: “In Blackpool along with all sorts of destinations around the country, what we’re all discovering is that if you expect the public sector to run to your aid all the time, history has proven it doesn’t always work.

“What all businesses are finding is that if they can band together they can do stuff for themselves and often it’s an awful lot better.”

He added he was confident Blackpool would reassert itself in the conference sector, saying the town could now “look any other rival conference destination squarely in the eye” .

Later on, members of the Blackpool Business Leadership Group quizzed the minister on a range of issues including VAT cuts, the return of the political conferences and the electrification of rail links.

The chairman, Hilton Hotel boss Howard Lewis, said: “We want to demonstrate we have a thriving public and private sector partnership which is working together to revitalise the town as a mainstream destination. But it’s also vitally important we get across the message that while much has been done to improve Blackpool, there is much more that can be. The business community has a range of ideas which we believe could drive further investment and visitors into Blackpool.”

Mr Penrose also met with Blackpool’s MPs Gordon Marsden and Paul Maynard.