Tower boss in plea to cut tourism VAT

Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin
Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin
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A CUT in VAT could help boost Blackpool’s tourism potential and create new jobs in the town.

Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, is among those calling on the Government to slash the 20 per cent rate for the tourism industry.

Speaking during a visit to Blackpool to mark a year since Merlin was appointed new operator of The Tower, he called on the Government to support the move – which he claims would stimulate economic growth and make Britain more competitive when it comes to attracting international visitors.

The British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions has already called for VAT to be cut to five per cent for attraction and accommodation owners.

Mr Varney said: “We have a big challenge in this country. Five holidaymakers go out of the country for every two that come in and so we haemorrhage £9bn every year and we need to correct that deficit.

“The Government wants people to spend as much in the country as they take out and it’s really good news the Prime Minister is taking this seriously.

“But in the long run we need to do something serious and significant regarding the massive disadvantage we have because of the VAT rate.

“Only the UK and Denmark do not apply a preferential VAT rate for the tourism industry.”

In France the VAT rate on tourism services is 5.5 per cent.

Mr Varney believes tourism can create new jobs quickly.

He added: “Tourism is the one industry that can create lots of new jobs, particularly in the 16-24 age range.

“I think Blackpool will stand as a great example of what can be done with a bit of vision and determination.”

He said that was why Merlin had taken the chance when the opportunity was presented for a new operator for The Tower, which along with the Winter Gardens and Golden Mile Centre was bought by the council in a £40m deal in March 2010.

Mr Varney said: “The Winter Gardens and The Tower were in the hands of an owner who wasn’t going to sell them at a rate that anyone in the private sector could go with so the effort that saw that deal go through was unique.

“It is a huge privilege to be involved in it.

“In 20 years in this business I have never seen a nettle so firmly grasped.

“I think it is wholly unique and something that will hopefully send some sort of signal for future developments.

“In its heyday, Blackpool was the ultimate holiday break for families across the country. It was the highlight of their year – I want it to be that again.”

This year will see Merlin open Madame Tussauds, the Blackpool Dungeon and the Blackpool Tower Eye in the town, which Mr Varney says will help make Blackpool Europe’s premier resort.