Councillor Brian Connell, Cabinet Member for Business, Enterprise and Skills at Westminster City Council explains why it will pay to promote tourism.
The Government’s recently published White Paper, Local Growth: Realising Every Place’s Potential could finally reward local authorities that promote tourism in their area.
When you think about councils that might be interested in the £115bn tourism industry, you will likely think of Blackpool, Bournemouth or Brighton but in reality Westminster is central to Britain’s success at attracting overseas visitors and we at the City Council take that responsibility extremely seriously.
A global city
Westminster sits at the heart of London and is home to the nation’s seats of democracy and monarchy, not to mention world-renowned parks, retail, theatre and restaurants. We understand that as a truly global city, London must project the right image, especially in the run up to the Olympics in 2012 when the eyes of the world will fall on the capital. Clean and tidy streets, a properly enforced licensing regime and flowing traffic will all be central to projecting the right image of London and the UK and ensuring a proper tourism legacy is secured after the Games.
Unfortunately under the current local government finance rules, there are no incentives for councils to promote their area to visitors because whilst local authorities can be so pivotal in this regard, those that take a positive view of tourism are often punished for it. More tourists and increased business activity require additional services from councils that see no reward for local growth creating an unhealthy disconnect between the economic interests of the area and the financial interests of the local authority. That’s why I was encouraged to read the Government’s new White Paper, Local Growth: Realising Every Place’s Potential which asks for views on options that will enable councils to retain locally raised business rates.
Westminster will take part in the consultation and I urge other local authorities around the country to share their views with the Government too. The eventual changes will provide us with the opportunity to create the conditions that encourage – even force – councils to take tourism seriously. In the current economic climate, ensuring that the economy feels the full benefit of inward tourism is absolutely essential.
As we move into an extremely challenging financial period for the public sector with service implications for our residents, justifying expenditure on services for visitors and local businesses will be increasingly difficult. The Government’s localism proposals will help provide councillors up and down the country with reasons to focus not just on the short-term outlook but also on the long-term economic health of the area.
Giving councils a stake in the economic wellbeing of their area is another example of how rebalancing the responsibility for growth from regional quangos to locally elected councillors will increase legitimacy and create the conditions for a tourism renaissance.