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What steps his Department is taking to support the tourism industry in the south-west.
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Mr. Speaker, may I add my congratulations on your elevation? Having served with you on the marathon Minimum Wage Bill, I welcome your conversion to short contributions.
Since April 2008, my Department aside from the marketing and economic development that it regularly contributes to Visit Britain and Visit England, has made eight separate grants worth over £4.2 million to the south-west region from its Sea Change programme, which supports cultural regeneration and the visitor economy. I am glad to say that the largest beneficiary of those grants was Torbay, which I can confirm was awarded £2.25 million in August 2008 for projects at Cockington Court and Berry Head.
According to a recent parliamentary answer, the number of tourists in the south-west region fell by more than a quarter in the first quarter of this year, so why is that policy not working?
The number of tourists in the south-west region did fall in the first quarter of this year for a number of reasons including the credit crunch and the recession. I am glad to say, however, that initial figures show that it is now rising. We can see from benefit returns that the 10 towns with the most benefit claimants returning to work have been in seaside areas, and I am glad to say that six of them are in the south-west, where people are getting more work. The "staycation" and short breaks are providing a good result in the south-west.
One issue affecting the whole country, including the south-west, is the growth of the swine flu pandemic. Hon. Members might recall that, at the time of the foot and mouth outbreak and after the 9/11 attacks, the Treasury granted an additional £20 million, which was match-funded by the industry, to assist UK tourism through those difficult times. I notice that there is nothing on the DCMS or Visit Britain websites about swine flu. May I ask the Minister and, indeed, the Secretary of State what discussions they have had with the Treasury and the Department of Health to ensure that we avoid sensationalist headlines such as that in The Daily Telegraph today-"Crowds may be banned from major sporting events"? What plans are there to help the British tourism industry to keep people informed and to tell them that Britain remains a safe place to visit?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, but I would caution him against such alarmist talk. I would also caution him against quoting the media, which are sometimes more interested in selling copies of their newspapers than in informing-
The Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Mr. Sutcliffe, sits on Cobra, the civil contingencies secretariat, and we are in daily contact. We are constantly updated on the situation. At present, the advice is to stay calm-I urge the hon. Gentleman to do that-not to panic and to take precautions.