Future of Seaside Towns - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:20 pm on 1st July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Pendry Lord Pendry Labour 7:20 pm, 1st July 2019

My Lords, I was a member of this Select Committee for a short time, during which I heard its members, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Bassam, set about producing the report before us. I express my admiration for my noble friend and the committee—indeed, for all those responsible for this splendid report and its recommendations.

Over the years, there have been many notable reports on the problems facing our seaside towns—for example, by the British Tourist Authority, Sheffield Hallam University and others—but none as comprehensive as this one. As someone born and raised in the seaside towns of Broadstairs and Ramsgate, I witnessed their highs and lows—problems also witnessed in one form or another in seaside resorts up and down the country after the Second World War. In the case of Thanet, it was mostly day-trippers from London that brought prosperity to the town’s hoteliers and amusement industries, until the early to mid-1950s—not the 1970s, as some say—when there was a dramatic decline in that prosperity: working-class people, finding more money in their pockets, discovered the affordable summer climates of Spain, France, Portugal and other places, leaving the Thanets of this world unable to compete.

Today, as the report demonstrates, the challenges for our seaside towns have grown immensely. The social deprivation levels in many are becoming more manifest, as a combination of long-term industrial decline and a lack of support for housing, educational opportunities and infrastructure have left communities sidelined and largely ignored. Successive Governments have largely ignored or failed to see the problems that have mounted over the years, but the report points to some key ways in which Governments of whatever persuasion can start to rectify the ills of yesteryear. The committee’s recommendations for greater support for the tourism industry in those towns that rely on it, diversification for other towns and renewed investment in housing, education, and physical and digital infrastructure are very welcome.

The need for such investment is particularly pressing in the light of the austerity measures that we have seen imposed on our more deprived coastal areas. While seemingly giving generous grants with one hand, with the Coastal Communities Fund, the Government have taken away with the other, leaving local authorities in coastal towns forced to compete with each other for the funds that are available. It is particularly welcome to see the committee recommend that, in moving forward with a potential tourism sector deal, the Government give full account to the important role played by seaside towns in the tourism industry.

It is often said that the industries of tourism and hospitality have not been as active as they might in putting their case, including that of the seaside towns, before central government. A good deal of that stems from the fact that these industries are fragmented, without a central body to fully represent their needs. I know that it is an old chestnut of mine, stemming from the days when I was the shadow Minister for Sport and Tourism, but I argue now, as I did then, that until there is a Cabinet post for these industries, providing a powerful voice at the centre of government, the real strength of their case, including for seaside resorts, will not be heard or acted on.

These industries provide much to our economy; our brilliant Library kindly supplied me with the figures to show this. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport reported that, in 2017, the tourism industry contributed £67.7 billion to the UK economy, accounting for 3.7% of UK gross value added, and that, in 2018, it provided an estimated 1.6 million jobs—4.7% of all UK employment. The hospitality industry is the third biggest employer in the UK, providing 3.2 million jobs directly and a further 2.8 million indirectly; in 2017, the industry likewise generated more than £72 billion in GVA to the UK economy. These are strong industries with great potential on which many of our seaside towns depend. I hope that this report will be an important step forward in raising their profile in the eyes of government, for I cannot believe that, given the right leadership, this important sector will be denied a seat at the top table.

What cannot happen is for the Government to respond, as we saw in the report, by merely saying that they will carefully consider these recommendations then, as so often happens, seldom enact many of the proposals contained within. Our seaside towns have been pushed to the periphery for too long. I very much hope to see strong action from the Government to implement this committee’s esteemed road map for regenerating our coastal towns. My noble friend Lord Bassam and his committee have made a positive and compelling case for this important sector of our tourism and hospitality industries to be taken more seriously by government.