Stormy meeting as Torbay mayor faces backlash over ERTC
THE BAY'S mayor has faced a backlash over plans to cut funding to the award-winning company which drives holiday trade in Torbay.
Business leaders and tourism providers defended the English Riviera Tourism Company after it emerged Mayor Gordon Oliver wants to reduce its council cash backing by half next year and totally axe the budget by 2015.
Debate was heated at Thursday's Mayoral Forum which overran by 45 minutes because of the strength of feeling.
At one point, the mayor halted the debate by banging his gavel and asking Adam Millward, owner of the Somerville hotel to 'sit down' when he wanted to come back on a point.
Mr Millwood responded: "Is this discussion, is this what we've got to look forward to?"
The mayor was responding to a 16-page letter from ERTC chairman Chris Hart.
It said how the ERTC has sought legal advice and says it will sue Torbay Council for damages and alleged breach of contract if the mayor goes ahead with his plan.
The mayor told the forum he had not seen the letter. He said: "I'm looking for a sympathetic response not a legal challenge, that's not the way I work and that's not the way I will work."
Rob Newman, chairman of the Torbay business forum, said the ERTC does a 'fantastic job'.
He asked of the mayor: "Can you give assurance you see a future for the ERTC, that they have a role and you recognise that and you will work with them?"
Mr Oliver said Torbay's budget cuts are the worst for a generation and more will follow.
He said the authority has to concentrate on its statutory obligations.
He said: "It has to be two-way working and that is what I hope to do. A legal threat is not the way to start it off. It's about a round the table discussion."
In a statement issued by Mr Hart after the meeting, he said he was 'confident the matter can be resolved'.
Tim Godfrey, of accountants Bishop Fleming, who is vice-chairman of Torbay Business Forum, said he wanted to see the council adhere to the legal agreement with the council.
He said the company had taken a cut in its budget last year and said the council should seriously consider any alternative proposals from the company this year.
"It seems we are in danger of shooting ourselves in the foot after all the time and effort which has gone into raising the profile of Torbay as a destination and after what has been a superb season," he said.
Labour councillor Darren Cowell contrasted the devastating cuts facing the tourism company.
He said: "The industry is speaking with a very loud and clear voice that the achievements of the ERTC can not be jeopardised.
"The ERTC has established a clear brand and marketing strategy — winning awards in the process — now is not the time to put this at risk.
"It is ironic the mayor has steadfastly stood behind the Riviera International Conference Centre, defending it as it employs up to 100 people and contributes approximately £10million to the local economy.
"This year the centre would have had over £1.7million in subsidies and grants and yet the mayor has not asked them for a penny reduction in future years.
"How can you not support a £400million industry while unquestioningly propping up an ailing conference centre?"