'Go ahead with cuts and tourism company will die'
TWO leading Torbay Tories have supported Bay tourism company claims that if their council funding is cut to zero they will have to shut up shop.
The apparent split in the Tory group over the proposals by Mayor Gordon Oliver to reduce public funding of the English Riviera Tourism Company to nothing in two years has been publicly aired for the first time.
Deputy mayor Dave Thomas and Mayor Oliver's new interim tourism councillor, Dave Butt, both told the tourism industry update meeting they cannot support slashing the ERTC's funding by £500,000 over the next two years as currently proposed.
Company chairman Chris Hart told some 300 people at the Riviera International Conference Centre that with that scale of cut they would have to close the company just as visitor numbers were on the rise and record numbers were using its website.
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Cllr Thomas said he did not believe the company could escape completely from the £22million cuts facing the council with the brunt being felt by non-statutory services like tourism. He and Mr Hart said they were hopeful the 'positive' negotiations with senior council officers could reach a satisfactory conclusion before the mayor's budget is published for consultation in mid November.
Mr Hart (pictured) said they were arguing that tourism support should be one of the priorities for discretionary spending in the council budget because of the £400million and 11,000 jobs it brought to the Bay. It was estimated in 2011 that for every £1 spent by the company, £34 came to the Bay. The resort employs the highest percentage of people in tourism in the country.
"We do sympathise with the challenges Torbay Council has to face and the huge savings it has to find. We are working hard with senior council officers to find a resolution to the mayor's proposals and will work to find further savings," Mr Hart said on Wednesday.
"But if the mayor's proposals were implemented we would have no option but to close the company down though we believe strongly this would not be in the best interest of the tourism industry or the local economy."
Cllrs Thomas and Cllr Butt, representing the mayor, faced some tough questioning from the audience. Arthur Christian, from Babbacombe BID, said to propose cutting to zero the company funding when there was no alternative was 'madness'.
Cllr Thomas said there had not yet been a Tory group meeting on the issue but he could not support a proposal to cut funding to zero. With potentially up to £27million to be cut from the discretionary services budget, he said 'huge difficulties' across the whole Bay from the cuts which will have to be made.
"But I could not support effectively a 100 per cent cut taking funding down to zero because that would close the ERTC tomorrow. However I don't see that it's possible to maintain its grant exactly where it is," he said.
"If a proposal can come forward from the ERTC with a business case and there is an opportunity to keep the company going with all the good work it is doing with a slightly reduced budget. If that situation can be resolved by the time the mayor budget goes out in November that's better for the industry."
Cllr Butt said he did not support a 100 per cent cut. "We have to look seriously at some type of cut over the next couple of years but I don't support the proposal to remove the budget completely."
Mayor Gordon Oliver was unable to attend the meeting. He was said to have a 'private meeting' on Wednesday.
Former Mayor's verdict Page 13 and industry update Page 18