Along the Yorkshire coast yesterday many people reacted to the call for the appointment of a Seaside Tsar to sort out the problems of our coastal communities by saying: “We are doing all right.”
And they would be right. There is much to admire in our east coast resorts and in the coastline itself, which attracts thousands of visitors for a cracking day out, short break or summer holiday.
But let’s not kid ourselves that all is rosy. Even in Yorkshire.
Around the country the figures are stark. Statistically people living on the coast are more likely to be poorly educated, unemployed and living in low-quality housing that those living in similar inland communities. A survey from the British Hospitality Association and Butlin’s shows that over half the public have not visited the British seaside over the past three years and that 30 per cent of the public have not visited the British seaside as an adult.
Now I know that polls are not regarded as wholly accurate at the moment but even given a ‘margin of error’ these are disturbing figures. This is why the BHA has launched a seven point Coastal Action Plan to help save our seaside and the main recommendation is the appointment of a Seaside Tsar to oversee the delivery of a coastal investment strategy and the creation of coastal action groups.
The organisation is also asking for a cut in VAT for accommodation and attractions. 31 other European countries have shown the economic advantage of a lower ‘tourism VAT’. If the playing field were levelled then our holidays would be more competitive.
One particular area that concerns me is education and ambition. There is proof that there are lower levels of education and skills attainment among young people in coastal areas. And this leads to a lack of ambition.
The BHA has run over 40 events across the UK as part of the Big Hospitality Conversation. These events see employers offering talented candidates work placements, apprenticeships and jobs. They aren’t all dishwashing jobs either – though it’s a good place to start!
Some of the skills that are needed in hospitality are simple but, sadly, some of our young people do not have them. Look people in the eye, shake their hand, say hello, turn up on time.
I am a director of the Hotel Future Foundation which aims to educate and train the next generation of hospitality professionals by learning in the ‘real world’ of special commercial hotels. We are looking to have a hotel chain across the country, offering high class service. The first one is in Bournemouth, an example of town where an ambitious seafront strategy has transformed the area – a conference centre, new restaurants, and good rail and road links. Anyone in Yorkshire want to help with a site or hotel for a Future Hotel? You’re welcome, as we say in the hospitality business.
But any revival of our coastline does not just depend on hospitality, even though one in ten people is employed in that sector. The BHA is also calling for the creation of coastal enterprise zones to incentivise investment. This could be through a mix of time-limited tax exemptions and incentives. The private sector is crucial to this.
There also needs to be investment in critical infrastructure which should be happening anyway but seems to get put on the back burner. There really is no excuse that broadband coverage is so patchy in some area or why some public areas should be scruffy. Local authorities need support to sort out the latter and the problems with housing. This includes ending multi-occupancy.
As you can see there are lots of bits and pieces which is why a Seaside Tsar – a Captain Coast – is so important. He or she would be able to coordinate strategy and join everything together.
So who should it be? Ideally it should be a Lord Heseltine Mark Two. It was the Tory grandee who, you may remember, set about regenerating Liverpool in the wake of the 1981 Toxteth riots.
He succeeded, against the advice of his former colleague Lord Howe who advocated ‘managed decline’ for the city. The former ‘Minister for Merseyside’ was made a freeman of the city four years ago – a singular honour for a Tory.
The Government may have more pressing matters on its plate right now. But when the dust has settled then sorting out our coastline and releasing the undoubted potential that exists along it must be given priority.
Stephen Miles is a general manager for Edwardian Hotels and the chairman of the northern committee of the British Hospitality Association.