SAVAGE financial cuts to tourism services in the Yorkshire Dales have been branded an "economic death wish" amid grave fears hotels, pubs and shops will be driven out of business.
Key resources for visitors to the Dales such as Tourism Information Centres (TICs) are under threat as Richmondshire District Council battles to cut 1.5m from its annual 8m revenue budget over the next two years to counter a shortfall in Government funding.
The council is looking to stop its annual 132,000 funding for TICs in Richmond and Leyburn, placing the future of the facilities in doubt.
Cash from the council for a tourism partnership is also due to be slashed from 38,000 to just 10,000 a year.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is also reviewing its own services, which could see TICs including Reeth, Hawes and Aysgarth scaled back or even shut.
Andy Brook is the spokesman for the Leyburn Business Action Group, which represents a dozen independent retailers.
Mr Brook's own business, a countrywear outfitters called Royals of Leyburn, relies on tourists for nearly half of its trade.
He said: "Tourism is the number one source of income for Richmondshire's economy, and we simply cannot understand why the services are being cut back so severely.
"It is an economic death wish, financial suicide. The TICs provide such a valuable service, and if this is lost it will have a huge impact."
Tourism is worth 184.5m annually to Richmondshire's economy, supporting more than 4,500 jobs during the peak season.
The council's deputy chief executive, Tony Clark, maintained, however, that cuts had to be made if other key services such as refuse collection and housing were to remain unaffected. "We are faced with extremely difficult choices. But doing nothing is not an option."
A final decision on the proposed cutbacks will be made at a full council meeting on February 22.