Coastal Towns must be more than ‘a marginal afterthought’. Lib Dem MP for Southport John Pugh writes about his debate today ‘Economic growth and coastal towns’.
In the last parliament I initiated with colleagues what became an influential fact finding Select Committee report on Coastal Towns and their problems. Each locality varied, as some prospered and declined, rebutting usual stereotypes of closed B&Bs, crumbling piers, and high unemployment.
This issue has since been revisited by Sheffield Hallam, whose 2014 report, “In the Age of Austerity” also found against the general impression of gloom and decline.
Looking at ONS and DWP data they concluded that employment is in general stable and growing, that many coastal towns are big economic drivers, and that some places have a limited dependence on the tripper and tourist. Instead, many coastal towns rely on small businesses, retirees, government in sundry forms, the NHS, and students for their revenue.
What is evident however, is that there is a north/south divide in the coastal town leisure economy which favours the North.
This is not merely a matter of purchasing power in the wider economy, but rather an issue which links back to other areas of government policy. Smaller resorts and coastal towns have been overlooked as efforts to rebalance the economy have effectively concentrated on cities.
As more investment flowed into cities in order to frame them as hubs of both business and leisure, their smaller neighbours have struggles to compete. This is reflected in a diversion of the tourism, hotel, shopping and conference pound away from coastal towns to cities such as Manchester and Liverpool.
Local decision makers in Local Enterprise partnerships are rarely focused on small coastal areas and seaside tourism.
There is also a substantial decline in traditional funding for many councils in the North. Too often then it is the marketing and economic development budgets that get cut as councils in retrenching concentrate on core social services functions. As a consequence, support for local attractions reduces.
In order to bring equal prosperity to coastal towns, their needs must be set within the context of wider government policy. Transport links are crucial to Coastal towns but coastal towns don’t feature much in transport policy. Reducing the VAT on inbound tourism as in other Europe countries could make as much difference as specific grants. Coastal towns are resilient and sustainable places people want to live in. We are necessarily on the margins of Britain we just don’t want to be a marginal afterthought when it comes to government policy.
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