“In her first speech as prime minister, Theresa May set out her goals to tackle the social injustices faced by many, including the working-class young. One to add to the list is that of young people who come from our coastal and seaside towns.
The UK’s coastline is 7,700 miles (12,400km) long and contributes hugely to our cultural wellbeing. Some 250 million visits are made to the coast each year but it is an inconvenient fact that if you come from our seaside towns you are more likely to be poorly educated, unemployed, unemployable, lacking in ambition, claiming benefits and living in multiple-occupation housing.
This is largely down to the long-term decline of fishing, agriculture and tourism — the industries that traditionally supported coastal communities. Tourism could arrest that decline if government helped to create the environment to allow businesses to do so. Although tourism is the UK’s sixth largest export earner and employs nearly 10 per cent of the working population, it could do better.
A recent survey found that more than half of the British public have not visited the seaside in the past three years, 30 per cent have not visited as an adult and 65 per cent believe the seaside is run down and in need of investment.
This is why the British Hospitality Association has come up with a plan to revive these communities. The first step is to appoint a seaside tsar, someone to co-ordinate government and local authority spending. This person, who needs to be strong enough to make a real difference, would oversee the creation of coastal enterprise zones to bring in investment and encourage businesses to move to the coast.
The second initiative is to create a tax environment that encourages people to visit and coastal businesses to invest in themselves. The obvious incentive for visitors is a reduction in tourism VAT — on accommodation and visitor attractions. UK visitors are taxed harder than almost everyone else in Europe for simply going on holiday. Our tourism VAT rate is a punitive 20 per cent while the average in Europe is half that.
If Mrs May is serious about rebalancing the economy, tourism is one industry that can deliver export growth by creating a seaside that is worth going back to.”
Dermot King is managing director of Butlins and chairman of the Cut Tourism VAT Campaign