Council comes under fire for lack of tourism department
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
A council has come under fire for not having a tourism department.
Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) Independent councillor Roz Stirman accused the council of not doing enough when it came to tourism at a subject overview and scrutiny committee meeting.
At the meeting, which focussed on the council’s medium-term financial strategy, Cllr Stirman questioned why more money wasn’t being dedicated to promoting tourism in the county borough.
She said: “We don’t do enough within Bridgend [County] Borough Council. Do we even have a tourism department?
“If we are not spending money promoting tourism, how does anybody visiting the area know what is happening?
“In the Valleys we have some beautiful walking areas, beautiful riding areas [and it is] lovely for bikes, but we never ever promote it. I really feel that tourism is so important.”
The council’s cabinet member for communities, Cllr Stuart Baldwin, responded by saying cuts in previous years had made it difficult for the council to dedicate more funding to tourism.
He said: “No, we do not have a tourism department. I think it is the half-time responsibility of one officer now compared to the fact that we used to have between 12 to 13 members of staff within our tourism section.
“Unfortunately, it comes back to the cuts that we have had to deal with and previous decisions that have been taken, probably even before 2017.
“Cuts are the answer to it and we don’t have that element of tourism.”
When Cllr Stirman asked if there were plans to reinstate a tourism department, Cllr Baldwin said such an investment would risk having to raise council tax.
The financial settlement received by the council from the Welsh Government, which has increased by 9.2 per cent from the previous year, has allowed the council to propose a council tax freeze.
Cllr Baldwin said: “To enable us to have a tourism department with the current settlement that we have been given by the Welsh Government would ultimately require an increase in council tax to develop that tourism department.
“And just having people in the tourism department isn’t sufficient. The people that we have got now do a fantastic job with the resources that they have got.
“Do we want tourism, which we know will at some point will have a multiplier effect and bring people into it, or do we want to push council tax up by three per cent on top of what we would have had to have done to maintain some other services?
“If we want it, then at some point we have to pay for it.”
Council leader Huw David said the local authority has a “thriving tourism sector” and there is more it is “planning to do” by way of investment.
However, he added it was important to “recognise that there is a difference between supporting tourism and tourism marketing”.
Cllr David said: “Within the lifetime of this council of course we opened the new watersports centre in Porthcawl. That has been incredibly successful.”
‘Right to flag the importance’
He added that Cllr Stirman was “right to flag the importance” of the county borough’s valleys, pointing to the council’s investment in Bryngarw Country Park.
He said: “The facilities have never been better at Bryngarw Park because of our investment.
“What we have done in terms of the promotion of tourism – we have shifted from having tourist information centres staffed because of austerity, but also because of the shift to online platforms and the way that a large majority of people now rely on the internet to access information on the places that they want to visit.
“The most important facts and figures that we need to think about and look at is – are the number of tourists visiting Bridgend county borough increasing and is the amount of money they are spending in the local economy increasing year on year?
“The answer to both of those questions is yes.”
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