Chris Davy, chairman of the British Hospitality Association, says operators must influence Local Enterprise Partnerships to promote local trade
With the abolition of Regional Development Agencies, the government is relying on Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to develop local economies. But I have real concerns about how hospitality and tourism will fare in these new structures.
In my experience, these kinds of partnerships are difficult to establish without wholehearted business support, they are always short of money and have little if any statutory authority.
LEPs will have no central funding apart from any that they may be able to wring out of the Regional Growth Fund, local business and local authorities. Unfortunately, we all know how local authorities are strapped for cash, while businesses have cashflow issues of their own.
Nevertheless, these LEPs will be responsible for supporting tourism in their locality often through Destination Management Organisations (DMOs). But some of these DMOs have fallen by the wayside because of lack of funding. Fortunately, Durham County Council has taken over the funding of Visit County Durham to ensure its continued existence, albeit with reduced core funding.
Hopefully the same view will be taken by other local authorities throughout the country. But will it?
With so little public funding, particularly after VisitEngland's failed Regional Growth Fund bid for £29m, I'm not convinced that LEPs will be successful in developing tourism in their locality.
Much will depend on how strident local hoteliers, restaurateurs and tourism businesses will be in influencing their LEP. And of course, as well as businesses lobbying, the local councils themselves will be having their say in who does what. Where will tourism stand in their deliberations if there is no tourism representation?
With LEPs in the early stages of their development now is the time for the industry - at local level - to make its presence felt. Hospitality businesses must take a positive interest.
Without this interest, the danger is that LEPs will ignore those sectors of their local economy that aren't willing to be involved. If this happens to tourism it will be bad news indeed, because the future promotion of local tourism largely rests on these bodies.
My advice is to join the BHA and get involved in lobbying through the BHA's regional groups. Through them, we need to ensure that tourism has representation on every LEP.
This is not something that can be organised from the centre. In the new coalition regime, it depends on local businesses looking after their local interests. If they don't, local tourism will surely suffer. It's in our hands.