Trade body Bacta has stepped up its campaign for seaside regeneration, placing the amusements sector at the very heart of the coastal economy. Chief executive John White calls on the government to keep its support flowing for the seaside communities.
The British seaside is a national institution: home of fish and chips, buckets and spades, and amusement arcades with 2p pushers. Britain’s coastal towns remain one of our most famous attractions for tourism and the businesses within them act as the economic engine for local communities. The hospitality industry, of which we are a part, employs 1 in 10 people in our coastal towns and is responsible for over 250 million annual visitors, contributing up to £17bn to the economy. By comparison Brighton Palace Pier, attracts more visitors a year (an estimated 4.6 million), than the Tower of London or the V&A Museum.
Yet these figures tell only half the story. Some of our most beloved seaside resorts and holiday destinations are also home to pockets of communities suffering with some of the most serious social and economic deprivation. Low pay, high unemployment, job instability and a lack of viable transport links are fast becoming the call out features of many of our British seaside towns and communities. As the trade association for the amusement and gaming industry, Bacta sees first-hand the difficulties faced by coastal towns. And as members ourselves, we’ve seen many of our seaside centres struggling to keep businesses alive, or even being forced to close.
We recognise both the loss of critical employment, and the erosion of future potential employment that such closures represent. Seaside Family Entertainment Centres (FECs), are invariably small, family-run, local businesses. These businesses are the heartbeat of the British coastline, providing employment locally and bringing in visitors from all over the country, particularly as staycations continue to rise. Often, these businesses are reliant on investment from the government to boost visitor numbers and by extension, the local economy. The success of our coastal businesses is intrinsically tied to the success of the British seaside and the communities they represent.
Britain’s seaside towns have a unique circumstance that provide opportunities and attractions that inland areas simply cannot match. However, many of Britain’s seaside towns are struggling to respond to the opportunities of the 21st century. For us and the unique businesses that we represent – this rings true. The unique appeal of these towns and the access to them is what is essential for the tourism industry, and where investment is desperately needed.
In recent years it has become increasingly apparent that Britain’s seaside towns are comparatively more deprived and on average underperform economically in comparison to other areas. The Great British Coast has enormous potential and we are committed to working closely with the government on a course of action that will help unlock barriers to the development and growth of our communities.
Currently the government is looking into Sector Deals and tourism enterprise zones for local authorities, to be able to empower them to allocate where their investment goes. Recently they responded to the Lords Seaside Towns Report stating that they recognise the problem within seaside towns; however, there is still a lot to be done. From making more money available to help regenerate towns, to the way it will be spent, it is very dependent on where they assess the most needs currently are.
The government’s intention is to invest almost £227 million towards the regeneration of the Great British Coast by 2020. This will predominantly be through dedicated programmes like the Coastal Communities Fund and the Coastal Revival Fund, which aims to help generate jobs and boost businesses, bringing iconic or at-risk heritage and community assets back into economic use.
We would welcome the government’s commitment to our coastal communities and understand that they are currently in formal conversation with the tourism industry on a potential Sector Deal. The aim of this is to boost productivity of our tourism industry and we can only urge the government to approve this deal to unlock significant opportunity for tourism in our coastal towns.
This is an industry with a future, and a Sector Deal is critical to attracting more visitors both domestic and international to drive major economic growth. It will also ensure that the voice of the industry is being heard loud and clear in the years and decades ahead, acknowledging the tourism industry as one of the UK’s most successful exports.
The British seaside already does so much to enrich the UK, culturally and economically. With the right support, it can act as a catalyst to transform coastal towns and create a new era of opportunity, one that builds on a rich and nostalgic heritage.
To learn more about becoming a member and how you can get involved with our campaign – visit https://bacta.org.uk/joining-bacta/