Tourism industry insiders have attacked a British government decision to cut staff at the department for culture, media and sport – protesting cuts could “stagnate” growth in the sector.
Up to half of those currently employed by the department – which represents the UK tourism sector - face redundancy under cost-cutting measures proposed by the coalition government, prompting outrage among operators.
Minsiter Jeremy Hunt explains the cuts
The department presently employs just 590 of the 468,700 civil servants working for central government and maintains an annual budget of £2.1 billion.
World Travel & Tourism president Claude Baumgarten argued: “Yet again the coalition government has shown incredible short-sightedness and bad judgement.
“The tourism economy is worth £140 billion to the UK - a similar share of GDP to the financial and business services sector - but while the latter received a bailout to the tune of £850 billion and still struggles in its lengthy recovery, the government appears to be actively working to stagnate growth in tourism.”
However, permanent secretary Jonathan Stephens defended the cuts and said: “We want to maintain and enhance the best of DCMS through this – a committed high performing department which values and motivates its staff and is recognised as such in our sectors and by the rest of Whitehall.”
The also WTTC points to a decision to suspend expansion plans for London Heathrow Airport – as well as all other London airports – as a further attack on the industry.
Air Passenger Duty – the so-called “tourist tax” – has also proved deeply unpopular. However, chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne promised a review of its structure in the Budget earlier this year.
The WTTC argues the tourism industry supports 3.1 million jobs in the UK and attracts £24.3 billion in visitor exports.
The news comes as the Unite union questions government plans to increase competition at UK airports.
Under department of transport plans announced earlier this week, Britain’s airports will be encouraged to compete against each other, with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) given powers to sanction those regarded as underperforming.
The aim would be to make airports “better, not bigger” according to transport minister Philip Hammond.
He added: “These changes will help drive passenger-focussed investment in airports, such as in new baggage handling equipment or building new modern facilities.
“They will also allow economic regulation to be used in a more targeted way and remove unnecessary bureaucracy.”
However, objections are already being raised in some quarters.
Unite’s national officers for civil aviation, Brian Boyd and Brendan Gold, said: “There is no mention of what increased competition means for the employees at the UK’s many airports.
“Unite will challenge employers who attempt to use competition as cover to undermine the jobs and earnings of thousands of dedicated airport workers.
“Without the government’s firm commitment to improving transport infrastructure and supporting airport expansion including additional runway capacity, UK passengers will continue to be blighted by long queues before take off and landing.”
Finally, the government also confirmed it has decided against a previous proposal to give passenger watchdog Passenger Focus permission to represent air passengers.