MPs and the British holiday industry were last night horrified after a dedicated tourism minister position was scrapped as part of David Cameron’s reshuffle.
Somerset MP John Penrose had been Tourism Minister, but was sacked after finding his department had been made smaller as part of the wide-ranging ministerial shake-up.
The move is significant as the coalition Government had been at pains to stress it is taking the £90 billion industry seriously after being side-lined in the past.
Last month, Mr Penrose stood shoulder-to-shoulder with then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt championing the tourism legacy of the London Olympics.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) yesterday announced Sports Minister Hugh Robertson will assume the tourism portfolio on top of his responsibilities.
Mr Penrose, Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare, suggested his role was closely linked to the Games: “Very sadly and regretfully, I am the obvious person to go.”
Former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said: “The Government’s total disregard for our tourist industry is a scandal.
“Tourism is our biggest sector in the Westcountry and has good potential for growth. But it’s going through a very tough time. I know from my ministerial experience that tourism needs a dedicated champion in Government.”
Tourism is worth more than £2 billion annually to Devon and Cornwall.
In 2010, David Cameron said the country should “up our game” so that 50 per cent of what the British spend on holidays is spent domestically. It currently stood at 36 per cent at the time.
On his appointment, Mr Cameron told Mr Penrose he can expect to be in the job “for not one month or two months, but years”, adding that his job was to “get around the country, understand all the needs of the tourism businesses in our country and enlarge our share of what is a fast growing world market”.
Both the Tories and Liberal Democrats were highly critical of the low priority given to tourism by Labour, claiming it was dismissive of much of the industry.
Mr Penrose’s website states: “Before the election David Cameron had promised to create a dedicated minister for the tourism sector after previous Governments had sidelined the sector and, as the MP for a seaside town who deals with tourism issues all the time, John was a natural fit for the role.”
Yet there has been criticism that despite the Government claiming tourism would help “re-balance” the economy – ending the reliance on financial services and the South East of England – it has actually done very little to help.
Ministers decided not to press ahead with re-arranging the bank holiday running order, which was the most eye-catching policy in the Government’s much-vaunted tourism strategy.
Calls to move the clocks forward an extra hour – offering more daylight in the evenings for leisure time and generating tens of millions of pounds – have also been spurned.
Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive, British Hospitality Association said: “We are extremely disappointed that John Penrose has stepped down – he was a great supporter of the tourism industry.
“We would be extremely concerned if this indicated any downgrading of tourism in the list of priorities at the department.”
Luke Pollard, head of public affairs at Association of British Travel Agents, said: “News that the tourism minister, John Penrose, has stood down as part of a down-sizing of DCMS is of concern.
“The travel industry called for a minister in order to oversee an effective tourism strategy and we have been encouraged to see progress in this area.
“The Government has said that tourism is a key driver of economic growth and it is vital that we have clear leadership in place at a time when the tourism legacy from the Olympics needs to be secured and the contribution from outbound, inbound and domestic tourism still needs to be properly understood.”
Despite being hailed for his responsibilities to tourism, Mr Penrose was also tasked with heritage, gambling and horseracing.
A DCMS spokesman said: “Tourism continues to be an absolute priority for the department and indeed the wider government, and is at the forefront of our growth agenda.
“Tourism was one of a number of issues covered by John Penrose in his portfolio, in the same way that Hugh Robertson will also look after sport and gambling.”