The Government has insisted tourism has not been “downgraded” after being accused of “awesome incompetence” for scrapping a minister dedicated to the industry following the Olympics.
Two weeks ago the Western Morning News reported Somerset MP John Penrose, who had been Tourism Minister, was sacked after finding his department had been made smaller as part of the wide-ranging ministerial shake-up.
Sports Minister Hugh Robertson has assumed the tourism portfolio on top of his existing responsibilities, exposing the Government to accusations he will be a “part-time” Tourism Minister.
The coalition had been at pains to stress it cared more about the £90 billion industry than previous governments, and touted Mr Penrose as a minister “dedicated” to the sector. Tourism is Devon and Cornwall’s most important industry, worth more than £2 billion annually to the two counties.
During Culture Questions, Dan Jarvis, Labour’s Shadow Tourism Minister, said the London Olympics had been a “fantastic achievement” – but that there is “significant concern, especially outside London” that visitor numbers were below those that were predicted.
He went on: “Given that concern, given the Government’s recent commitment to increase the number of overseas visitors from 30 million today to 40 million by 2020 and given that at a time when they should be capitalising on the Olympic tourism legacy they have chosen to cut the ministerial post focused on tourism and heritage, will the minister explain how he will guarantee that every region benefits from UK tourism?”
Mr Robertson responded that it was “one of the silliest points made for a very long time”, adding: “We had a thoroughly excellent minister, who covered tourism, heritage and gambling.
“We now have a minister who covers sport, tourism and gambling. I cannot remotely see that that is in any way a downgrade. There were three responsibilities before and there are three now – the maths are very simple.”
Earlier in the debate, Tristram Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, also attacked the Government.
He said: “Given that, only a Government of such awesome incompetence as this one could follow up the Olympics, when the eyes of the world were on Britain, by abolishing the post of minister for tourism and heritage. We know that the Tory party did not like Danny Boyle’s wonderfully progressive vision of British history, but did it really have to seek revenge by scrapping the post? Why will the Government not support our national heritage and tourism industry, rather than abandon it?”
Mr Robertson responded: “That is the silliest question I have heard in two-and-half years. Let me make it absolutely clear that I loved the opening ceremony and that, far from the Tourism Minister being abolished, he is standing before you.”