Conference presentations, Autumn Statement and more

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1. The joint Tourism Alliance, Tourism Society and British Destinations’ annual conference on 15 November appears to have been very well received. The slide deck for the presentations is now available on the dropdown menu from the main Annual Conference tab of Britishdestinations.net: https://britishdestinations.net/annual-conference-19-march-2018/annual-conference-2022-report/ . I would thoroughly recommend that colleagues wishing to evaluate mainly domestic performance in 2022 as compared with 2021 take a look at Jon Young of BVA BRDCs excellent presentation. I would also recommend that any English destination management or marketing organisations that either have yet to engage in the discussions or, who have done so but are still unclear on the direction of travel and its implications for them should read Andrew Stokes VE’s England Director’s presentation on the implementation of the DMO review.

2. Like most of you I have wasted quite a lot of energy and time trying to understand the detailed implications of the Autumn Statement, the full detail of which in many cases have yet to be announced or are subject to the vagaries of their application sometime down the line. For now at least at the national and destination level all we really need to know is how deep and how long? While there is much that appears to take some of the sting out of the immediate pain for business, that pain remains significant. Moreover, on the demand side of the business equation the OBR are forecasting that average house hold incomes are set to fall by 7% in this year and again in next (financial) year, the largest fall since this measure was recorded. That will have major implications for disposable income and all those primarily reliant on discretionary spending, including leisure hospitality and tourism and much else besides that are involved in the visitor economy.

We are told that while public spending will be protected for the next two years, essentially preserving the budgets and projects already agreed in the current CSR round (but not protecting them from now higher inflationary pressures) we can expect cuts in the each of the following three years. By delaying public expenditure cuts, it may be hoped that less severe cut may be needed if in particular, external negative influences improve. It also puts off deeply unpopular cut in and reductions to public service at a time of increasing taxation for many, until after the next general election which falls due in two year’s time. The broad answer to the how deep how long question, is very and at least 2 to possibly 5 years or more. The detail can wait, in the meantime the good news is that the money market have not reacted too bad to the Autumn statement and certainly far better than they did to the disastrous mini budget that contributed significantly to our current fiscal difficulties. Things can only get better, albeit it that they are now firmly set to get worse at first and then slowly recover thereafter.

3. A couple of issue to watch. In among new policies promises proclamations and sudden U Turns of recent months it did at one point look like the future of Great British Railways was in serious doubt. The latest official announcement extracted by the Parliamentary Transport Committee (19 October?) was that Great British Railways would now not take over Network Rail and franchising responsibilities in 2024 as originally planned, suggesting that they still will but just not yet. Views are split as to whether the current PM and Cabinet are likely to support a more or less hands-on approach and what degree of damage might be done to the management of the UK’s railways by delaying or indeed possibly scrapping plans developed over several years for Great British Railways. Meanwhile the additional cost of running the railways has not been addressed nor the problems of a generally declining service, neither of which helps tourism and the visitor economy, hence me putting it on the one to watch list.

North Yorkshire County Council have taken the unusual step of voting to double Council Tax on holiday homes ahead of the bill that will enable them to implement the decision. Whether this is to signal their approval for the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that is currently passing through Parliament, a glitch or a sensible means of ensuring that they can charge from the earliest conceivable date of April 2024, subject to the bill’s approval by April 2023 currently escapes me. The effectiveness of the measure will in large part depend on whether rules on short term holiday lets are also effectively tightened up to ensure that only genuine businesses operate under the business rate regime. Other Councils in England, particularly in rural are likely to follow North Yorkshires early lead. Wales is in the process of introducing a similar higher Council Tax rates for holiday home and a far more stringent set of test criteria for short-term lets and business rate status than that proposed in England.

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