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JIM PARKER: Is it time to cut Riviera Centre's subsidy?

By Herald Express  |  Posted: February 16, 2013

Riviera Centre

Comments (8)

I LIKE the ERC — like many I have never really got used to calling it the Riviera International Conference Centre, by the way. I have attended many functions there and it is a fantastic venue.

Thousands of people enjoy its pool and leisure facilities and it generates millions of pounds for the local economy from its conference business.

I also have a lot of time for its new board of directors who have been jettisoned in to find ways of making it more cost efficient and less of a drain on the public purse.

But that's where the 'but' comes in. The ERC continues to need the support of a Torbay Council annual subsidy of around £640,000 and that, now more than ever, is coming under increased pressure from all sides.

It has taken a hit — around six or seven per cent — on the handout, but there are some who want to see a further reduction.

Opposition councillors have it in their sights as the council is still grappling with the final details of its £10million budget cuts.

They want to see thousands more taken from the ERC cash subsidy and used for other projects like the threatened park and ride in Churston, under-threat street wardens, community alarms for the elderly and the setting up of a Torbay Community Development Trust aimed at galvanising the voluntary sector to name but a few.

Interestingly, Labour councillor Darren Cowell, a member of the opposition calling for the cash switch, draws a contrast between the ERC cuts and that of the English Riviera Tourism Company.

He says: "I firmly believe it is only right that the subsidy to the Riviera International Conference Centre should be reduced by 15 per cent in line with that cut from another arm's length council company, the English Riviera Tourism Company."

The ERTC has already made efficiency savings of 30 per cent, but has been told it will have to manage with another 15 per cent in its council funding for the next 12 months.

Let's look at some interesting facts and figures from both organisations.

I believe the budget of the old tourist board, before the ERTC was born, was around £1.2million as recently as 2007.

The budget for the ERTC, which does virtually the same job, is being cut from £585,000 to £500,000 for 2013. The budget is therefore one third of what it used to be for looking after the holiday industry.

Funding for the tourism company helps to promote 1,000 tourist businesses on the English Riviera.

It supports an industry employing 13,000 people — around 18 per cent of the workforce.

And tourism generates around £385million business for the Bay.

The funding also helps generate three million visitors to the resort annually, with two million staying visitors and one million day visitors.

As I say, over the years, the council grant to the ERC has always been around the £640,000 mark.

It employs dozens of staff and is understood to generate about £7million to £8million worth of business.

That sort of contribution cannot be sniffed at.

But in a nutshell, we are now in a position where the grant for the ERC will probably be at least £100,000 higher than the council funding for the organisation tasked with championing, promoting and marketing Torbay's entire holiday industry.

The ERC was in the spotlight under the former Nick Bye mayoral regime.

There was talk of closing it down, knocking it down and trying to find a hotel operator to go on site alongside a new model to boost conference trade.

Current mayor Gordon Oliver, however, promised to put his faith in the seafront complex during his electioneering and was true to his word.

Money has been found for repair works and he is keen to continue with the council subsidy.

Nobody wants to see the ERC simply moth-balled and that, no doubt, includes the ERTC.

The conference industry is an important part of Torbay's overall tourism and all-year round offer and we cannot do without it.

I know the new ERC board are doing their utmost at looking at ways of making the complex work and increase revenues.

But can they do it with the existing complex?

Will the subsidy for a centre — which 'wasn't going to cost the tax payers a penny' when it was built — ever be reduced to levels which are more acceptable to the ordinary man in the street and those opposition councillors?

Time is not on our side.

A tourism chief was only this week warning that West Country's tourism industry is at 'tipping point'.

The view from Laura Holt, chairman of the Devon Tourism Partnership, comes as figures show Devon lost two per cent of its tourism trade between 2002 and 2011 and visitor numbers to the county were down last year by 10 per cent.

Is this really a good time to cut the budgets of bodies like the English Riviera Tourism Company?

No doubt, they will take them on the chin and get on with the business in hand.

But the fight to Turn the Tide for tourism will be made that much harder.

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  • woodie2010  |  February 16 2013, 10:34AM

    Not only will the RIC get its 600k+ subsidy this year. It has also received £1million, yes an additional £1m diverted from a central government grant for highways from Torbay Council.

  • realityzone  |  February 15 2013, 8:01PM

    Tatxtal is right to say that the then Council Leader claimed that the ERC would not cost the taxpayer a penny, but that was then and now is now. So tatxtal, what is your proposal to replace all the employment which still exists in Torbay in the Tourist Industry, what other industries do you have in mind for the people who will loose their employment if we cannot maintain tourism? and are your proposals feasible? The best shot we have for expanding employment is to do everything possible to maintain and increase tourism, both hotel beds and day tripping. Other towns that are not even known for tourism subsidise their facilities, for instance the Theatre Royal in Plymouth is heavily subsidised by the Local Authority

  • iseveryidused  |  February 14 2013, 10:34PM

    If it ain't earning it's keep, close it. Quite simple really. If no-one has managed to iron out the glitches by now, it's a dud. Draw a line under it and use the money on more deserving projects. I've never been a fan, it's location is lousy, tucked out of the way - Which is just as well, it was designed by someone more used to working on Soviet Military installations. It was also trying to be too many things, which it did poorly. The Millennium Dome was a disaster, but thankfully as it was such an attractive icon with good travel infrastructure, that o2 have turned it into a fantastic venue. The ERIC doesn't have any of these qualities unfortunately!

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  • EdnaFruitcake  |  February 14 2013, 6:12PM

    How can someone who uses the phrase 'gambling joints and dance halls' complain that someone is out of touch.

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  • tatxtal  |  February 14 2013, 5:00PM

    Yes Edna Fruitcake just who is it that encouraged methadone addicts, drunks, gamblers and other substance abusers , but the very industry we are all subsidising , namely the tourist industry. They would not come here if it was an industrial area. Night Clubs, gambling joints, pubs, dance halls, are all geared to tourism. near all the profits made in the bay go straight out. If subsidy's were to go to real productive industry's that gave year round work then I would feel it worth it. Just how many local folk are employed by the tourist industry, sadly few. Sorry Edna you are so out of touch with reality.

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  • spindleshanks  |  February 14 2013, 11:27AM

    It is time to start thinking "outside the box" as to how it can be used.

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  • EdnaFruitcake  |  February 14 2013, 11:09AM

    Yes, why support something that brings wealth into Torquay when we can spend the money on adult services for methadone addicts who bring the ares nothing but trouble, need constant supervision and need tidying up after everywhere they go. We have built the economy of Torquay on drug services and benefits, well done.

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  • tatxtal  |  February 14 2013, 9:26AM

    Torbay tax payers were lied to from first proposals until now. Quote "I will not cost the rate payers a penny" IT has cost us every year since now, running in to many millions of pounds. For what! to prop up one industry, namely tourism, a leach industry that can only exist by creaming off money from folk that can least afford it. Any one that supports it in my opinion support legal theft.

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