THE tourism industry is up in arms over Mayor Gordon Oliver's plans to cut funding to the privately-led company which drives the holiday business in Torbay.
He wants to reduce the English Riviera Tourism Company's council cash backing by half next year and totally axe the budget by 2015, which could deliver a death blow to the ERTC, which is run as an 'arms length' private company, limited by guarantee but owned by Torbay Council.
Now questions are being asked about why the Mayor has plans to cut the budget of the ERTC, which has won awards and praise for its success in marketing the £400million tourism industry, which employs 11,000 people directly in the Bay.
The issue has also raised questions about the Mayor having potential conflicts of interest because of his links to the tourism industry. The ERTC has taken legal advice and says it will sue Torbay Council for damages and an alleged breach of contract if the Mayor goes ahead with his plan.
In a letter to council director Charles Uzzell, copied to many Torbay councillors, ERTC chairman Chris Hart writes of his 'shock' and 'disappointment', particularly because the Mayor did not deliver news of his 'unilateral' proposal personally. The letter has been obtained by the Herald Express.
Mayor Oliver has so far not taken up the opportunity to comment by the Herald Express.
A Torbay Council spokesman said: "The council is under huge financial pressure to find the necessary budget savings to meet government targets. This means all areas of the council's activity are currently being reviewed. We can confirm we have received a letter from the English Riviera Tourism Company and we will continue our discussions about these proposals with them."
Mr Hart's hard-hitting comments come in a 16-page letter which the ERTC board directors unanimously instructed him to write.
The letter says: "The ERTC cannot survive the 50 per cent cut in funding let alone 100 per cent.
"The directors would be left with no option but to wind-up the company."
He warns all the costs of running services and making staff redundancies will have to be met by the council.
The ERTC is owned by Torbay Council which set it up at a cost of £100,000 in October 2010 to run until 2017.
Mr Hart writes to Mr Uzzell: "This news, out of the blue, came as a very substantial shock to both Carolyn Custerson (chief executive of the ERTC) and myself.
"I am disappointed the Mayor has not seen fit to personally advise me as ERTC chairman of his intentions."
Mr Hart also highlights Mr Oliver's own email of April 2009, when he was chairman of Torbay Hospitality Association, which then called for a new private sector tourism company, funded by the council 'with a minimum budget transferred directly from Torbay Council of £500,000 each year and guaranteed for 10 years'.
The ERTC is credited with successfully unifying Torbay's tourism sector.
The letter says as a result of the ERTC's work there has been an increase in visitor numbers after 'years of decline' and optimism in the tourism business is 'running at an all time high'.
This is despite staff numbers being cut from 20 posts as the old English Riviera Tourism Board, to seven posts now.
The ERTC works with 300 other local tourism businesses who contribute a further £200,000 to the cost of marketing.
"This amount alone is insufficient to professionally market the English Riviera brand in such a competitive market," says Mr Hart.
The ERTC runs the visitor information service, which the council used to run at a cost of £250,000, and which the ERTC now operates at a cost of under £100,000.
Laurence Murrell, managing director of TLH Leisure Resort, which employs up to 400 people, said: "I do feel strongly about this. This appears to me to be a decision to do away with the ERTC and I cannot understand why. It's the most successful marketing organisation in my 30 years experience of tourism in the Bay.
"It has united the industry for the first time in decades and it has achieved that at a much lower cost to when it was run by the council.
"This is a public-private partnership, but it's difficult to be a partnership with someone who is apparently trying to kill you off. The proposal is so destructive at a time when we should be building on the successes of this last summer. It's crazy."
Richard Cuming, chairman of English Riviera Attractions, said: "We are shocked the Mayor is proposing to withdraw funding from the ERTC.
"We have for the first time in decades a highly successful company with the vision and strategic overview to at last move the Bay forward into an all-year-round international tourist destination .
"Why is the mayor throwing this away at such a crucial time? Frankly this is nothing less than economic suicide and will threaten the industry and the jobs dependent on it.
"If the funding is withdrawn it will be one of the biggest political mistakes ever taken in the Bay."