Blackpool's attractions have been hit during the peak October half-term period

Blackpool seeks help for stricken hospitality trade

Neil Tague

Business leaders in Blackpool have sent an open letter to Boris Johnson, describing how tier 3 measures imposed ahead of the half-term break have had a devastating impact on its £1.6bn hospitality industry.

The letter, signed by 1,000 businesses, said that with varying measures imposed across the country, the town’s hotels and attractions have seen mass cancellations of bookings for the most critical two-week period of the year – a period that can account for 20% of yearly takings for some in an industry that provides 25,000 jobs.

They warn that unless there is an urgent intervention by Government, dozens of businesses are at risk of closure.

Just eight hours’ notice was given of the restrictions coming into effect a week ago, with both the timing and communication strategy criticised. Claire Smith, president of Stay Blackpool, said “it created total chaos with visitors not knowing where they could go or what they could do when they got here. The end result was cancellations on a scale that none of us have ever experienced before.”

The businesses say that the tier 3 financial settlement for Lancashire – an initial £12m package, backed by a further £30m, described last week by Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver as a “really good deal” – is not sufficient. A Blackpool Council spokesman told Place North West that “this is a private sector-led initiative, with wide-ranging support: we think there has to be recognition that a location based on hospitality is a special case”.

One issue could be that the package is rationed out per capita, so an area not as prone to restricted movements, such as South Ribble, will secure proportionately the same as Blackpool – the kind of issue that in time could be resolved locally with greater devolved powers.

Another possibility raised with Place by a senior figure in the town is that, if awarded, cash could be diverted from Blackpool’s Towns Fund – the town is bidding for yp to £50m in the Government programme, up from the standard £25m due to exceptional circumstances. Should it secure the support, more pressing needs might compete with the transport and business support projects in the plan.

For now, Blackpool is taking its case to Westminster. Place understands that the council and local MPs are in discussions as to how a practical case is made, beyond this initial call to arms.

Paul Maynard, the Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, told Place: “Clearly our hospitality industry is facing an unprecedented challenge, and it’s the job of politicians like me to make a targeted case to decision-makers.”

The letter itself calls for an urgent, comprehensive package for Blackpool, saying: “We understand and appreciate that a negotiated pan-Lancashire financial settlement has been made, but the reality is that it is nowhere near enough.

“When Blackpool’s share of that settlement is set against the scale of the problem that needs to be addressed, it is entirely disproportionate.”

Kate Shane, head of cluster for Merlin Entertainments said: “Throughout this pandemic we have fully supported the Government efforts. We invested significant amounts in training, PPE and enhanced measures to ensure we were Covid-safe for all of our guests and employees before we re-opened in July.

“We feel we have done everything asked of us and more. All we ask in return is that the Government does right by us and puts in place bespoke measures that will help all of Blackpool’s tourism businesses get to the other side of this crisis.”

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