The emperor is wearing no clothes and the Damascan scales have fallen from his eyes. The chair of Cornwall’s Local Enterprise Partnership has at last revealed that farming depends on tourism. The old Cornish saying that “if the holiday trade has a poor summer the builders have a bad winter” also applies, so it appears, to the agri-food and farming industry.

To reiterate Mark’s realisation he states:

“The importance of the hospitality trade cannot be overestimated, especially in an area like Cornwall which is so dependent on the visitor economy. Many of our wholesalers, food processors and smaller suppliers depend on hospitality and tourism for at least 80% of their trade.”

Mark makes many other good points about what is affecting the Cornish agri-food industry. However, his article is surprising because it completely fails to mention that the LEP does not support the tourism industry upon which his industry sector now relies. It is shocking that the LEP still persists that it does not need to have any proper tourism representation on its board. Few people realise this. Consequently, the LEP does not make any notable funding available to the tourism sector and has never, until now, publically acknowledged quite so vehemently the interdependence of the most significant pillar of the Cornish economy.

This is nothing new. Over the decades there has been very little public funding for the tourism businesses. Objective One did not fund the tourism sector. As a consequence it subsequently failed to achieve its one objective to significantly raise the average wage, a fact the authorities do not like to publicise. The necessary follow on, Convergence funding, also failed to be effective and today Cornwall is still poor enough to qualify for European regional funding.

Will it now take the international economic disaster caused by the coronavirus for Cornwall’s decision makers to wake up and realise it must properly support the tourism industry in order to support the rest of Cornwall’s economy?

The purpose of my reply to Mark Duddridge’s article is to highlight to every councillor, LEP board member, finance minister, public sector decision maker, to farmers, to fishermen, to industry gurus to federation and forum chairs, educationalists, and most importantly the Cornish hospitality industry itself   that the most influential and significant sector in Cornwall is the tourism industry.

If there is any silver lining to this wretched cloud of viral desperation it is, I just hope, that Cornwall now realises quite how dependant it is on a successful tourism economy. The message is simple and stark. If hotels, restaurants, cafés and pubs do not have a summer season and are open in time to trade in July and August then the economic consequences for Cornwall are going to be significantly worse than a current economic hiccup. It will not just be “huge problems for food producers” as Mark comments. Their “80% of trade customers” that support them will simply no longer exist.

Mark’s article rightly recognises that “policymakers need to wake up to the interdependence of key parts of our economy. In Cornwall, farming and food production (agri-food) account for over 9% of all jobs (21,600 people) and is one of the biggest contributors to the economy”. 

Surely a more significant fact is that 33,000 jobs in Cornwall are in 4,700 front line tourism businesses. That is [conservatively] 20% of the workforce directly involved, making tourism the only workforce sector larger than the public sector. We need not be reminded that currently the tourism sector is in an effective 100% lockdown, or in blunt terms, it’s shut with zero income. Luckily the farming industry can continue to work and trade, but it is still devastating.

Mark is concerned about the agri-food sector, and yet is shy to mention it has been consistently funded by Europe:

“But our agri-food industry is hugely dependent on a thriving visitor economy, accounting for 80% of trade in many cases. With the Easter season already lost, grave concerns about the summer and fears that pubs, cafés and restaurants could be among the last to emerge from lockdown, the impact on Cornwall’s 5000-plus[sic] agri-food businesses is going to be huge.”

Yes, he is quite right to be concerned that the tourism industry downturn will indeed have an impact on the agri-food business. He is absolutely correct. But how concerned is he really about the tourism industry? I am yet to be convinced that he has truly addressed the most important questions of all; and that is this:

Will the chair of the LEP now properly recognise and appoint a member to its board to represent tourism and then commit and allocate a representatively proportional section of Government-to-LEP funding to the primary and secondary sectors of Cornish tourism industry?  Or will he simply continue to the support tertiary tourism-dependent business sectors of farming fishing, arts, innovation industries, financial services, IT, and space exploration etc etc etc ?

Mark, I congratulate you on identifying the challenges facing Cornwall and I agree with many of your points, though I do now challenge you, through the LEP, to properly fund tourism through this crisis and beyond. I would be pleased to help you.

To all, the message is simple. If we look after the tourism economy then the wider economy of Cornwall will benefit and thrive, and the county will no longer be so dependent on European funding. In farming parlance you reap what you sow.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Toby

    I have been saying for years that those in charge of economic strategy in Cornwall have failed to recognise the vital role that tourism plays in the Cornish economy. They have been endlessly it seems trying to re-invent the county and continually failed for literally decades, rather than embracing what and where we are. The LEP strategic economic plan delivered to government in 2014 was a 97 page document containing the word tourism three times, accompanied by statements like “over reliance on”. With Cornwall Business Forum we now have a membership of some 8,700 businesses across all sectors. As Scott Mann said in the run up to Brexit, EU funds have not reached and had an effect with the man on the street. There are some exceptions of course, but in the main they have had little or no effect on the majority of our member businesses. I would be good to talk.

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