Jim Parker on Torbay MP’s ‘we have to be ready’ message

Just a few weeks ago I was looking forward to the end of a long, wet winter, the sunshine, a pint in a beer garden, holiday and, of course, the cricket season. Thank goodness we have had some sun but the beer garden, holiday and cricket well that’s all a different matter.

But if you think my summer season dreams have been shattered, spare a thought for the Bay’s tourism, hospitality and leisure industry. It has been brought to its knees.

And what about business generally and our town centres who were already struggling before this horrendous pandemic took hold? Is there any way back? Torbay MP Kevin Foster is confident there is. The English Riviera may never be the same again, but the government recognises that seaside resorts will come out worse than others in all this mess and Mr Foster and his Brixham counterpart Anthony Mangnall will, no doubt, be doing all they can to fight our corner at Westminster.

But Mr Foster says it is not just about asking for cash. It is about being united, coming up with solutions and not just raising problems and being able to adapt.

It must be emphasised that one of Mr Foster’s biggest priorities now is to make sure current government guidance is adhered to including staying at home and not encouraging people to travel anywhere. But he says we must be ready when those measures are eased.

He says: “Times will be different. People will look at going abroad more nervously and instead looking at staying in the UK. When restrictions are eased, we have to get the message out there about what we have to offer on the doorstep. It is about a message that we want people to enjoy themselves safely. People will be looking for somewhere safe.”

He says it is about deciding how we can persuade people to stay in Britain and, even more importantly, visit out ‘beautiful Bay.’ He says: “We have a great offer – from our family holiday parks to our new branded hotels and our traditional hotels.

“We have to make it clear that we have a quality place but with policies where there will be clear guidance to people.”

He says adapting to the new future will be paramount. “There will be less use of cash. How can we be ready for that? It is not just making sure that the tills of attractions take cards, it’s about their snack bars etc as well.”

He said it was also making sure people were safe in our hotels, bars and restaurants with different kinds of service to avoid crowding.

He adds: “Some of the problems that seaside resorts and our town centres have had are going to be accelerated by this.”

Funding bids of £25million and £15 million to breathe new life into Torquay and Paignton town centres are with the government. But Mr Foster says: “It is also about being clear to government about what we can do. It is no good just presenting problems. It is about solutions.”

He said it was also about making things happen with regeneration projects. He points to the Singapore-based Fragrance Group: “The Fragrance Group are still building on four major sites in the Bay. As a result, you can see that little acorn of a mighty oak.”

He says teamwork is key, not just locally but with partners further afield including not only the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership but the Great South West partnership taking in Cornwall. Mr Foster says: “We need to crack on and have that team spirit.”

Nobody gets the partnership bit more than me. But I sometimes I think, perhaps selfishly, that we should be shouting from the rooftops about Torbay only and the importance of tourism. I truly get all the emerging business sectors bit, but Torbay is tourism and tourism is Torbay. We forget that at our peril.