Shocked Bury businesses fear the council’s proposed reductions in trade and tourism support could have a negative impact on the region.
The Plan for Change seeks to reduce Bury’s annual spending in tourism from £243,000 to £154,000 in order to contribute £89,000 towards the council’s overall savings target of £17.7million by 2015.
Reductions in tourism and events roles from 5 to 1.5 positions have been proposed, and Alex Stacey, Whitefield Business Group Chairman, is concerned about the impact of council officer Ruth Shedwick facing redundancy.
“There is a concern that if Ruth goes, she’s the glue that holds the whole thing together and it will not be the same,” he said.
“Ruth is central to the business groups in Radcliffe, Whitefield and Ramsbottom.
“She single-handedly organises the Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival, which won best small tourist attraction in Manchester this year, as well as the Whitefield Halloween Festival and the Radcliffe Dance Off.
She is also integral in running all of the farmers and Christmas markets in the borough.”
Mr Stacey said it is imperative not only to retain Ms Shedwick but for the council to increase their business support to encourage more visitors to the high street.
“If there are other ways in which Bury Council can resolve the budgetary problems it is facing without losing such a valuable resource, they must be found,” he added.
Ivan Lewis, MP for Bury South, said the council are in an extremely difficult situation because of the cuts they face.
“The council are in an impossible situation as they are not at the stage where they have bureaucracy available to cut, and so are having to impact on front line services,” he said.
“It is clear that Ruth has made a massive difference in the job she does in the circumstances of the recession – she is galvanising activity, and what she brings is what the council should be trying to protect.”
The council’s proposals include increasing financial support for events from £11,000 to £20,000, with the long term aim of handing them over to local communities and business groups and to private sector tourist attractions.
They also hope to create a dedicated Visit Bury website, to deliver tourism support from mobile information points rather than from the existing Tourist Information Centre, and to enlisting a group of volunteer ambassadors to support events and promote the borough.
Councillor Jane Lewis, cabinet member for Leisure, Tourism and Culture, said local business groups and volunteers already play an ever-increasing role in running events in the area.
“Cuts to council funding are the primary driver for these proposals, but we are also keen to establish how we can best support tourism activity in the modern day,” she said.
“This means making more use of websites and social media with the reduced amount of funding that will be available to us.”
Tracey Humphries, owner of Ramsbottom business Vitality Plus, is worried about there being less council support for businesses under the new plans.
“If our shops close what kind of a tourist offering will be left for Bury?” she said.
“The famous market, half empty!
“If the council think business owners have time to become ambassadors, they can think again.”
Bury council have admitted that staff reductions are one possibility of the proposals, but say a formal decision will not be made until after the consultation period.
Cllr Lewis said in the current financial climate the council faces many difficult decisions.
“We may no longer be able to provide everything that residents want or that we currently provide,” she said.
“We recognise that tourism brings investment and jobs into the borough, and we want to find the best way to support tourism and events in Bury in a modern and cost efficient way.”
Picture courtesy of Nigel Chadwick, with thanks.