Shropshire Council wraps up Ludlow’s tourist information cuts as “exciting times ahead”

The master of spin was Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s media supremo who issued the dodgy dossier on Iraq. But Campbell is now being challenged.

This morning Shropshire Council made a bid for Campbell’s title as spin master supreme. It issued a press release on changes to the Tourist Information service at the Ludlow Assembly Rooms claiming that vicious cutbacks are “exciting times”.

Gwilym Butler, Shropshire Council’s cabinet member for leisure, libraries and culture, said:

“There are exciting times ahead for Ludlow Assembly Rooms and the Buttercross. It is great that we are able to work with the Trustees and the Town Council to secure a bright future and continue to offer valued services to visitors and locals alike.”

I have read some rubbish press releases in my time but this amongst the very worst.

The news about the Buttercross restoration and museum is not news. We have had a lengthy row about getting the funding for the Buttercross back that Shropshire Council once awarded, cancelled, re-awarded, procrastinated over and then gave back to the town council. There can be no better exemplar of this council’s love of pettifogging bureaucracy than this.

The Buttercross is a great project and I fully support it. I don’t support the way the Shropshire Council today is trying to attract glory for a project it so nearly wrecked.

The rest of the press release on the visitor information centre is utter nonsense. Gwilym Butler says there are “exciting times ahead.” Yeh, that’s as exciting as stepping off a cliff.

What has happened is that Butler has slaughtered the budget for tourist information in Ludlow. The new service will be stretched to the limits. It will not be able to book bed and breakfast. It will struggle to provide the level of advice that is essential to a tourist town likes ours.

I have no objection to merging tourist advice with the box office for Ludlow Assembly Rooms. But there has to be enough money to support a decent tourist information service, just as there is in Shrewsbury. We are not going to get that money.

In the same press release the Chair of the Trustees of Ludlow Assembly Rooms, said:

“All of us, Shropshire Council, Ludlow Town Council and Ludlow Assembly Rooms must keep working closely to deliver this challenging set of changes.”

Does that sound like exciting times ahead? No. They are the cautious words of someone squeezed between a rock and a hard place that has to cooperate with its funder.

The reason that this “exciting” cut is happening is that Shropshire Council does not understand the value of the tourist economy to the county.

There is not much money around, but failing to invest in tourism jobs is an own goal.

There is regrettably no up-to-date information on the value of the tourism in the county. The last survey was a decade ago when tourism was estimated to be worth £116.7m across South Shropshire and supported 3,500 jobs. Since 2005, food, B&B, pubs and heritage projects have grown. Tourism will be worth a lot more than £177m now.

But Shropshire Council is not interested in economic growth. All it cares about is budget cuts.

Money is short, everyone is getting used to being fed crumbs. But to dress up significant cuts to the visitor information centre in Ludlow as “exciting times ahead” is more than dodgy. It’s dishonest.

Alastair Campbell would be proud of Shropshire Council’s press release today.