Council hits out at plans to scrap tourism funding

The Mayor of Ballymoney has hit out at the recent announcement by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) that they are scrapping the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) Events Fund.

Addressing the issue at last Monday’s Council meeting, Ald Bill Kennedy highlighted the importance of such funding on local events including North West 200, Milk Cup and Armoy Road Race and the impact it will have on the community. He proposed that Council write to the Tourism Minister to secure an urgent review of this decision.

He explained: “At the Development Committee members voiced concern should the contributions to the tourism growth fund require a larger proportion of contribution from Councils than was the case for tourism project funding heretofore. The use of the word “jointly fund” indicates that councils might be expected to finance projects on a pound for pound basis with NITB in future.

“As we discussed the immediate difficulty with this is the issue of rates convergence, as we anticipate that new councils will be trying to limit rate increases in the first few years.

“Rather than having to find new money through leverage of additional finance through rates I expect councils will want to accommodate the delivery of new functions and projects within existing budget limitations and the transferring in budgets. I trust that this concern will be addressed during the consideration of the comments subjected under the recent review exercise.

“However, I want to convey the great concern which has been articulated to me by many, on the impact on events, tourism numbers and spend which is likely to be a consequence of the recent tourist board’s recent announcement that “due to ongoing budgetary pressures across Government, the Tourism Events Fund for 2014/16 will not go ahead.”

“As I understand it the international tourism events fund will not open to new applications and the one-year tourism events national sponsorship scheme will not operate for 2015/16. This is disastrous news for Northern Ireland tourism and tourism providers who benefit from spin off from events. It is particularly disappointing coming as it does after the magnificent results from 2012 going forward when signal events were successfully staged in the province. Indeed the Tourist Board have been encouraging more events.

“The Council, itself, supports such events as the North West 200 and Milk Cup, and Armoy Road Race and our own evaluations demonstrate that these revenue-generating festivals, provide significant returns for the local economy and the promotion of the Causeway Coast & Glens region.

“Benefits flow throughout the region through the provision of accommodation, entertainment and hospitality, during the period of the events. The takings of many of the eating establishments and public houses are also significantly boosted during that period. I propose that we write to the Tourism Minister to secure an urgent review of this decision by the Tourist Board on the funding of events.”

Seconding the motion Cllr John Finlay added: “Ballymoney has had a long-standing connection with the road racing sector and the road racing fraternity, particularly the link with the Armoy Armada and its world famous and most successful road racer of all time, Joey Dunlop. We have supported the world premier road race at the North West for some years. More recently, with our neighbours in Moyle, we have supported the Armoy Road Races. This race on the famous Armoy circuit has built itself into a popular event attracting international visitors.

“It has spin off for Ballymoney with visitors to the memorial gardens, our museum and the town itself. It would be a crying shame if the economy in our town and beyond was to be adversely affected by the impact of the withdrawal of funding.”

He also hit out at Sinn Fein stating: “This is down to the Welfare Reform Bill not being settle and we can only blame one party - Sinn Fein.”

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Responding Cllr Philip McGuigan said he would ‘third the proposal’ adding: “I will not take the criticism that this is Sinn Fein’s fault, it is nothing to do with Welfare Cuts. We are all in negotiations and trying to get more for the people here.”