COMPETING businesses need to work more closely together if Tees Valley tourism is to prosper in the wake of budget cuts, it was claimed yesterday.

About 100 representatives of local authorities, businesses and other interested organisations working in the area’s visitor economy were at Wynyard Hall, near Sedgefield, County Durham, to hear how tourism services will be delivered beyond March.

It followed the winding-up of visitTeesvalley last week after its parent body Tees Valley Unlimited (TVU) had its budget slashed from £9m to £2m, following cuts to regional development agency One North East and the Homes and Communities Agency.

Tourism supports 11,000 jobs and brings in £542m to the Tees Valley each year and TVU’s managing director Stephen Catchpole said that the cutting of the tourism team should not be taken to mean the visitor economy was not seen as important.

He said it was a great driver of jobs and growth, but now had to be seen as part of wider efforts to regenerate and grow the Tees Valley.

Mr Catchpole said: “Not having a dedicated team does not mean in any way that we don’t recognise the continued importance of that sector and the part it has to play in a successful 21st Century economy.

“The visitor economy is vitally important to us but I see it as not a separate standalone activity, it needs to be integrated with our other economic drivers.”

Mr Catchpole said that although yesterday’s event had been organised ahead of last week’s closure of visit- Teesvalley, it was best to hold it now to explain what is happening in the sector.

He admitted that the budget cuts were hard but, like everywhere else in the country, the Tees Valley had to be realistic.

He said: “We can moan until we are blue in the face but that is the reality of that reduction, we have to look at priorities.

That isn’t to say tourism is not important.”

David Kelly, chairman of the Tees Valley area tourism partnership, believed that as businesses could no longer rely on the public purse to fund projects, those in the same sector should work together, possibly through membership schemes.

He said: “It is not a reduction of resource it is a removal of resource and when that funding stopped most of the work stopped.

“I know that wasn’t the choice of One North East, that was the Government’s decision, and One North East money has enabled things to happen that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

“That kind of commitment from the regional development agency was very important and it is hard to see what will replace that.

“I think the best hope is that those with common interests bond together and they will probably have to pay for things now they didn’t have to in the past, but that is the new reality – the public sector doesn’t have the money.

“Together they can do something that individually they can’t.”