The effectiveness of county council spending on a campaign to promote West Sussex as a cycling and walking destination has been questioned by Labour members.
The Beautiful Outdoors project looks to promote West Sussex as a visitor destination for young professionals in London and other parts of the South East interested in outdoor pursuits, with the aim of boosting the rural economy.
But the decision to allocate funding for the second wave of the scheme was called-in by the Labour group at West Sussex Council since there was ‘very little’ evidence to show the economic benefit of the first phase, which included a new website and targeted digital marketing.
Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Crawley Central) asked if it should be a priority for the council when they were still ‘reeling’ from an extra £3m cut to the council’s Public Health grant it receives from central Government.
Speaking at an Environmental and Community Services Select Committee meeting on Thursday March 17, he said: “Is the funding appropriate and does it represent value for money in times when every penny counts?”
Meanwhile the current ‘narrative of success’ left him ‘unconvinced’.
The Beautiful Outdoors project is one of the county council’s bold ideas as it looks to help stimulate West Sussex’s economy.
The call-in decision looks to allocate funding towards phase two of the campaign, which would include continued marketing through WSCC’s own channels, recruiting at least 40 businesses to the campaign, and working with organisers of cycling and walking events to promote the West Sussex Weekends website.
The phase two funding equates to £40,000 in 2015/16 and £64,000 for 2016/17.
In response Louise Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West), leader of the council, said: “I’m confident on the basis of where we are going this will represent good value for money, it’s encouraging people into the county, it’s encouraging people to spend longer weekends here and it’s something that should be built on.”
Simon Oakley (Con, Chichester North) felt that when a product was being marketed it helped if that product was ‘of a high quality’ and asked if the rights of way network was of a ‘consistently high quality’ across the whole county.
Derek Whittington (Con, Fontwell) felt they had to invest to grow their rural economy, and shovel ready projects were being drawn up so they could apply for funding from outside bodies.
He added: “The second part of the strategy is making it known that we are worth coming to. We are not perfect yet but we are heading that way.”
At the end of the meeting, Mr Jones said: “We do not have any pretty hard figures and it does seem to be a leap of faith, I’m sure the leader accepts that’s a big ask when we are talking about public money.”
He added: “I hope we get fantastic visitor figures and I hope this is the right application of public money to achieve that.”
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