Tourism minister John Penrose has said he agrees with the “direction” and “many details” of a new series of recommendations to help the leisure sector, but warned that there’s “very little money” to reduce taxation. In a new report, Business in Sport and Leisure (BISL) said a cabinet minister, preferably the Culture Secretary, should be made responsible for championing the growth of the UK’s leisure industry, which it said is being hit by a rising tax and regulatory burden that will grow from £3.2bn in 2010 to £3.9bn by 2014. The BISL report urges action on VAT, including reducing the rate to 5% for visitor attractions and examining plans to cut VAT for meals at pubs and restaurants. It calls for licensing and regulatory red tape, which is “currently hindering growth of the industry”, particularly for pubs, nightclubs and restaurants, to be reduced. And it wants firms to be incentivised to employ more 16 to 25 year-old ‘NEETs’ (not in education, employment or training) by “controlled exemption” from National Insurance Contribution. According to BISL, these proposals would “re-ignite job growth in the industry” by providing 440,000 new jobs by 2020 and save UK businesses and the Government up to £600m per year through more efficient planning and procurement processes. They would also create an additional 30,000 new training positions for NEETs over the next three years. The report points out that unemployment in the sector has risen since 2008, with 11,000 jobs lost between then and 2010. Speaking at the launch of the report, Penrose said: “There is a huge amount to agree with here, there is a huge amount where we are aligned, there is a huge amount where we can cooperate and work together. “I am afraid there is very little money for one or two of the tax suggestions. But, nonetheless, directionally and in many points of detail, we agree thoroughly and want to make sure we push this forward.” On the proposal to make a cabinet minister with specific responsibility for the leisure industry, Keith Knowles, managing director of Beds & Bars, said: “I think it’s a great idea but they need to have sufficient clout to do things, and not be some junior minister with no clout or influence.” British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “This is a valuable report with strong policy proposals. It reflects growing support for moves that support pubs and hospitality, in particular lowering VAT, and widespread awareness at just how vital tourism and hospitality will be in boosting our economy and providing new jobs, especially for young people.” Meanwhile, leisure industry veteran Ziya Akguneyli has called for the creation of a separate government department dedicated purely to growing tourism, as he labelled the current level of support “abysmal”. Akguneyli, former chief executive of Pebble Hotels who has held senior roles at Whitbread and Hill House Inns, said: “Hotels, restaurants and pubs are struggling with the recession but where is the help they need to create new jobs and rebuild our economy? “Since Business Links was downgraded by the Government and reduced to a website, many businesses have found it hard to obtain the essential information and practical advice they need. There is an abysmal lack of support out there for entrepreneurs. “Tourism has been hit by the recession too, but the Government’s minister for tourism is hidden away within the Department for Culture, Media & Sport – and has very little power or budget to help. We really must have a separate Government department dedicated purely to growing tourism and helping the hospitality industry.” Akguneyli is currently managing partner at Practical Choice Partnerships, a business support service.