IT’S been a topsy-turvy time for the reputation of Ayr in the last few months. In June it was ranked Scotland’s worst seaside town in a Which? survey.

Then The Herald reported that the town, once in the running for the most dismal in Scotland, is tipped to be named Scotland’s most beautiful High Street.

However, Herald readers didn’t appear to agree. Their comments ranged from “Ayr is my hometown and I am a regular visitor. There is nothing beautiful about the high street, nothing at all, “ to the brutal, “Ayr is a midden.”

One thing I can say with certainty is that some of Scotland’s seaside towns might not be very bonny but believe me, England leads the way in deprived, poverty ridden and forgotten seaside towns.

As part of my work as campaign director with the Cut Tourism Vat campaign I commissioned a study on the state of England’s seaside towns and put forward recommendations on how their lot could be improved. I took the view that if we could highlight how these towns were being forgotten and abused then it strengthened the case for a tourism VAT cut as just one tool in the box to help turn them round.

Our report’s recommendations included the appointment of a powerful ‘Seaside Tsar’ to oversee the delivery of a Coastal Investment strategy; Coastal Action Groups to provide a strategy which identifies and promote opportunities for investment; and a Progressive Tax Environment that encourages existing and new coast enterprises to invest in their business. We also recommended the creation of Coastal Enterprise Zones to incentivise investment, time-limited tax exemptions and investment incentives for hospitality, tourism and other businesses. Improved education and training provision for young people and adults is also important to ensure they have the skills for a variety of sectors, including, but not limited to, tourism.

A report published earlier this year by the House of Lords described England’s seaside towns as being “at the end of the line” in both a physical and metaphorical sense. Of the 31 largest UK seaside resorts, 25 are more deprived than the national average. Indeed, several are amongst the most deprived areas in the country.

Blackpool, well known by generations of Scots trippers and stag party revellers, is one of the most-densely populated places in the country outside of London, has the lowest life expectancy in England and the unenviable title of “England’s unhealthiest town”.

The UK Government’s Indices of Multiple Deprivation reveal that nine of the 10 most deprived regions in the UK are coastal areas, including the seaside village of Jaywick, near Clacton-on-Sea, ranked as the most deprived neighbourhood in England in 2010, 2015 and 2019.

English seaside communities suffer from high levels of unemployment, crime and substance abuse. Workers living in these areas earn on average £1,600 less per year than those living inland, and two-thirds of coastal areas have seen a real term fall in wages since 2010. Poor education standards and the lack of work opportunities encourage the bright and best youngsters to leave whilst the high number of retirees, who often relocate to the coast, places an intolerable strain on local NHS resources.

To make matters worse they have become dumping grounds for councils from London and the South East who actively relocate social rejects, immigrants and asylum seekers from larger English towns and cities to seaside towns, causing tension within the local communities.

The ignorance of many MPs and ministers towards the state of seaside communities is particularly surprising as coastal constituencies elect a quarter of all MPs. When I visited Amber Rudd in her run-down Hastings constituency office, she appeared completely ignorant of many of the problems that were obvious to anyone who wandered along the seafront. When we pointed out the importance of the hospitality sector to Hastings and the problems it is currently facing, we were told blithely that don’t worry “we have a new putting green”. Clearly the answer to Hastings woes.

The fact these seaside communities returned 91 Conservative MPs at the last General Election was despite, not due to, government policies.

Successive governments have failed to address the core issues surrounding the deprivation and lack of aspiration in a great many of these coastal towns. The Coastal Communities Fund has invested a paltry £229 million into 369 projects UK-wide since 2012. £229 million would barely sort out the problems facing Blackpool, and the fact these communities are having to compete for a trivial sum demonstrates the complete disconnect between Westminster and the rest of the country.

Yet creating more jobs and encouraging enterprise in coastal communities is only the start, and must be accompanied by improved education and training provision, with government investment in critical infrastructure, including improved broadband, rail and road connections.

Boris Johnson made the right noises on his first day in office – pledging to support Britain’s ‘forgotten’ seaside communities, but quasi-Churchillian speeches are not enough. He needs to look at the great Scottish seaside successes such as St Andrew’s, North Berwick and Anstruther, to see what can be achieved with vision, incentives and political will.

One last point. Anybody who thinks introducing a “Tourist Tax” in Scotland’s holiday towns is the answer to anything needs their head examined. But then we live in a country with the highest tax rate in the UK and workers will soon be charged for parking. Any idiocy is possible.

Jack Irvine is chairman of Media House International and campaign director of the Cut Tourism VAT campaign.