Outdoor Industries Association Blog

Archive for October, 2013

Why should the outdoor industry care about the Government re-shuffle?

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

17.10.12 Number 10One of the most important roles that the OIA undertakes on behalf of the industry is lobbying government – representing the views and acting in the best interests of outdoor businesses of all shapes and sizes throughout the country.  As you can imagine, it’s also one of the most complex and challenging areas of work that I’m involved in.  In truth, it can be really frustrating at times.  The world of Westminster can be extremely difficult to navigate around and finding the right route can be tough as when we do feel we’re making good progress with one department or Minister, suddenly a Cabinet re-shuffle can mean starting all over again.

So, it was with some trepidation that I contemplated the recent re-shuffle.  On the day that the details were announced, I was in regular ’phone contact with the BMC and the Ramblers.  We were all waiting to hear the news, wondering if relationships we’d built up would be tossed away again – 14 months ago, we ‘lost’ two senior Ministers whom we had worked hard to court.  On the same day, I spoke to a senior director in the outdoor trade and they didn’t even know a re-shuffle was planned, which got me wondering how much the industry knows about the increasing political lobbying work that we are doing at the OIA, and why we are doing it.

Lobbying – interacting with political parties – is insurance work.  We spend a huge amount of effort and time to get the smallest of connections and communications, so that, should the day ever come, we can pick up the ’phone, and not be in a position of fighting a rear guard action.

In 2001 our industry, and the whole tourism industry, was decimated by the foot and mouth disease outbreak.  What made things infinitely worse was the total lack of any channels of communication from the recreational economy, when compared to the huge influence that the ‘big farming’ lobby had (and still has) with government.  It took months for people to realise that, economically speaking, the negative tourism and outdoor recreational impact on the countryside was far worse than the direct foot and mouth impact on farming.  The science was not good and there were other ways of dealing with the issue, but by then it was too late – businesses and families were destroyed and our trade was on its knees.  The lack of a co-ordinated, sustained outdoor lobby cost us all dear.

Back to the present – who are we talking to? The OIA seeks to engage across all government departments, but especially in four areas:

  • Tourism
  • Health
  • Sport
  • Environment.

Tourism and Sport are a joint portfolio, which has now been handed to Helen Grant, working for Maria Miller at the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) – we have a strong contact with Maria and have already congratulated Helen on her appointment.  We will seek to raise awareness of the outdoor sector, its vital importance to tourism outside London, highlight the importance of recreational activity, and press the case for it to be considered, and so funded, as sport.

In Health, Jane Ellison has joined as Public Health Minister – she has walked the Coast to Coast and the Pennine Way, so we are hoping for a friend there!  We have a strong message that informal recreational activity in the outdoors is a far better solution than formal sport to achieve the Chief Medical Officer’s health targets.  As the UK is the least active nation in Europe, the Government shares a common goal with the OIA – to ‘get more people active outdoors!’.  So we will push our message hard here.

And finally, working with the National Parks, the Ramblers and BMC, we will talk to the new Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Minister George Eustace about access, the coastal foot path, rights of way access and the continued funding and protection of our wild places.

So, in answer to the question of why the re-shuffle should be of interest to the trade, it means everything to us.  We have to be engaged at Westminster, talking to government, ready to fight our cause, stand up for our industry, point out how much we offer of value to the country, and ask for support, funding and long term legislation to encourage more of the general public to get more active outdoors, more often!

Andrew Denton
Outdoor Industries Association