A TOURISM boss has challenged the Prime Minister over a decision to axe Cumbria’s £1.3m budget for promoting the county.

Ian Stephens, chief executive of Cumbria Tourism, accused David Cameron of a ‘blatant contradiction’ in his attitude to the industry amid fears Cumbria will lose thousands of visitors to Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

In a speech to tourist industry representatives in Kendal today, he said the cut in his organisation’s grant would mean it will not be able to compete with rival destinations over marketing and promotion.

Mr Stephens said he was ‘duty bound’ to highlight a ‘grossly unfair disparity’ which could have consequences on jobs.

The tourism budget is being reduced from April, coinciding with the start of the new tourism season. Half of Cumbria Tourism's 40 full and part-time staff will be axed.

Rival destinations like Scotland, Ireland and Wales will continue to spend millions of pounds on marketing because they receive direct funding from their respective governments.

Prime Minister David Cameron recently said he recognised the ‘importance of tourism in the UK’s economic recovery’, prompting Mr Stephens to describe Cumbria’s cut as ‘a blatant contradiction’.

Mr Stephens said he had written to Mr Cameron asking for clarification on how tourism in England is to be developed under his leadership.

Mr Stephens warned that a ‘patchwork quilt approach to marketing the area’ could put the Lake District’s image back nearly a decade.

“Some people say we should not be chasing public money,” he said.

“I disagree entirely because our rural economy needs it and our rivals rely on it to attract visitors. Scotland has £34m to promote itself. Ireland has £11m.

“Make no mistake these areas are gearing up to make massive inroads into Cumbria’s market share.

"They want our advertising space on London Underground stations, our coverage in the newspapers, and your customers through their doors.”