A vote of no confidence has been declared in North Devon Plus by the heads of seven local tourist information centres. At a meeting of chairmen and managers of the centres, it was said the economic development agency relied more on technology than people

A vote of no confidence has been declared in North Devon Plus by the heads of seven local tourist information centres.

At a meeting of chairmen and managers of the centres, it was said the economic development agency "relied more on technology than people" and "does not pay due regard to the massive contribution tourism makes to the economy of North Devon."

Earlier this year North Devon Plus cut the total TIC budget by half to £44,000 this year, after itself seeing a £56,100 reduction in its funding from North Devon Council.

"Most of the TICs represented at the meeting said they would be closed within two years," said Jasmine Chesters, chairman of the Braunton and District Publicity Association, which runs the village TIC.

"It would be to the detriment of local people and visitors to North Devon if that were to happen."

A statement on behalf of the TICs claimed the agency was "not fit for purpose" and added: "Nor does it appear to understand the role of the tourist offices or recognise the myriad ways in which they serve the community.

"Suggestions by North Devon Plus that they are 'identifying ways of researching visitor needs, identifying best practice and working with the tourist offices to find sustainable business models' is just so much 'quango speak' and of little relevance in the real world of tourism marketing."

It also alleged the agency had created a service agreement which "includes a threat to reduce future grants still further unless the TICs agree to refrain from any criticism of North Devon Plus."

In response, Steve Pitcher, chief executive for North Devon Plus, said: "I find the recent release on behalf of the North Devon TICs really unhelpful.

"It is inaccurate and does not assist us or the industry to face the future in a time of tightening finances. What we are asking TICs in North Devon for, in return for significant grants, is to report to us each year on their performance and to develop a positive relationship, in which we respect each other's contribution."

North Devon Plus was set up following the merger of merger of North Devon Marketing Bureau, North Devon and Exmoor Regeneration Agency and North Devon Enterprise Agency. It is funded by both public money and that of business members.

"North Devon Plus recognises tourism makes a massive contribution to the economy of the area," said Laura Holt, its marketing and PR specialist.

"Supporting tourism and ensuring we not only meet but exceed visitor expectations is a key priority for us."

"We recognise that modernising the way in which we provide information is the most cost effective way to grow sustainable tourism revenue for North Devon. Tourism marketing is all about the visitor and responding to how they want to receive information."

Tom Evans, who runs the TIC based in the museum building at Barnstaple, said he was having to give it up after 29 years and was

handing it over to North Devon Theatres, which would run it in conjunction with the museum.

"By doing this I am ensuring it will continue but I can't afford to keep it going without significant losses," he said.

"We are fighting for our lives here, for the service we believe in and it seems incredible to us the powers-that-be have decided to haul the money from TICs and plough it into a website.

"If you get rid of TICs you have seriously damaged the long term viability of North Devon.