THE European Commission has been asked to investigate
the Government over alleged illegal state aid to VisitBritain for
its self-catering booking system EnglandNet.

A group of self-catering agencies, led by Hoseasons chief
executive Richard Carrick, has made the complaint after a two-year
fight with the Government and VisitBritain.

The 25-strong group – which lets more than 20,000 UK
holiday properties – claims EnglandNet’s booking
facility is in direct competition with their businesses.

EnglandNet is a central database of accommodation put on
websites, including those of tourist boards, where it can be booked
by the public.

Networks for Tourism, the private company which developed
EnglandNet, has received more than £7 million in public
funding, the group claims.

Helpful Holidays general manager Moray Bowater said the EC
complaint was made due to the “desperation of being in all-out
warfare with the national tourist board”.

Bowater and Carrick have met with VisitBritain and the
department for Culture, Media and Sport, but say they were left
frustrated by the lack of “recognition that there is even a
problem”.

“This was the only avenue left for us,” Bowater said.

A VisitBritain spokesman said EnglandNet is “a marketing medium
which does not plan to compete with self-catering agencies”.

“It provides an additional channel for self-catering agencies to
sell their product to a wider audience,” he added.

A Government spokeswoman said: “We’re aware of a complaint
but we have not received anything from the EC.”

The EC is to complete a preliminary investigation. If it rules
in favour of the complainants a full investigation will start in
the new year.

Meanwhile, the National Audit Office – which audits all
Government departments’ accounts – has criticised
VisitBritain for acting “like a commercial organisation” with
“parts of the industry sometimes perceiving VisitBritain as a
publicly funded rival”.

In a report, it claims VisitBritain gets involved in commercial
partnerships because its £35.5 million Government funding has
been the same for nine years.