My take on devolution

Combined Authorities appear to be Central Government’s preferred model of devolving power in England – and whilst there are numerous arguments against this proposition, it is likely that these will fall upon deaf ears.  We must therefore deal with the actualité of the situation.

Devolution is a subtle and nuanced matter, not given to soundbites or easy solutions.  I am very clear in my view that devolution ought to mean power transferring from Whitehall and Westminster to Blackpool.  Council Leaders in Wales and Scotland tell me that devolution from Westminster has led simply to powers being centralised in Cardiff and Holyrood – and not passed down to local councils.

We cannot allow such a situation here –any combined authority for Lancashire must treat all participant councils as equal partners.    Current joint working arrangements are variable in their success.  Transport for Lancashire (a partnership between Blackpool, Blackburn and Lancashire County) works well – the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (a similar partnership) does not, and I remain singularly unimpressed by it.  The MP’s for Hyndburn and Chorley have both expressed their concerns about this style of devolution, with which I have some sympathy.

Blackpool became a unitary authority because we did not feel that a council the size of LCC could pay enough attention to our very specific needs – Blackburn with Darwen clearly felt the same.  In recent months, both Wyre and Chorley have indicated a preference for unitary status, so clearly that feeling has not gone away.

There can therefore be no talk of an elected mayor for Lancashire, or the formation of a “Greater Lancashire” authority which sees power taken out of the hands of Blackpudlians – but I’m not against negotiating around issues where there may be a common set of aims – education planning and strategic housing matters present themselves as obvious areas which bear further exploration.

In the final analysis however, Blackpool has more in common with places like Hastings than it does with places like the Ribble Valley (I was born in Blackburn, grew up in Clitheroe, and have just ordered my Blackburn Rovers Season Ticket – East Lancashire is a wonderful place, but very different to Blackpool).  In the coming months, therefore, I will be exploring the possibility of working with other seaside towns – some of whom might, like Blackpool, want local control over housing benefit budgets, as a tool to dealing with a large surplus of former hotel accommodation, to name but one issue.

Is the Government brave enough to consider devolving powers to a group of councils who have a lot in common, but who aren’t geographic neighbours?  We’ll see…

Budget blog

On Friday 27 February, the full council met to discuss this year’s budget proposals. The proposals were passed with 25 councillors voting in favour and nine against. Here, Cllr Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council explains the tough decisions the authority had to make and will have to make in the future.

February 27 was a truly grim day and certainly one that, coming into politics, I never expected to have to deal with.

Although I am satisfied that we have a budget that is achievable and protects vital services, it is with a very heavy heart that I agreed to a £26 million reduction in budget and the loss of 300 jobs.

As in previous years we hope the vast majority of the redundancies will be voluntary and we are working with people to support them into setting up new careers or their own businesses.

Clearly it’s a very difficult time to be doing anything like that as well. These are all excellent people doing jobs that need to be done.

That makes it all the more difficult.

Looking to the future we need to plan how we are going to continue to provide services to those who need it most in the face of the likelihood of further cuts in the future.

We’ve had huge success in attracting external funding from the Growth Deal which shows that the Government understand what needs to be done and the freedoms we need to stand on our own two feet.

We’ve got our £45m Better Start project, the Head Start scheme to assist teenagers suffering with mental health issues, we’ve brought in £2.4m from the Coastal Communities Fund. It’s all good stuff but we can only bid for what is available and I’m concerned that overall, for Local Government, there isn’t enough.

We need to look at what has happened in Greater Manchester with the announcement that their £6 billion health and social care budget being devolved to the region. That’s something that I’ll be pushing for in Blackpool and lobbying Government ministers and shadow ministers for. With similar arrangements I believe we could make an enormous and co-ordinated impact.

The elections are upon us and I’ll be in trouble if I say too much in this particular space about them. This is a space for council business not party politics.

However, as Leader of the Council I would urge you, whoever you may support, to make sure you are registered to vote.

We have both local and general elections for the first time since 1997 so it’s vital that you make your vote count.

To check you’re registered, call our electoral services team on 477490 or 477161.

View the budget council meeting in full.

Continuing to strive for progress

As you’ll know – we’re being forced by a much reduced financial settlement from Central  Government to cut more than £25 million worth of jobs and services on top of the £39 million which has already been saved in the last few years.  That means that another 200-300 staff could be out of a job, on top of the 750 who have already been made redundant.

This is of course a tragedy for Blackpool – and I will continue to make the case in Westminster and Whitehall regarding the settlement we receive. But, in this edition I want to stress that we won’t allow these cuts to stifle our “progress” – which is, of course, the town’s motto.

Just recently, we announced a successful £2m bid for funding for Blackpool Illuminations which will help with an important revitalisation.

On that same note of progress we’ve also attracted around £2m of funding towards the Blackpool Museum project – which we hope will lead to a further investment of more than £20 million, to provide a new and very different attraction for locals and visitors alike, as well as being a showcase for the town’s rich and varied history.

We’re also currently in the midst of a £3.6m grant funded repair which will safeguard Yeadon Way – an absolutely vital route into our town – for decades.

And we’ve also, in conjunction with partners like the NHS and the NSPCC, attracted more than £50 million of external funding for projects like Better Start, Fulfilling Lives and Head Start

Better Start aims to give children a better start to life between birth and 3 years of age, a key time.  Fulfilling Lives helps us seek out individual alcohol and drug abuse problems, mental health problems and other issues and get those people on the right path, whilst Head Start will ensure greater emotional resilience and improved mental health outcomes for our adolescents.

An £11 million investment in a new hotel in the Town centre we believe will make money for the council in the years to come.  The Public Health service’s investment of £1.3 million a year in breakfasts for all our Primary School children is already paying huge dividends in terms of ability to learn – as well as helping to tackle obesity, poor diet and associated health problems.

We have to retain our ambition and evolve. We cannot stand still and stagnate. We must create new jobs – which all of the above will – to replace those that have already been lost.

We will be making further announcements in due course about our plans to make significant investments in the private sector rental market – complementing our highly successful selective licensing programme, which cracks down on bad landlords and bad tenants – and our huge expansion in building social and affordable housing on Queens Park and Rigby Road.

Despite the cuts, we must continue to strive for progress – to secure our financial base and make services responsive to your needs.

Budget consultation

As many of you will have read in the press, Blackpool Council has announced proposals to achieve £25.2m savings in the next financial year, 2015/16.

It is expected to result in around 300 job losses.

Below is the statement, in full, that I gave to the media at the time.

I’d urge you to have a look at the proposals via the link below and take part in our consultation.

“Local government is entering a period of uncharted territory. In the face of continuing cuts it is battling to adapt and in some cases completely revolutionise the services that it provides.

“Blackpool is no exception. The proposals that I’m presenting today could see services funded by partners, delivered by external agencies or cease entirely. There is no easy way of cutting £25 Million from our budget.

“This year has been the toughest yet. Hours and hours have been spent pouring over the accounts, analysing every pound that is spent.

“Unfortunately there appears no light at the end of the tunnel – services will continue to be cut and jobs lost. This will not go unnoticed by the residents of Blackpool, the businesses that operate here and the visitors who come to stay.

“Every effort needs to be made to work with the public, partners, voluntary sector and the private sector to minimise the impact of the cuts on the people who need and depend upon our services. Seeking external funding and maximising income opportunities will also be vital.

“It is an unsettling time for many people including staff, but the commitment to delivering the best possible services to Blackpool residents remains undiminished.

“It is gut-wrenching to know that hundreds of staff have come to work today and will go home with an uncertain future through no fault of their own. I cannot imagine how they feel but they have my every sympathy, it must be a terribly upsetting time.

“Everyone will have their own views of how we could save this money and I want to hear them, this is a consultation period and now is the time to speak out.”

https://www.blackpool.gov.uk/Your-Council/Have-your-say/Consultations/Budget-consultation.aspx

Christmas campaigns

WINTER is upon us and I welcome you all to another edition of Your Blackpool.

In this edition we have news on our Council couch project, which has seen our senior officers face a grilling from members of the public, the likes of which is usually reserved for people like myself.

Our terrific Get Started scheme has also had another wonderful year helping people to set up in business.

But what I want to focus on this month is our front page story – the fantastic Give a Little, Help a Lot project.

A festive feature for a number of years, the idea is that we all give a little something, in the true spirit of Christmas, to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

All donations will go to deserving causes, whether that be children in care, those living under difficult circumstances or simply a young person who could do with a little Christmas cheer.

Thanks to your generosity the project made a difference to around 1,100 children in 2013 and this year the need is just as great.

I know that times are hard right now for so many people in Blackpool so we don’t expect the earth – as the name says, just  giving a little bit can make a huge difference.

We’re giving back too this Christmas and while, with finances incredibly tight with another £26m of Government cuts ahead for the next financial year, that isn’t an easy promise to make, we recognise the need to try to help you as much as possible.

So we’ve teamed up with Blackpool BID to offer free parking at all our car parks on Saturday 6 December.

There is also a ‘park for a pound’ offer at four car parks (see page 1) on Thursday evenings and Sundays on the run up to Christmas.

And finally, remaining in the spirit of giving, we’re supporting Age UK’s Donate a Coat campaign which asks people to donate their unwanted coats to help keep people warm this winter.

It is a sad sign of the times that so many people live in fuel poverty these days and that winter warmth remains a big concern.

I’d urge you to dig into your wardrobe, give generously if you can and look out for your friends and neighbours this winter too.

I wish you all a happy and healthy Christmas and all the best for 2015.

Smoking? You must be joking!

“Smoking? You must be joking!”  – It’s a great slogan which I’m sure will catch the eye during this year’s Stoptober quit smoking campaign.

But quitting, let me tell you, was no laughing matter!

Last October, after a great deal of badgering from our public health team as well as my friends and family, I decided I would take part in the 28 day quit challenge.

Fast forward almost a year and I’ve not had a single cigarette since.

I no longer smell like a stale ashtray, I don’t cough my guts up all the time and my breathing is much clearer.

But it’s been hard work and I take my hat off to all those preparing to take part and those who successfully kicked the habit thanks to last year’s campaign.

Explaining the cravings of a smoker to a non-smoker is tough – it’s a compulsion that is surprisingly difficult to overcome.

Physical, chemical and psychological; it’s a three pronged attack on the senses when withdrawn that remains a battle to deal with.

For those preparing to take part the best reassurance I can offer is that feeling, once battled, does pass.

Sure, certain triggers can set it off again.

Alcohol, for me, can set the cravings off like a greyhound after a hare (part of the reason I’m also getting involved with the “Sober for October” campaign).

But “nicotine replacement therapy” – patches to you and me – can really help and if you ride out the storm, the cravings do settle down (quitting the patches is nearly as bad mind you!)

The biggest positive, meanwhile, (aside from not dying of lung cancer) is undoubtedly the amount of money you put back in your pocket by quitting.

I used to spend nearly 300 quid a month on the dreaded things and the difference that packing it in has made to my bank balance is quite remarkable.

Like all good stories there is a hero too – to be more precise a group of heroes – the Blackpool Stop Smoking Service.

They’ve been a great help, both in terms of the advice and support they’ve provided as well as the practical help they’ve given.

The de-normalisation of smoking that has gone on over the last few years from the smoking ban to the strengthened health warnings and hard hitting advertising campaigns has left smokers a lot ostracised, even attacked.

Like a child who’s told not to do something – there’s a temptation, believe me, to rebel against this and say “to heck with it” I’m having a cigarette.

But the smoking service have really helped me cope with this and deal with stressful situations without using tobacco to keep me smoke free.

They can help you too so I’d urge you to give it a go.

Bargains galore for Blackpool residents

Everyone loves a bargain.

We know it, the marketing people with their BOGOFs and their two-for-one’s know it; they put a smile on everyone’s face and a spring in our step.

So, while we’re all still feeling the summer buzz around Blackpool, I’ve decided in this blog I won’t harp on about politics.

Instead I want to point out to you some of the best bargains and boosts the Council can offer you, the Blackpool local.

Charity begins at home, they say, so first off we’ve brought in a whole host of recycling innovations to try to help keep Blackpool – and your house – nice and tidy.

One big one is Rover – our free new mobile tip – which travels around one area per day, saving people the fuel cost of a trip to the tip at Bristol Avenue.

Keep an eye on our website and social media pages for times and locations which change depending on demand.

If you do make your way to the tip we’ve also got a very popular new innovation – the Re-Use store – which reclaims and reconditions goods that people are looking to dump, putting them back on sale to pay for the tip’s upkeep and raise money for charity.

This project too has been a great success and, believe me, from TV’s to toys, there are amazing bargains and top quality items to be had.

The summer in Blackpool is always all about fun and we always try to put on free events aimed at families.

From the Blackpool Air Show, which was a soaring success despite windy weather, and Ride the Lights to the upcoming World Fireworks Championships running every Friday night in September, we’ve some wonderful free events for people both young and old to enjoy.

And speaking of fun, I’m excited to see our new community engagement tool – the council couch – coming to your area very soon.

It’s quirky, it’s a bit of fun, it costs next to nothing but it will hopefully get people talking and allow you, the local resident, to come along and get something off your chest.

Maybe you can even suggest an idea that will help us a better deal for Blackpool.

And finally we’ve a new scheme which could help you save a good whack off one of everyone’s least favourite pest to their pocket – energy bills.

Our collective energy switching scheme, Ready to Switch, is back – keep an eye out for details in the press, on our website and online.

We’ve also a whole host of energy-saving advice and expertise available and a new home insulation scheme in the pipeline.

Keep an eye out for news on that soon.

You can find out more about these initiatives by searching the words in bold on the Blackpool Council website.