Turning vision into reality

I’ve decided that now we have dealt with the pressures of this year’s budget, and before we start detailed work on next year’s, it is time to publish something for the bloggers and anonymous critics to really get stuck into.

I appreciate that Local Government has not traditionally been a particularly visionary environment – we have predominantly been reactive organisations, fire-fighting and managing scenarios as they develop, rather than being at the forefront of service development.  As money gets tighter over the coming years, we are going to have to be able to make intelligence-led decisions about resource allocation, and we need a comprehensive framework from which to do this.

Following extensive consultation with council staff and partners, we have now published our ‘Vision,Mission, and Priorities’ – one A4 sheet which replaces volume upon volume of previous Corporate Goals, Sustainable Communities Strategies, and other piles of paper which nobody outside of Whitehall ever read.

Our vision is that we will build a Blackpool where aspiration and ambition are encouraged and supported.  We will seek to narrow the gap between the richest members of our society and the poorest and deliver a sustainable and fairer community, of which our communities will be proud.

There is an acceptance that we cannot hope to change our destiny merely by wishing for it, only by working for it.  Our mission is to work with the public, private and third sectors, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, to achieve this.

Our priorities are to:

  • Tackle child poverty, raise aspirations and improve educational achievement
  • Safeguard and protect the most vulnerable
  • Expand and promote our tourism, arts, heritage and cultural offer
  • Improve health and well-being especially for the most disadvantaged
  • Attract sustainable investment and create quality jobs
  • Encourage responsible entrepreneurship for the benefit of our communities
  • Improve housing standards and the environment we live in by using housing investment to create stable communities
  • Create safer communities and reduce crime and anti-social behaviour
  • Deliver quality services through a professional, well-rewarded and motivated workforce

Now at this point, I suspect a small number of people have steam coming out of their ears, are preparing furious emails, letters to the paper, comments and counter-blogs, asking how the Council can hope to achieve any of this if we can’t get the Promenade/Comedy Carpet/Heritage Tram/Talbot Square/Pothole issues resolved (and I do not doubt there will be many more). 

That, in many ways, is the point. 

Without this overarching strategy, without a set of values to inform the work that we do, we end up with schemes which don’t quite meet anybody’s needs, which turn out to be imperfect, and don’t represent people’s original (and I don’t doubt, good) intentions.

There are some major conversations taking place at the moment about the future of different services.  To have a framework within which to operate, those conversations would risk being held in isolation – now, thanks to the values and priorities, we will see joined-up thinking, and corporate decision making, and I think the town will benefit as a result.

Sad news – but a brighter future?

It has been a very difficult few weeks. 

One of my constituents, Keith (known to all as ‘Pepsi’ on the Queens Park Estate), died on the 23rd February, having suffered with cancer. 

A few days later, my close friend and colleague, Cllr Mary Smith died following a long illness. 

Last week, a neighbour of mine died from an asbestos-related illness, followed less than 48 hours later by Conservative Councillor for Marton Ward, Major Jim Houldsworth. 

The day after Jim’s death, I visited another dear and longstanding friend (Joe, the husband of former Councillor Pat Carrington) in Trinity Hospice, who sadly will not be returning home.

To lose this many friends in such a short space of time causes a pause for reflection, and to examine what it is about them that made them so special, and how life will be different without them here.

‘Pepsi’ was a mainstay of the community up in QueensPark, always ready to voice his opinion – and it was always a considered and balanced opinion, always ready to help a neighbour, and renowned for his robust sense of humour and friendly manner.

Mary Smith and I served together as councillors for Bloomfield between 2003-2007, and she went on to serve as Mayor of the Borough.  With the dedicated support of her daughter, Julia, she had a fantastic year as Mayor, which brought her 20 years of service on the council to a great crescendo. 

Her commitment to the residents of her area was unrivalled; she had a clear sense of right and wrong, and was never frightened to let people know when she disagreed with them!

Jim was one of an increasingly rare breed of true gentlemen, the type of person we would all aspire to be, and was a giant within Blackpool.

He and I were elected on the same night in 2003, and I have greatly enjoyed working with him, and sparring with him over the past nine years.

His dedication and commitment to his constituents and the people of Blackpoolwent without question, and he was not beyond breaking ranks with his political masters when he felt it necessary to do so.  His work with, and commitment to the welfare of servicemen, past and present, earned him the Blackpool Medal, which I was delighted to present him with in January.

Joe, along with his wife, Pat, are amongst my most longstanding political friends.  His intellect, vast knowledge-bank, bone dry sense of humour (even faced with terminal illness), and unique view on politics and life is something that I shall miss beyond measure. 

The way in which his family have adapted to his illness, and made him the very centre of their lives for the past few months has been an inspiration – as has the commitment and dedication of staff at the Trinity Hospice, who have been superb (even when they mistook me for a vicar the other day, presumably based on the number of visits I have made in recent weeks).

I promised Mary’s family that we would make sure her legacy was preserved, and that her fighting spirit and dedication to her constituents would be something that we would all strive to mirror. 

I have let Jim’s family know that I consider the best way to further honour him, to be to continue with our close ties with veterans’ organisations, and continue to do that job in a way which would make him proud. 

As we move forward, the good humour, basic human kindness and friendship shown by ‘Pepsi’ and Joe will stand us in good stead. 

The compassion and dedication shown by their friends and family, and by NHS staff towards the end of their lives, also reminds us of our instinctive human commitment to want to help one another, and relieve pain and suffering.

Death causes us to reflect on our own lives and our own priorities in life.  All of the people I have mentioned would have shown a great interest in our Child Poverty Conference at the Winter Gardens, which we held last Friday, had they been able to be there. 

Closely linked to our agenda around fairness, the framework we are developing to tackle child poverty will involve agencies far beyond the Council.  Representatives from charities, the community and voluntary sectors, the Police, the local NHS and others came along to emphasise their commitment and willingness to contribute to improving outcomes for Children and Young People inBlackpool.

I left the conference considering a vitally important, but not uncontroversial view, which I feel is central to how we tackle the twin issues of poverty and fairness. 

Blackpool has some great schools, at both primary and secondary levels.  Blackpool has some good post-compulsory education, delivered by the Sixth Form, and Blackpool & the Fylde College, amongst others. 

Blackpool’s educational attainment is much better than it was a decade ago, and a lot of good teachers have worked very hard to achieve that, as have our head teachers and support staff, both in schools and at Progress House.

Sadly however, and this was the message I left them with, despite the great improvements that have been made, the simple fact of the matter is that outcomes for our children are still not good enough. 

Too many of our children leave school with poor levels of literacy and numeracy, poor formal qualifications, and little in the way of aspiration or direction.  I am NOT blaming schools for this – parents, families, the council, schools, the Government, me (and you) and children themselves all have a role to play in making sure that society is turning out well-rounded, educated and confident students – but what I am saying is that we cannot as a town continue to accept moderate incremental improvements in outcomes for children. 

Yes, things are better than they were, but they are not good enough. 

How we tackle these issues, together, will inform whether or not Blackpool’s issues around unemployment, poor qualifications, skills gaps, low wages and poverty are still as big an issue in 20 years time as they are today.

What greater tribute could there be to those who have gone before, than to ensure that future generations achieve more, enjoy greater prosperity, better life-chances and better health than our generation has? 

That’s a challenge, and one to which we must rise.