“Have faith and try and change the world”

These are the words of Lord (Phillip) Gould, the famous political strategist, shortly before he died in November.

I note from time to time a general lack of faith in the ability of Blackpool to continue the seismic and fundamental change it has been through in the past decade. 

Some of this stems from previous failures, such as the casino bid which fell at the final hurdle – and I do get that – it is hard to pick ourselves up repeatedly and keep fighting – hard but necessary.  But the more common critique appears to be one based in a fatalistic view of the town, and a fundamental mistrust of human nature, to which I am afraid I don’t subscribe.

£400 million has been invested in Blackpoolin the past 15 years. The tramway, Comedy Carpet, sea defences, Nickelodeon Land, the refurbished Tower, Madame Tussauds and the Winter Gardens are all rightly taking their place on the national stage. 

We have a strong arts and cultural offer that will only grow stronger in the coming years, so I don’t accept that the issues the town faces are insurmountable. 

What I do think is that we need to be realistic about what we, the Council can do, under our current financial and bureaucratic restrictions, and how we can best work with the private and third sectors to really make a difference.  I know that I have said similar things in the past, but perhaps now is the time to be thinking about how we can also best work with the rest of the public sector to lever in some of the support we need.

Liverpool City Council has agreed a “City Deal” with the coalition Government – which is an ambitious scheme to generate economic growth in the area.  The proposals include:

  • Designating an enterprise zone covering the ‘city fringe buffer zone’ and central business district , along with plans to develop a further five ‘mayoral development zones’
  • The creation of a ‘mayoral investment board’ to oversee economic and housing strategy and the Homes and Communities Agency’s land assets (the HCA have stewardship of a number of sites in Blackpool)
  • For the Department for Work & Pensions to work with the city to develop welfare pilots to deliver a localised programme of support for people leaving the Work Programme
  • A secondary school investment plan funded by the council to build up to 12 new secondary schools including at least six academies
  • The release of a further £75m from the Department for Communities & Local Government for economic development initiatives – subject to the Treasury clearing business cases – that will contribute to a £130m “single investment pot” of public and private funds

To my mind, this deal will allow Liverpool, and her new directly-elected Mayor to focus on those areas which are its greatest priority. 

I have already been quite clear that although, as a party politician I have grave reservations about the direction of travel of this Government, as a Leader, I am clear that it is my job, and that of my colleagues, to find a way forward for the town within the context of a coalition government. 

I believe that many of the things we have done so far (not least reducing the number of Town Hall employees paid of £100k a year from 10 to 1) would be welcomed across the political spectrum – whilst others, such as the decision to keep 2 libraries open, and expanding facilities such as Hoyle House, ought to be.

I am hopeful that by engaging in a more positive dialogue with Westminster and Whitehall than has been the case for some time, we can attract the inward investment that we need, or at the very least, work with the Government to provide us with the tools to attract that inward investment.

My blog has been up on the blocks for a few weeks because of by-elections (anything I said during that time would have been interpreted as a political statement, so I felt it wiser to say nothing!)

Can I however thank all of the candidates who took part, congratulate the winners, commiserate with those who didn’t quite make it, and make the observation that turnout, whilst low, was better than most of us expected – indeed better than it frequently is in mid-term local council by-elections, and bodes well for the future of Blackpool’s democracy.