Making the pennies count

I have returned to the office this week having been in Birmingham at the Local Government Association’s annual assembly and conference, which has been a very useful experience, and has given us all plenty to think (and
worry!) about.

The Government is pressing ahead with a variety of major policy changes which will have a considerable impact on the citizens of Blackpool.

Firstly, and uppermost in our minds at the moment is the issue of finance.

Roughly speaking, the Council’s net budget has been as follows:

2008/09  – £131 million
2009/10 – £155 million
2010/11 - £167 million
2011/12 – £148 million
2012/13 – £144 million

My best estimate (and at the moment it is an estimate – based on indicative figures, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s hints in the last Autumn Statement, backed up by messages in his Budget) is that for the next 3 years, we could be looking at

2013/14 £134 million
2014/15 £124 million
2015/16 £114 million

These figures exclude some public health funding that will be coming our way as of next year – but that money is very specifically ring-fenced to take on new public health duties and responsibilities, so cannot really be counted in with the general budget.

Basically, since the high point of 2010, we could soon end up with at least £50 million less to spend.  We cannot be certain that the cuts will stop there – but I’m hoping they will.

Clearly, having £50 million a year less to spend on services is already having, and will continue to have an impact on frontline services.

We are currently in the process of working out how to mitigate against this – and have begun preparations on our next budget (due in February 2013) which I have decided should be a 3 year budget, rather than a 12 month budget, as usually happens. 

We need to have stability, and be able to plan ahead, not just sharpen our pencils every December and decide where the axe will fall this time.

That budget will be based on two key documents – our recently published statement of “Vision, Values & Priorities”, and the “Council Plan” which is currently being drafted. 

These two documents – each of which covers only one side of A4 paper, will constitute a clear framework for Council action, and allow the residents of the Borough, and our staff, to see where our priorities are – it will also enable people to see whether or not we are delivering on them.

Replacing huge piles of priorities and strategies with just 2 sides of A4 has been a very useful experience, and has allowed us to focus much more clearly on what the major issues are, and how we are going to tackle them.  I look forward to my next blog, when the Council Plan will be ready for public debate!

Another topic for discussion at our Conference, was the vexed question of Business Rate localisation. 

At the moment, we just collect business rates (about £43 million) and send them off to the Government.  They then redistribute these according to need, and send us a cheque back (about £66 million).  This is going to change, and change soon.

Currently, the Government are saying that although we only collect about 43 million, IN THE FIRST YEAR, we won’t lose out. 

They are also saying that (subject to a complex series of levies, tariffs and top ups) we will be able to keep 50% of any growth in the business rates payable. 

Now, I’d be quite excited about this if we were a Borough with vast tracts of undeveloped land, or huge business parks just waiting to be filled.  But we’re not. Hmmmm.

Likewise, changes to Council Tax Benefit (CTB) are a hotly debated subject.

The Government is going to chop 10% off the amount they give us to fund CTB – but are stating that certain groups, such as pensioners, must continue to receive the current rate of CTB, whilst allowing us the freedom to change the amount of CTB for other people and other properties (we’ve already increased the amount of Council Tax payable on second homes and long term empty properties, in advance of this decision).

The most likely outcome of this, will be that different Councils will offer different rates of Council Tax Benefit, and that people who are out of work, or in low-paid work, will end up paying more Council Tax than they have in the past. 

Clearly we are working very hard behind the scenes to try and minimise the impact of this – but there will be an impact, as we are having our funding for CTB cut by over £2 million a year from next year (never mind the other cuts outlined earlier).

A benefit cap is being imposed by the Government, which will mean that around 300 families in Blackpool will see their Housing Benefit cut, or even stopped altogether. 

The moves away from the current benefits regime to a system of “Universal Credit” will almost certainly place even more of a financial burden on families – and on the Council to try and deal with these hardships.

Finally, Youth Services kept coming under the spotlight.  In Blackpool, the Youth Service budget has been eroded since 2007 – from nearly £4 million (which wasn’t enough, frankly) down to about £2 million. 

We can’t go on like that, and it seems to be common now for Councils to look at other ways of delivering services to young people.

Work is ongoing with this, but I am very clear about the fact that the most important thing here is the quality of the outcomes for young people, the quality of the activities we offer, and the civic, citizenship, social, economic and cultural experiences they gain from our Youth Service.  If those outcomes can be improved by delivering work in a different way – we’ll do it.

As you can see from the figures above.  We have little choice.


“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.

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.


New Year Decisions

Welcome to my first blog of 2012 and the news that Blackpool Council will see further changes to its senior management team and that I am proposing further power and the re-instatement of community budgets for local people through area forums to ensure that local issues can be tackled by people who know them the most.

Firstly, the issue of the senior management review at the Council. Those of you who regularly read my blog or follow news of the Council on our Twitter and Facebook profiles for instance, will already be aware that we are looking to save around £10m from the Council budget again this year. As part of this process all staff were written to and offered the option of voluntary redundancy where appropriate to do so.

Among those responding were two of the Council’s most senior officers,David Lund, who is the Executive Director for Children, Adults and Families at the Council and Shirley Young, who is Managing Director for Blackpool Services, which runs services such as leisure centres and neighbourhoods services.

After careful consideration the Chief Officer Employment Committee has decided to accept their requests and approved their respective redundancies.

Mrs Young will leave the authority in April and Mr Lund later in the year in August and I personally would like to place on record my sincerest thanks for the excellent and dedicated work they have shown to Blackpool over the years and wish them both well for the future.

This next month we also see the retirement of Andrew Pollock, Director of Resources, another loyal servant of Blackpool who has run the finances at the Council meticulously, overseeing some particular challenging times and again my thanks and good wishes go to Mr Pollock too.

While I am clearly sad to see these three excellent and dedicated officers move on, it does however present the Chief Executive with an opportunity to restructure the Council shifting managerial responsibilities to other officers and save further money.

The retirement of Mr Pollock was announced earlier and included in the £1.8m senior management restructure undertaken by the previous Chief Executive just after I was elected to office.

However the two further redundancies will save the Council an extra £617k over the next four years even after redundancy payments have been made. This is a significant saving and will help us to protect some other jobs that are paid significantly less.

These none managerial roles are essential not just because they provide employment for local people, but our front line staff have a direct impact on the lives of men, women and children living in our borough, whatever their needs.

But it isn’t just senior managers who are taking the strain in order to make sure we meet tough financial targets as we move into the financial year of 2012/13.

All our staff have once again been asked to sacrifice four days salary in return for unpaid leave saving the Council around £1m. Sadly further compulsory redundancies can not be ruled out but the Chief Executive and the senior management team are doing all they can to minimise these at my request, such as seeking further volunteers and making efficiency savings where we can.

And so back to the Area Forums and the outcome of a review I promised earlier this financial year. Area Forums exist to allow local people to come together and discuss issues in their neighbourhoods. Often issues relate to making the streets cleaner, incidents of regular anti-social behaviour or need for more activities for children and young people. But whatever the issue, the seven area forums exist to try and make life better in all our neighbourhoods.

Last year the previous administration chose to remove the Area Forum budgets, hence they became merely a consultative group diminishing their ability to target funds at local problems.

I am proposing that budgets for the forums are re-instated and that it is the community representatives – not Councillors – that hold positions of Chair and Vice Chair of the forums. Also a significant change is a proposal that the PACT meetings organised by the neighbourhood policing teams, merge with the Area Forums on a quarterly basis, making sure there is a joined up approach bringing the police, the Council and local people to improve our communities.

And in a first for this borough we are also hoping to have a young person elected to every one of our area forums – a young person who either lives within the area forum boundary or attends school in the area.

This is significant as it will engage young people and give them a voice in their local community while also help to build relationships across generations living in the same area.

So it is clear that there remain some tough decisions ahead as we outline our priorities for the budget next year.

Once again it is a reduction in our grant funding from Government that has led to this situation and one that all Councils are facing, although it is clear, that northern councils like ours with high levels of poverty and a consequent high demand on local public services, are suffering more than most.

As 2012 begins you can be sure we will continue to champion Blackpool and continue to look to what funding streams may become available to help reduce inequalities and improve the lives of those who need it most. We will also be continuing to work to attract better and higher paid jobs to our borough and the wider Lancashire area as part of our role within the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership.

At a meeting of the Executive last week we outlined our vision, mission, values and priorities as we see them following extensive discussions with our staff.

Now we want your opinion to see what you think and to have your say …we are working to change Blackpool…we are not going to merely wish for it to happen and stand idly by why the world goes on around us and our vision, mission and priorities outline the way we will work, where we will focus our efforts and what we hope to achieve.

Our values will shape the way we will behave in our dealings with our customers – be they members of the public or other stakeholders such as businesses, suppliers or investors.

Please have your say on our draft values by submitting your comments through this link direct to the Council’s website. We will listen to what you have to say and we will report back to you any changes as a result of what you tell us.

Click here to have your say on our draft values.

Cllr Simon Blackburn

Leader of Blackpool Council

Merry Christmas

What a busy few weeks!  If I had a Facebook page (and you probably know why I don’t!) I would update my status to “I’ve just got a Christmas card off Laurence Llewelyn Bowen!”

As you will know, Laurence has worked on the Illuminations with us for a number of years and I had the pleasure of meeting him and his daughters at this years illuminations switch-on event – a really nice guy, with some great ideas for the future of our displays.   

Talking about nice people, I have been touched by the generosity shown by the people of Blackpool with their plentiful donations to the Give a little… Help a Lot campaign, that my deputy Cllr Fred Jackson and his wife Pamela have been heavily involved in.

The campaign was set up by the Council in direct response to our priority to tackle child poverty and make a difference to local children’s lives this Christmas. For hundreds of families in our borough, Christmas could have been just like any other day, as parents struggle to afford even the smallest gift for their children. But thanks to the generosity of the people living here in Blackpool, 1000 children and young people will receive presents this year.

Together with staff from Blackpool Council and the Salvation Army, representatives of Stay Blackpool, Blackpool BID, volunteers from churches around the borough and the Blackpool Gazette have worked together to publicise the campaign, co-ordinate collections and help with the distribution of more than £40,000 worth of toys and £4,000 in cash.

On top of that donations of food were also made and have been distributed through Children’s Centres, targeting those families who are experiencing tough times financially. 

Our partners Merlin have donated hundred of tickets for local children to enjoy the pantomime this Christmas and a number of tickets for the Dungeons and SEALIFE centre too, meaning families can enjoy a day out that they just couldn’t have hoped to afford, as have Pleasure Beach Blackpool, who have donated wristbands for Nickelodeon Land, and their festive spectacular – which is well worth a visit!

Families will also be able to experience to new rides at the Sandcastle next year thanks to their generous donation of 150 free tickets. It really has been a borough-wide effort and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their contributions, whether of money, gifts or time in helping to make Christmas happy for Blackpool’s families this year.  

Back however to the hard reality of being in power.  I’ve got meetings with representatives from the Trade Unions and my Cabinet colleagues to discuss the budget for 2012/13. 

Staff here at the Council have been very generous in accepting changes to their terms and conditions of employment to help get us through previous budgets and we are having serious discusions about how we move forward. 

There is no getting away from the fact that we can’t make the kind of cuts being enforced on us without cutting valuable services and losing experienced and valuable employees. 

These discussions will be ongoing over the festive period and well into January, and I hope to be able to come up with a solution which privileges those areas of the Council’s operations that the public feel are most important to them.

Budgets and Pensions

The Chief Executive and I have just finished a series of staff conferences, which we consider have been so successful we’d like them to become annual events. 

Over four sessions, we spoke to more than 1,000 staff both in the Winter Gardens and at Blackpool Football Club. 

The overwhelming feedback we received was that our staff welcomed the opportunity to speak directly with us, and have the chance to make suggestions and proposals about the way in which the Council could be more responsive and efficient in future.

It was a good opportunity to discuss some key decisions which will be coming up over the next few weeks and months, not least in respect of the Council’s budget, which is due to be set in February.

The headline figure, which you may have read about in the local press and in Your Blackpool, is a budget gap of £10 million – wholly due to cuts to our funding made by the Government.

The move follows on from previous reductions implemented this financial year which include a series of cost cutting measures such as £1.8m cut from the cost of senior managers, £2m from agreed reductions to staff terms and conditions, efficiency measures worth around £2.25m, cuts to members allowances and senior member positions saving £200k and job losses through a combination of volunteers, retirements and redundancies.

 I am hoping that we may be able to avoid compulsory redundancies by seeking volunteers and retirements and have asked the Chief Executive to ensure that compulsory redundancies will only be considered when all other savings measures have been exhausted.

My administration’s priority is to ensure that the services to the most vulnerable in our society will be saved and I will do all that I can to protect the front line. However, people should be in no doubt that thanks to the Government’s stance of public spending, we will be faced with difficult decisions that will impact directly on local communities.   

All of our services make a big difference to people’s lives and we have to find the fairest way to make sure that our decisions are carefully thought out.

We will ensure that there will be no attack on our libraries like there was last year, and we’ve committed to ensuring next year’s Illuminations will not bear the hallmarks of the cuts made last year. 

I am going to be asking staff to extend their agreement on revised terms and conditions for a further 12 months with the exception of car parking charges – so far their sacrifices have saved the jobs of over 100 of their colleagues, and ensured that a further £2 million has not had to be cut from frontline services – I hope they will feel able to take the brave step to extend this agreement, but I do understand how big an ask this is, especially with the economy still bumping along the bottom, and prices still rising in the shops.

With regards to car parking, while it is true that it saved  around £200k, it cost significant amounts to administer, reducing the total saved but has also caused issues in some local areas where on street parking has become an issue.

We are listening to our staff and our residents on this issue and are proposing to remove this charge in the next financial year.

The council will be consulting with residents on the forthcoming budget. For more details log on to from early December.

Many of our staff will be on strike this coming Wednesday (as I myself will be), in protest at changes to public sector pensions. 

This will cause people inconvenience, and whilst I don’t like to see the citizens of Blackpool inconvenienced, I do think it will be an important opportunity to pause and reflect on how much public servants are taken for granted, and how valuable the work they do is to society as a whole. 

Sometimes the only way of drawing people’s attention (and especially Government’s attention) to a problem is to withdraw your labour. 

The simple truth is that hundreds of thousands of workers, especially low paid staff, part-time staff, and working women, are set to be much worse off under the current proposals, and all concerned need to indicate a willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations to find a deal that is fair to low paid workers and taxpayers alike.

For most of the last decade (when economic growth was consistently strong, in the region of 5%) growth in Blackpool was only around 2.5% – so even in the good times, we were lagging behind. 

Youth unemployment is soaring, and likely to get worse, and the notion of having any further widespread redundancies from the Council, as well as the spectre of pensioners having to exist on even less than they have now would not bode well for the economic future of Blackpool – not least the town centre.

We’re actively looking at ways to boost the town centre economy – the Central Business District proposals – including the new Sainsbury’s store, will create hundreds of new jobs. 

Moving council staff in to the town centre and out of our outlying offices (another key facet of the CBD proposals) should also act as a boost to shops, cafes and businesses in the area.  I can’t go into detail at the moment, but our medium term plans for the central car park site, and the Winter Gardens could provide hundreds, if not thousands of new jobs.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the need for a renewed focus on economic growth, and for all of the reasons set out above, I’m spending more and more time pursuing these aims, and pushing forward with plans for revitalising the local economy. 

What I am mindful of however, at all times, is that our staff and contractors are a big part of the local economy – and that we need to keep as many of them as possible in place, providing the life changing services they provide to the public, and supporting the town centre and wider Blackpool economy.  Therefore I take their pay, terms and conditions, pensions, and their views very seriously, and hope we’ll be able to move forward on the budget negotiations and discussions in a positive way over the coming weeks.