Evaluating breakfasts

At a time of diminishing central Government cash, and with Councils hamstrung by the need for referenda to approve the most modest of Council Tax increases, there can surely be no scope for growth items in our forthcoming budgets?

On the contrary, I believe it is a vital part of demonstrating Local Government’s leadership role within our communities.

If we don’t identify specific local need, and develop policies to address that need, how can we claim to be in touch with those whom we strive to serve?

The nation’s assembled media descended upon us in January for the launch of Blackpool Council’s free school breakfast pilot scheme.

And I dare say, after a few hours work at one of our excellent primary schools, many of them were a bit peckish and didn’t much feel like working until they got a good meal.

I’m happy to say though for the next few months at least, and I hope long into the future, that won’t be the case for the young children of the town.

Under our radical proposals, all 12,000 primary school pupils will receive a healthy breakfast, to kick start their day in the right way.

This, we believe, will help them to focus on learning and not rumbling tummies, allowing teachers to do their job and giving the children the best possible opportunity to succeed.

We need to create a generation of children who understand the importance of nutrition, who will then go on to provide that nutrition to their children.

The idea has been well supported by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and welcomed by the Children’s Society, whose research suggests the scheme is much needed.

I’m excited to see its effect, although I suspect much of that will only be demonstrated in the medium to long term.  We will be working with academics from a leading University to ensure that the pilot scheme is robustly assessed against key performance indicators and statistical analysis – that is the evidence base upon which future decisions will be taken

There are naysayers, of course, but I’m happy to tackle them head on.

Some have questioned the need for universality – providing free breakfasts to everyone. But restricting breakfast to those on benefits massively stigmatises the recipients and loses all of the benefits of communal eating.

And what about working parents – where families are working often the day is very long for their children. The day starts early and children are up and out to stay with grandparents or neighbours and friends until the school day begins. By the time they get to school it can be some time since they had their breakfast and they are often hungry and ready for something to eat – if you’ve had your breakfast at 6.00 it is a long time until lunch time.

Others have said it rewards poor parenting. I prefer to look on it as ensuring children do not become victims of poor parenting, providing them with a culture of healthy eating and learning, which will lead to improved educational attainment.

It also costs a fair bit of money at a time when jobs are being lost within the council and outside – very true. However, the scheme will save money for hardworking families, put money back into our local economy through local sourcing and create jobs for support staff.

If anyone wants to argue the toss with me over whether the wellbeing and nutrition of the children of Blackpool is a priority, I’ll happily have that debate.  If others are content to allow the current financial climate to paralyse our inherent sense of fairness and fetter our ambition for our children, then so be it.

In the meantime I’ll be working to make the policy a success and push things forward.  The rewards we stand to reap from this programme in years to come (improved attendance, behaviour, attainment – and therefore ultimately a more healthy, highly skilled and appealing workforce) will come in direct proportion to our willingness to sow the seeds of hope and opportunity today.

Revitalising Blackpool – the first step

Following my open letter/last blog post last week, I am very pleased to announce our first new policy in response to the problems I outlined.

Subject to approval by the Executive next week, as of January 2013, all children attending Blackpool Primary schools will be offered a free breakfast and free milk at mid-morning break.

This is a bold and ambitious move, but one which is founded entirely in fact, and one which research clearly demonstrates will be of huge benefit to children across the Borough. 

At the moment, some schools run breakfast clubs, which are paid for by parents – usually those in work – as a consequence, the uptake is nowhere near as good as we would like.  We now plan to make this service universally available, and hope that all schools and the majority of parents will take advantage of it.

Despite our superb schools, excellent teachers and committed support and catering staff, and the best efforts of the majority of parents – Blackpool still has a big problem with attendance, attainment and behaviour in the classroom. 

Daily we see and hear of children attending school who quite clearly haven’t had breakfast, and are not therefore able to learn.  Under-nourishment is a real problem here in Blackpool, as one would expect in an area beset by high levels of child poverty. 

A recent survey of schoolchildren suggests that some of our older pupils are more likely to have used alcohol or tobacco in the last week than they are to have eaten breakfast or had 5 portions of fruit and veg a day.
For years, we have complained about this – but now is the time to actually do something about it. 

All of the evidence points towards the provision of school breakfasts improving attendance, attainment and behaviour – in some cases quite dramatically.  It will ensure children start the day in the right way, it will encourage them to continue the good habit of eating a balanced breakfast for the rest of their lives, it will provide an extra reason to be at school on time, and in 10 years time, we will see dramatically improved educational outcomes as a consequence.
Those parents in work who are currently struggling to find £10 or £15 a week to pay for Breakfast Clubs, will now be able to spend that money in other ways – further stimulating the local economy.  The same goes for those low-paid parents who are currently spending £10 a week on cereals, bread and fruit for breakfast. 

Whilst those on benefits usually receive free milk at break times already, I want to see working parents, and people just above the benefit cut-off point, released from the burden of the £10-£15 per term, per child, they are currently charged for milk.
Although the obvious beneficiaries of this scheme are those children whose parents are not currently feeding them properly, it will also create jobs, and pour the money that would otherwise be spent on breakfasts directly into the local economy – this is what fairness is all about – a policy which protects the worst off in society, whilst also putting money back in the pockets of those who work hard and do the right thing.
Although this is a pilot scheme in primary schools only, I hope and believe that it will soon become part of a joined-up strategy on school meals and nutrition, which we have been working on for some time, which will benefit all of the school-children in Blackpool, schools, teachers, parents, and the wider local economy.
By robustly prioritising our budget, and setting out prudent financial plans for the next 3 years, we are able to offer this scheme without placing any additional burden on the Council Tax fund or the Council Tax payer. 

In addition to resources already allocated, we shall also be working with potential sponsors to deliver the scheme as efficiently as possible.
Finally, on the subject of my last blog, I will shortly be announcing the appointment of a “Revitalising Blackpool” Task Force of residents, community activists, public, private and third sector representatives, to tackle the issues raised, and the many hundreds of responses received. 

Thank you all for your contributions, the vast majority of which were positive and supportive, and will be invaluable in helping us tackle the problems I outlined.


’999:What’s Your Emergency’ and how we can tackle Blackpool’s social problems

Two events have drawn me to the same conclusion recently.

Firstly, there has been the ‘999 – What’s your emergency’ program on Channel 4, and the subsequent heated debate.  Secondly, my car broke down.  Seemingly unconnected, I know, but bear with me. 

I live in Blackpool (just off Preston New Road), two of my three children were born in the Vic, and all three attend Blackpool schools.  I work part-time for a small local charity just off Lytham Road. 

Now nearly 40, I occasionally make it to the Blue Room (and even more occasionally, The Tache), but for many years, whilst working for the Pleasure Beach, at the De Vere, at the Waxworks etc., I was a fairly frequent visitor to the town centre to sample the pleasures of our night-time economy.  I’ve lived in a variety of bedsits, flats and houses in both North and South Blackpool, and have represented both Bloomfield and Brunswick. 

I know my patch – or I thought I did.

I didn’t really pay a great deal of attention to the Channel 4 stuff at first (Council Leaders don’t have much time for TV) – other than meeting with the Police and expressing the view that they should have consulted with us before embarking on this particular course – a point they accept. 

However, as the episodes went by, the debate sharpened, and my friends’ accounts of what they had watched grew ever more lurid, I thought I ought to take a look.

Some of you may recall that in 2004 (I think), I was attacked in the street by some local charmers – more bruised pride than anything else.  We were burgled in 2000, and again in 2005. 

I’ve had my car stolen (they got it about 300 yards down the road before deciding it was that awful they’d rather walk) – but on all four occasions, I remember feeling that I was a victim of crime, and as my colleague Cllr. Eddie Collett points out, whatever the statistics show, whether there is a 2% decrease in reported crime or not, when you’re the victim of a crime, you are 100% a victim of crime.

Now television packs hundreds of hours of filming into bite-sized, dramatic chunks.  The accumulated pain and misery of many months has been distilled into a few hours of actual “action”.  But it’s not pretty is it? 

Some people wanted me to make grand press announcements about the fact that “Blackpool isn’t really like that”, but I demurred. 

The simple fact of the matter is that in some parts of Blackpool, it is more than a bit like that – in other parts it is very much like that – and that pain and misery can be both terrifying and oppressive at the same time.

Blackpool’s population hasn’t changed much over the past decade – in terms of headline figures at least – but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t changed. 

There are more people out of work now than 10 years ago, more people of long-term benefits, a worse public health outlook, more poverty and little, if any improvement in alcohol and drug fuelled violence, disorder and anti-social behaviour.

My car having broken down has given me another window on these issues.  I now walk, take the bus, take the tram (or if the weather is simply too awful for any of the above, get a taxi). 

This means that I stray from my usual routes (we all have them don’t we) – so I find myself going through Mereside at 11pm, through Grange Park at 8am, along Central Drive at 2am in a cab. 

Not only are you able to watch things more intently as a passenger than you are as a driver, but you also have the company of other pedestrians, bus or tram users, or the views of your taxi driver for company – the sights and sounds I am now liberated to focus on are somewhat different to driving down Whitegate Drive or the Prom, listening to the radio and concentrating on the road ahead.

I am forced to wonder therefore, at what point we accepted that Blackpool was going to become a refuge for the dispossessed and the never-possessed? 

When did we simply accept that if people turned up here with both profound and enduring criminal records, major social problems, housing issues or poverty issues, we would scoop them up into our bosom and seek to fix them?

Any society can (and absolutely should) cope with some people who are criminal, some people who are out of work through circumstances, some who are sick, some who are just plain idle, and others who need a wide variety of other help and support.

It becomes an issue though when we are fuelling a culture of dependency on the state (a dependency that we are struggling to afford now, never mind in another 10 years time). 

How much longer can we run around after people fixing their problems because we are frightened that nobody else will do it?  Do we need a bit more stick and a bit less carrot? 

Would that allow us to focus our resources on those people who are vulnerable and poor BUT who want to help themselves to change, and want to be part of mainstream civic society? 

Before people start, I am not talking about the deserving versus the undeserving poor.  What I am saying however is that there comes a point whereby after a wide variety of interventions and attempts to support people, we cannot usefully continue to seek to spend our way to happiness (even if we could afford it, and we can’t).

A colleague spoke to me the other day about the notion of developing a suite of policies to try and manage this situation.  Essentially, we’d be saying that Blackpool is full, and that if people are planning on moving here, they need to think long and hard about securing accommodation, a job, and means of entertaining themselves that do no negatively impact on the wider community. 

At the same time, we would continue to pursue policies such as selective licensing, to drive out bad landlords and begin to soak up the vast oversupply of naff bedsits and one-bedroomed flats. 

We’d seek to restore confidence to would-be owner occupiers that the streets were safe (and worth investing in as a family home), and not just keep providing services to people whose lives didn’t change as a consequence, decade in decade out.

There are a great many people in Blackpool who work very hard, take their role in the community seriously, spend their lives unknown to Police and Social Services, are good neighbours, pay their taxes and just get on with life. 

I was privileged to address a “Big Thank You” event at the Winter Gardens yesterday – where we recognised the commitment of the 15,000 people who give up their time to work in all manner of volunteer projects, without whom we’d be lost. 

Regular readers will know that I talk a lot about fairness.  Is it fair that the great many people who work hard are supporting a growing number of people that don’t?

Don’t get me wrong, as a socialist (and actually, I think this is a belief common to most political parties) I want to support those who are genuinely sick, who have disabilities, and who are jobless and in need of support despite their best efforts. 

But I can’t stand by and let Blackpool be seen as some sort of hapless victim of society’s ills.  The recession has been tough (a lot tougher up here in the North than it has been elsewhere) – people are hard up, jobs are scarce.

But we must have HOPE, a vision for a better future, and an unshakeable belief that things can change. 

There has been a lot of furore recently about the NHS spending £85,000 on ‘No Smoking’ signs in parks – but nobody is talking about the fact that the NHS spends £5 million, right here in Blackpool, every year, on services connected to drug use and abuse.  £5 million.  Is that fair when, daily we read in the national press of people being denied treatment or medication on the grounds of cost?

I believe that if we show enough pride in Blackpool, enough dedication to developing policies, and pursuing them doggedly, we can start to turn around the dependency culture that has been created – allowing us to target tax-payers cash on those who are in genuine need of help, and who take responsibility for their own lives. 

But I need your help.

Could we do this?  Do people think it is fair?  Let me know your views…email me at  or comment on the blog.


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.