Local Government has, over the last five years, gone through a period of unprecedented change.
Blackpool Council has seen its budget cut by around £93m and, as I said from the outset, it would not be possible for the Government to make such an enormous cut and not negatively affect people in Blackpool, in particular the least well-off in society.
You’ll see it in your everyday lives.
When you walk past your local green space and see the grass is looking less well kempt than it used to, that’s because we have half the staff maintaining it.
When you want someone to clean up some fly-tipping on your street, it will probably take them longer to come because there are fewer people doing the job.
Even when you try and give us a call to complain about problems like the two I’ve listed above, you might have a job getting through straight away because there are fewer people taking the calls.
There are people out there that will say, “But, you’re doing X for X amount of money”.
Projects like our free breakfasts scheme for primary school children often fall into this category along with any regeneration related efforts.
However, if we stand still, and fail to improve the town as we did over decades in the 60s, 70s and 80s we risk becoming just another tragic failed seaside resort; a relic of a bygone era.
The town’s motto is progress and we are following that.
Despite the cuts, we’re continuing to be bold and invest; trying to help society help itself.
Undeniably though, as I’ve laid out at the top, Local Government is the place where people are really seeing the effects of “austerity” really coming to fruition, particularly here in the North.
The recent Government budget speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not mention Local Government which makes me nervous about what is to come in the Autumn spending review.
The lowered benefit cap, and the news that working age benefits to be frozen for four years will pose significant challenge to Blackpool residents.
We know that 15,000 families in Blackpool claim tax credits and 23,000 children live in these families but we don’t know yet on how the revised thresholds will pan out in terms of numbers affected.
Potentially a good number of these will not only be affected by a cut in amount but all of them will be affected by the freeze on uprating. The benefit cap drop from £26,000 to £20,000 will also have a real financial impact – for those 135 people already capped it will be a further income drop of over £100 per week.
Just days on from seeing education experts confirm that our children’s social care services are on the up and improving, our social workers will, I hope, feel a sense of pride at being recognised as the proud and passionate workers they are.
They are making an incredible difference to the most troubled families’ lives under incredibly difficult circumstances but how will those families that they visit cope when we have less resource to help them and they have less money to live off?
I am supportive of any initiative to help people into work. The best way out of poverty is through work. What I do wonder is where all the jobs will come from once people are off benefits. A key priority for this council is to generate new jobs. That is at the heart of every scheme we implement from building new sea defences to developing a new museum to boost the tourism industry.