As I am rapidly discovering in this job, on most days there is a blend of good news and bad news.
The latest unemployment figures show that since January there has been a 87% rise in young people out of work for at least 6 months in the North West, but in Blackpool South, there has been a staggering 223% rise, and in Blackpool North and Cleveleys youth unemployment has risen by 283%.
Last week we received confirmation that officially, between 20% and 25% of our young people are considered to be ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET in the jargon term for this, which we’re going to have to get used to hearing I’m afraid). In actual fact, however these figures mask a bigger problem – substantially more of our young people are notionally in some form of employment or training, but not actually undertaking activities that most of us would consider to be sustainable – there are all sorts of “training opportunities” out there, which don’t lead to much more than a certificate, and an awful lot of jobs which have few, if any prospects – often even any prospect of still being in existence beyond the first weekend in November.
I would go so far as to suggest that in the region of HALF of our 16-24 year olds are not in stable education or employment.
As of October (crucially, BEFORE the season ended) there were more than 8 Jobseekers Allowance claimants for every job advertised in Blackpool Job Centres – compared to just over 4 this time last year. That means that on average, there are twice as many people chasing everyBlackpooljob as there are in the region as a whole. Last year, we were able to use the Future Jobs Fund to create 159 six months job opportunities in Blackpool (half of these people went on to get permanent jobs) – but sadly, the Government has stopped funding this scheme.
Add to this the loss of thousands of civil service jobs which are planned over the coming 12-24 months – I met members of the PCS union last week to discuss this problem, and have agreed to help them in their lobbying- and the potential loss of over 1000 posts at BAE in Warton – again, something that I have discussed with workplace representatives from UNITE the union – and we have a potential timebomb to deal with.
I am working with the Leader of Lancashire County Council, and the MP for Blackpool South, to make sure that an Enterprise Zone (and a meaningful one at that) is created in Warton, and I will be pressing the Government on arrangements for an Apprenticeship centre on this site – which is within the travel-to-work area for our young people.
I have asked the Chief Executive to look at how the Council and its partner organisations make use of apprenticeships, and to look at ways of further encouraging our sub-contractors to use 100% local labour wherever humanly possible. I met with Tourism Minister John Penrose MP earlier this week, and discussed proposals for a ‘Tourism Development Zone’ right here in Blackpool, which would offer incentives for existing private business to grow and new ones to relocate to the area, and I discussed a possible reduction in VAT with both him, and Ed Miliband, on his recent visit to Blackpool.
On the good news front, we’ve launched the ‘Give a little – help a lot’ campaign. The brainchild of my Deputy Leader’s wife, Pam Jackson, this represents a practical, here and now, approach to the issues of child poverty I’ve written about before. We are asking people to donate cash, toys or food to our appeal, to ensure that no child in Blackpool is left out this Christmas.
We know that lots of good work goes on every year to do this, not least through organisations like the Salvation Army – but this year, we decided that the situation was so acute; it simply wasn’t possible to do too much. I’ve been delighted by the response we’ve had so far, and we’ve only just got going. Council staff have been fantastic, and we’ve had some very generous individual donations as well.
What ties these two issues together, however, is the support I have had from the private sector and voluntary sector in the town. Both in my attempts to persuade the Government of the need to continue to invest in Blackpool (and to give us the tools to help ourselves to grow and regenerate) and in our attempts to get the ‘Give a little…’ campaign up and running.
Merlin, Pleasure Beach Blackpool, Churches, Faith Groups, The Gazette, StayBlackpool and Blackpool BID, to name but a few, have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us in our campaigning for the town, and I do not doubt they will continue to do so.
We need more of this. Working together to build the town’s reputation and profile can only be a positive move. We need to be honest with ourselves, and our neighbours, about what the problems are – respect each others strengths and weaknesses, and allow those with good ideas to get on and turn them into action.
Public, private, community and voluntary sectors demonstrating to the Government exactly what we are capable of, and earning the trust and the confidence of those who can assist us in our collective aims – that’s what it is all about.
*To find out more about how you can help with the ‘Give a Little, Help a Lot’ campaign, click here