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 www.blackpool.gov.uk/haveyoursay 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.