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.
Cllr Simon Blackburn
Leader of Blackpool Council