Exciting times ahead for Blackpool businesses

As you are reading this latest blog, the council has just recently agreed its budget for another year. Over the last six years, cuts to the grant which the Government gives us to run vital services like social care, bin collections and parks maintenance have reached over £118m (a cumulative impact of £440m), and this year we are having to make another £18.7m worth of reductions or closures to the services that we deliver to you day in, day out.

The continuous reduction in the Government grant is the reality that is being faced by councils all across the country and their approach isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Yes, I expect our grant to be cut by a smaller amount next year, but that is still likely to take £3m-4m away from services which have already been cut to the bone.

So the only way that we can continue to protect those services that you value is to stop relying on central Government grants and start growing our own income.

The best way of doing that is to invest in Blackpool – in our businesses and in our people. As a Council, we have the ability to borrow money at a lower interest rate than others, which can then be lent out to support companies to build, grow and hire.

We are already doing that across Blackpool. Investment in the tramway extension will not only improve the town, but it will increase ticket sales that provide a receipt to the council. Investing in a new hotel in the Talbot Gateway will also improve the town, creating better options for businesses, bringing more local people in to employment and providing another return for the council that can also help protect services. You can read more about the exciting projects starting in Blackpool this year in the latest edition of Your Blackpool.

Actually, the potential for business to boom in Blackpool in the next few years is absolutely huge. A trio of cheap business rates, a prospering enterprise zone and a £100m loan fund means that all the tools are in place for businesses on the Fylde coast to not only compete but to thrive.

From April, changes to business rate valuations will reduce the rates for businesses throughout Blackpool, while extra small business rate relief will allow growing companies to flourish and we expect 3,000 companies to be exempt from business rates completely.

Add the introduction of the Enterprise Zone at Blackpool Airport – which has already created 400 jobs – to the pot and companies relocating to Blackpool could be eligible for up to £275,000 worth of rate relief over a five year period as well as enhanced allowances for them to invest in fixed plant and machinery.

We are also helping businesses to expand and be successful through our own £100m New Loan Fund, which can be given out to companies willing to hire more local employees. That support is already helping businesses to grow. Take Laila’s Fine Foods in Bispham, for example. They have benefitted from two of our loans already, helping them to build a new warehouse, increase their factory to 90,000 square feet, increase their turnover to £36m a year and hire over 300 local people.

These loans will not only help companies to expand, but the repayments will help support our own budget and maintain our services.

For thousands of Blackpool businesses, this trio of business incentives means that they will have more spare money to spend on investing and growing their company. That could equate to thousands of pounds spent on hiring new workers, expanding their offices or investing in new machinery to take on extra work.

For businesses operating in the south of the country where rates and costs are continuing to rise, the benefits of moving to the Fylde coast could be even bigger.

The potential for future investment in Blackpool is exceptionally high. We already have corporations champing at the bit to invest in Blackpool this year and I am really looking forward to seeing the benefits that can bring to local people over the next few years.

This investment, along with our own, is absolutely crucial to create jobs, to boost visitor numbers, boost the local economy, and secure income for future generations.

 

Budget proposals 2016/17

Blackpool Council has today announced proposals to achieve £9 million savings to council services in the next financial year, 2016/17, with another £11 million still to be found from corporate measures.

It is expected to result in 200 job losses with an additional 50 posts ending.

Council Leader Simon Blackburn has blogged about his thoughts on the budget announcement below.

This is the fifth time that I have had to announce multi-million pound cuts and hundreds of job losses. It is the day of the year that I dread and it certainly does not get any easier with time.

Today we present to the public how we think £9 million can be saved from the services that they receive each and every day. Services that they rely on, services that care for their children and families, and services that make a difference to the area in which they live and work.

During the summer we asked Blackpool residents to have their say and let us know how they would make savings. Many people commented how difficult an exercise it was and in fact many declared it impossible. That is how we feel every year when we look at every penny the council spends and how it can be reduced.

We have used the views of residents and businesses when formulating our proposals, for example protecting Street Cleansing and retaining all eight of the Council’s libraries.

There are also areas that we know cannot cope with any further cuts and they will be protected.

Our difficult decision earlier this year to close the SureStart-attached nurseries has allowed us to keep open all of the Sure Start Centres and Children’s Centres.

But there are no easy solutions – many services will be affected by these cuts.

At this stage we have not received our settlement from the Government so we do not know the exact amount that we need to save but we are working on the basis that it will be £20 million. Blackpool has been one of the hardest hit councils in the country, being forced to make £93 million of cuts since 2010.

A lot of staff will be facing an uncertain future as a result of today’s news. It marks the start of an upsetting time for them and their families and they face losing their income. For those that aren’t at risk they will be asked to commit to taking more unpaid leave and delivering services with less money and fewer team members to help them.

It is a difficult day for all concerned but our commitment to providing quality services to people of Blackpool remains the same. We will make it work because we have to.

Central government has devolved the blame for future 24/7 shopping culture

One of the surprises in the Budget was the announcement that powers are to be granted to local authorities to relax restrictions on Sunday trading.

Central government has devolved the blame for future 24/7 shopping culture

I have daily conversations about devolution with fellow local government leaders, and not one of them has ever expressed a desire to decide who can buy what on a Sunday, but the Treasury moves in mysterious ways.

The current Sunday Trading Act is either a wonderful example of British compromise, or a typical British fudge, depending on your opinion.

John Hannett, the general secretary of shop workers union Usdaw, was probably right when he said it seems everyone got a bit of what they wanted: “retailers can trade, customers can shop, staff can work, while Sunday remains a special day, different to other days, and shop workers can spend some time with their family”.

I’m a Christian but my reservations about any changes to Sunday trading are not primarily about religious observance. I understand that it is not Tesco being full which leaves many of our churches half-full.

Complex family structures and working patterns are very common and most people appreciate that families – of all descriptions, ethnicities, beliefs and sexualities, with or without children – want to spend time together.

The retail lobby will soon be telling us that millions are at stake but most people have finite budgets and couldn’t spend any more if every shop was open every minute of every day, as online retailers already are. No one would want people getting into even more debt to fund Sunday evening shopping.

We won’t hear how much family breakdown costs the country and how debt problems and a lack of time spent together all contribute to family breakdown.

Governments can devolve power, and they can devolve blame. This appears to be a new type of devolution: devolving lobby group pressure.

I can hear the advice now: “But Preston/Camden/Leeds has done it, Cllr Blackburn. If we don’t follow suit, we’ll get left behind.”

You soon end up, as we have in licensing and planning, with an army of lawyers, armed with woolly legislation, a presumption in favour of permission being granted, and a few well-publicised appeals, and soon everything, everywhere, will have to be open 24/7.

Where will this 24/7 culture end? Boxing Day has already been taken over by sales shopping; what’s next, Christmas Day?

Every day we see on the news people who have lost their loved ones and wish they had more time together. Time spent with family and friends is precious and should be treasured.

Have we, as a sector, the courage to resist this retail free-for-all?  Let’s see.

Budget hits Blackpool families hard

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.

Budget blog

On Friday 27 February, the full council met to discuss this year’s budget proposals. The proposals were passed with 25 councillors voting in favour and nine against. Here, Cllr Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council explains the tough decisions the authority had to make and will have to make in the future.

February 27 was a truly grim day and certainly one that, coming into politics, I never expected to have to deal with.

Although I am satisfied that we have a budget that is achievable and protects vital services, it is with a very heavy heart that I agreed to a £26 million reduction in budget and the loss of 300 jobs.

As in previous years we hope the vast majority of the redundancies will be voluntary and we are working with people to support them into setting up new careers or their own businesses.

Clearly it’s a very difficult time to be doing anything like that as well. These are all excellent people doing jobs that need to be done.

That makes it all the more difficult.

Looking to the future we need to plan how we are going to continue to provide services to those who need it most in the face of the likelihood of further cuts in the future.

We’ve had huge success in attracting external funding from the Growth Deal which shows that the Government understand what needs to be done and the freedoms we need to stand on our own two feet.

We’ve got our £45m Better Start project, the Head Start scheme to assist teenagers suffering with mental health issues, we’ve brought in £2.4m from the Coastal Communities Fund. It’s all good stuff but we can only bid for what is available and I’m concerned that overall, for Local Government, there isn’t enough.

We need to look at what has happened in Greater Manchester with the announcement that their £6 billion health and social care budget being devolved to the region. That’s something that I’ll be pushing for in Blackpool and lobbying Government ministers and shadow ministers for. With similar arrangements I believe we could make an enormous and co-ordinated impact.

The elections are upon us and I’ll be in trouble if I say too much in this particular space about them. This is a space for council business not party politics.

However, as Leader of the Council I would urge you, whoever you may support, to make sure you are registered to vote.

We have both local and general elections for the first time since 1997 so it’s vital that you make your vote count.

To check you’re registered, call our electoral services team on 477490 or 477161.

View the budget council meeting in full.

Continuing to strive for progress

As you’ll know – we’re being forced by a much reduced financial settlement from Central  Government to cut more than £25 million worth of jobs and services on top of the £39 million which has already been saved in the last few years.  That means that another 200-300 staff could be out of a job, on top of the 750 who have already been made redundant.

This is of course a tragedy for Blackpool – and I will continue to make the case in Westminster and Whitehall regarding the settlement we receive. But, in this edition I want to stress that we won’t allow these cuts to stifle our “progress” – which is, of course, the town’s motto.

Just recently, we announced a successful £2m bid for funding for Blackpool Illuminations which will help with an important revitalisation.

On that same note of progress we’ve also attracted around £2m of funding towards the Blackpool Museum project – which we hope will lead to a further investment of more than £20 million, to provide a new and very different attraction for locals and visitors alike, as well as being a showcase for the town’s rich and varied history.

We’re also currently in the midst of a £3.6m grant funded repair which will safeguard Yeadon Way – an absolutely vital route into our town – for decades.

And we’ve also, in conjunction with partners like the NHS and the NSPCC, attracted more than £50 million of external funding for projects like Better Start, Fulfilling Lives and Head Start

Better Start aims to give children a better start to life between birth and 3 years of age, a key time.  Fulfilling Lives helps us seek out individual alcohol and drug abuse problems, mental health problems and other issues and get those people on the right path, whilst Head Start will ensure greater emotional resilience and improved mental health outcomes for our adolescents.

An £11 million investment in a new hotel in the Town centre we believe will make money for the council in the years to come.  The Public Health service’s investment of £1.3 million a year in breakfasts for all our Primary School children is already paying huge dividends in terms of ability to learn – as well as helping to tackle obesity, poor diet and associated health problems.

We have to retain our ambition and evolve. We cannot stand still and stagnate. We must create new jobs – which all of the above will – to replace those that have already been lost.

We will be making further announcements in due course about our plans to make significant investments in the private sector rental market – complementing our highly successful selective licensing programme, which cracks down on bad landlords and bad tenants – and our huge expansion in building social and affordable housing on Queens Park and Rigby Road.

Despite the cuts, we must continue to strive for progress – to secure our financial base and make services responsive to your needs.

Budget consultation

As many of you will have read in the press, Blackpool Council has announced proposals to achieve £25.2m savings in the next financial year, 2015/16.

It is expected to result in around 300 job losses.

Below is the statement, in full, that I gave to the media at the time.

I’d urge you to have a look at the proposals via the link below and take part in our consultation.

“Local government is entering a period of uncharted territory. In the face of continuing cuts it is battling to adapt and in some cases completely revolutionise the services that it provides.

“Blackpool is no exception. The proposals that I’m presenting today could see services funded by partners, delivered by external agencies or cease entirely. There is no easy way of cutting £25 Million from our budget.

“This year has been the toughest yet. Hours and hours have been spent pouring over the accounts, analysing every pound that is spent.

“Unfortunately there appears no light at the end of the tunnel – services will continue to be cut and jobs lost. This will not go unnoticed by the residents of Blackpool, the businesses that operate here and the visitors who come to stay.

“Every effort needs to be made to work with the public, partners, voluntary sector and the private sector to minimise the impact of the cuts on the people who need and depend upon our services. Seeking external funding and maximising income opportunities will also be vital.

“It is an unsettling time for many people including staff, but the commitment to delivering the best possible services to Blackpool residents remains undiminished.

“It is gut-wrenching to know that hundreds of staff have come to work today and will go home with an uncertain future through no fault of their own. I cannot imagine how they feel but they have my every sympathy, it must be a terribly upsetting time.

“Everyone will have their own views of how we could save this money and I want to hear them, this is a consultation period and now is the time to speak out.”

https://www.blackpool.gov.uk/Your-Council/Have-your-say/Consultations/Budget-consultation.aspx