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.

 

My take on devolution

Combined Authorities appear to be Central Government’s preferred model of devolving power in England – and whilst there are numerous arguments against this proposition, it is likely that these will fall upon deaf ears.  We must therefore deal with the actualité of the situation.

Devolution is a subtle and nuanced matter, not given to soundbites or easy solutions.  I am very clear in my view that devolution ought to mean power transferring from Whitehall and Westminster to Blackpool.  Council Leaders in Wales and Scotland tell me that devolution from Westminster has led simply to powers being centralised in Cardiff and Holyrood – and not passed down to local councils.

We cannot allow such a situation here –any combined authority for Lancashire must treat all participant councils as equal partners.    Current joint working arrangements are variable in their success.  Transport for Lancashire (a partnership between Blackpool, Blackburn and Lancashire County) works well – the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (a similar partnership) does not, and I remain singularly unimpressed by it.  The MP’s for Hyndburn and Chorley have both expressed their concerns about this style of devolution, with which I have some sympathy.

Blackpool became a unitary authority because we did not feel that a council the size of LCC could pay enough attention to our very specific needs – Blackburn with Darwen clearly felt the same.  In recent months, both Wyre and Chorley have indicated a preference for unitary status, so clearly that feeling has not gone away.

There can therefore be no talk of an elected mayor for Lancashire, or the formation of a “Greater Lancashire” authority which sees power taken out of the hands of Blackpudlians – but I’m not against negotiating around issues where there may be a common set of aims – education planning and strategic housing matters present themselves as obvious areas which bear further exploration.

In the final analysis however, Blackpool has more in common with places like Hastings than it does with places like the Ribble Valley (I was born in Blackburn, grew up in Clitheroe, and have just ordered my Blackburn Rovers Season Ticket – East Lancashire is a wonderful place, but very different to Blackpool).  In the coming months, therefore, I will be exploring the possibility of working with other seaside towns – some of whom might, like Blackpool, want local control over housing benefit budgets, as a tool to dealing with a large surplus of former hotel accommodation, to name but one issue.

Is the Government brave enough to consider devolving powers to a group of councils who have a lot in common, but who aren’t geographic neighbours?  We’ll see…