New deal full of eastern promise

We were approached by the Chinese Consulate in Manchester just over three years ago, who asked if we would consider working more closely with the City of Sanya, which is in Hainan Province, in Southern China.

Now we all know that China is already seriously important in terms of financial clout – it’s the second biggest economy in the world, and although growth has slowed recently, it has slowed to around 7% – a rate of growth that we in the West can only dream of!

Our local Chinese community here in Blackpool make a huge contribution to the town.  Peter Lui and Danny Hui of the Blackpool Chinese Community Association were very keen for us to pursue this opportunity, so we invited Sanya to come over here and see us.

I was very impressed with their current list of sister-cities (which includes Cannes, Cancun and Hollywood!), and with their plans to look at how our tourism and leisure expertise could assist them, whilst their experience of levering in private investment could help us.  Just to give you an idea of the scale of the place, they’ve got 75 five-star hotels.

When I visited earlier this year, and attended a number of different events and installations – I was particularly impressed by the International School in Sanya – and the Mayor of Sanya talked about the potential for Chinese students to experience the British hospitality industry as part of their studies.

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Signing the sister city agreement with Executive Vice-Mayor of Sanya, Mr Yue Jin.

As well as meeting with Government officials – from both the UK and China, and potential investors in Hong Kong – we saw huge opportunities to tap in to new markets and new ways of thinking.

 

The UK Government is hugely supportive of expanding Sino-British links, and it was encouraging to hear our new Prime Minister recognising the importance of China to the UK, in her recent visit to the G20 summit in Hangzhou.

An early “win”, if you like, of our involvement, was the signing of a deal worth £500,000 deal to use Blackpool’s name in promoting Ballroom Dance in China and the Far East – and a deal has now been reached with Thomas Cook, to promote links between the two regions.

We need to look increasingly further afield for investment and new ideas – if we are to truly deliver on our town’s motto of “Progress”.

 

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 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.

Bargains galore for Blackpool residents

Everyone loves a bargain.

We know it, the marketing people with their BOGOFs and their two-for-one’s know it; they put a smile on everyone’s face and a spring in our step.

So, while we’re all still feeling the summer buzz around Blackpool, I’ve decided in this blog I won’t harp on about politics.

Instead I want to point out to you some of the best bargains and boosts the Council can offer you, the Blackpool local.

Charity begins at home, they say, so first off we’ve brought in a whole host of recycling innovations to try to help keep Blackpool – and your house – nice and tidy.

One big one is Rover – our free new mobile tip – which travels around one area per day, saving people the fuel cost of a trip to the tip at Bristol Avenue.

Keep an eye on our website and social media pages for times and locations which change depending on demand.

If you do make your way to the tip we’ve also got a very popular new innovation – the Re-Use store – which reclaims and reconditions goods that people are looking to dump, putting them back on sale to pay for the tip’s upkeep and raise money for charity.

This project too has been a great success and, believe me, from TV’s to toys, there are amazing bargains and top quality items to be had.

The summer in Blackpool is always all about fun and we always try to put on free events aimed at families.

From the Blackpool Air Show, which was a soaring success despite windy weather, and Ride the Lights to the upcoming World Fireworks Championships running every Friday night in September, we’ve some wonderful free events for people both young and old to enjoy.

And speaking of fun, I’m excited to see our new community engagement tool – the council couch – coming to your area very soon.

It’s quirky, it’s a bit of fun, it costs next to nothing but it will hopefully get people talking and allow you, the local resident, to come along and get something off your chest.

Maybe you can even suggest an idea that will help us a better deal for Blackpool.

And finally we’ve a new scheme which could help you save a good whack off one of everyone’s least favourite pest to their pocket – energy bills.

Our collective energy switching scheme, Ready to Switch, is back – keep an eye out for details in the press, on our website and online.

We’ve also a whole host of energy-saving advice and expertise available and a new home insulation scheme in the pipeline.

Keep an eye out for news on that soon.

You can find out more about these initiatives by searching the words in bold on the Blackpool Council website.