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”.

 

“Blackpool will welcome Syrian refugees”

As I write this, the issue uppermost in most people’s minds is the global refugee crisis.

Both the UK and Blackpool have a long, proud tradition of helping those most in need – Blackpool having welcomed Polish migrants in the 1940s, Hungarians in the 1950s, and Kosovans in the 1990s.

The current focus is on people in Calais, and people fleeing Syria.  But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees states that at the end of 2014, there were almost 20 million people, or an average of 42,500 people per day forced to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere.

Syria is of course not the only nation in crisis – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Palestine, Eritrea, Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Yemen – to name but a few all have displaced peoples who are in desperate need.

But for now, the presenting issue is Syria.

The Prime Minister has committed to taking 20,000 Syrian refugees.  I am meeting with the Shadow Home Secretary tomorrow, with the Home Office Security Minister next week, and have been having conversations with local government leaders from across the UK over the past fortnight.

I have also spoken with colleagues at the council, constituents, friends and others, as well as keeping one eye on how the media is reporting the crisis.  As in any situation, opinions vary – but generally speaking people are overwhelmingly positive about the idea of us helping out in any way we can.

Of course there are those who feel that “charity should begin at home” and that we should “sort our own problems out first” and I try to understand that view.  Blackpool has huge problems, which we are striving to address – but we cannot isolate ourselves from the rest of the world.

We must accept that – however bad our problems may be locally – these people who are fleeing Syria are infinitely worse off than we are – almost all of us have food enough to eat, shelter and warmth – they have nothing.

Given the thousands of (often very troubled) people from within the UK who turn up in Blackpool every year, with little more than the shirt on their back, I think we can find it within our hearts and wallets, to take just a handful more.

So, we will be working hard over the coming days and weeks to work out a plan for how could meet the housing, health, education and other needs of refugees, to try and ensure that they feel welcomed, and a valued part of our community.

I am confident that the people of Blackpool will play their part in this effort, and that (aside from the dozen or so people whom I already know will send me hate mail for daring to suggest we might welcome a few refugees from far-flung shores), we will offer them a welcome which reflects Blackpool’s world famous reputation for hospitality, and our basic human instinct to protect those less fortunate than ourselves.

Christmas campaigns

WINTER is upon us and I welcome you all to another edition of Your Blackpool.

In this edition we have news on our Council couch project, which has seen our senior officers face a grilling from members of the public, the likes of which is usually reserved for people like myself.

Our terrific Get Started scheme has also had another wonderful year helping people to set up in business.

But what I want to focus on this month is our front page story – the fantastic Give a Little, Help a Lot project.

A festive feature for a number of years, the idea is that we all give a little something, in the true spirit of Christmas, to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

All donations will go to deserving causes, whether that be children in care, those living under difficult circumstances or simply a young person who could do with a little Christmas cheer.

Thanks to your generosity the project made a difference to around 1,100 children in 2013 and this year the need is just as great.

I know that times are hard right now for so many people in Blackpool so we don’t expect the earth – as the name says, just  giving a little bit can make a huge difference.

We’re giving back too this Christmas and while, with finances incredibly tight with another £26m of Government cuts ahead for the next financial year, that isn’t an easy promise to make, we recognise the need to try to help you as much as possible.

So we’ve teamed up with Blackpool BID to offer free parking at all our car parks on Saturday 6 December.

There is also a ‘park for a pound’ offer at four car parks (see page 1) on Thursday evenings and Sundays on the run up to Christmas.

And finally, remaining in the spirit of giving, we’re supporting Age UK’s Donate a Coat campaign which asks people to donate their unwanted coats to help keep people warm this winter.

It is a sad sign of the times that so many people live in fuel poverty these days and that winter warmth remains a big concern.

I’d urge you to dig into your wardrobe, give generously if you can and look out for your friends and neighbours this winter too.

I wish you all a happy and healthy Christmas and all the best for 2015.

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.

Fat chance if you don’t exercise!

I’ve got a confession to make…… I’m a bit fat.

I recently turned 40 and, unless the weight loss fairies turn up out of the blue, I’ll go into the early part of my fifth decade on the planet weighing in well over what I should be.

If the famous boxing announcer Michael Buffer of “Let’s Get Ready to Rumbllllllle!” fame was doing the old “tale of the tape”, he would say that Simon “The Bruiser” Blackburn, from Blackpool, England, was weighing in at five feet and six inches and weighing in at 13 and a half stones (he’d probably use metric but that’s another debate altogether).

In other words, I’m above what a healthy man of my size should be.

Now I blame this, in part, on me quitting smoking (eight months and counting) and, in part, on Denise who is in charge of butties at the Town Hall.

Sadly though, the rest is down to what doctors call a sedentary lifestyle – although since Emma and I got Bentley (the Labrador, now nine months old), we do more walking.

I make light of the problem but, as we all know health, not least obesity, is a problem across Blackpool.

And there are also a number of reasons that I feel the need to take the initiative and get my own house/stomach in order.

Firstly, I’m Chairman of the Health & Wellbeing Board, secondly, I’m getting more involved in the Victoria Hospital Trust and Clinical Commissioning Group and thirdly, I’m getting married in November!

I can’t, in all good conscience, fulfil any of those important obligations without at least making some effort towards losing a few pounds.

As a result I’ve signed up at the council’s new Gateway Fitness Centre – tucked away on George Street at the back of our new offices (and before you ask, no, councillors aren’t moving in to the new building).

It’s a good, convenient, town centre gym; not lavish but modern, practical and open to everyone and you can sign up on the council’s website online.

This isn’t an advert though, more a plea for others to read about this problem, which is weighing so heavily on me (boom boom) to have a think about their own health and whether it could be improved.

There are a million and one ways to exercise from joining a fancy expensive gym, to a mid-range one, to all the sports under the sun or simply going for a good walk or even a run every day.

It doesn’t have to cost a thing and we all know that.

For more information on getting to and maintaining a healthy weight, take a look at the various help that is available.

Finally, I’m hoping to attract sponsorship to lose the weight, to raise money for the Mayor’s Charities (Donnas Dream house and The Snowdrop centre), so keep an eye on this blog and I will keep you posted – or we’ve just got a “Just Giving” account up and running (geddit?), which I’ll promote via my own social media pages, as will the Council.

Why we shouldn’t penalise people for being ill

The case of four year-old Corey Leahy caught my eye in the London Evening Standard, whilst wending my way back from ANOTHER meeting in London.

He’s not been invited to his school’s end of term party, because he has had time off school to attend the dentist, and therefore has not got a 100% attendance record.

This has happened to my family – my five year-old daughter has been left upset when their necessary (two hour) attendance at the hospital counted against her come the end of term – although in fairness, when her Mum raised it, the school agreed with us, and she did go to the ball.

While I understand that central government dictates how schools record absences, I would hope that locally we take a more sympathetic approach when deciding who can and cannot attend a party.

If you ask the hospital and your GP to have all of your child’s medical needs met before 8.30am, after 4pm, or during the school holidays, you’ll be met with a very odd look indeed – it simply isn’t practical.

In a similar vein, one way in which councils are being encouraged to save money is by considering changing the terms and conditions of staff, so they don’t get paid for the first three days of sickness.

I declined to even discuss the matter, frankly.  Our staff have made huge sacrifices over recent years – taking unpaid leave, agreeing not to get their annual increments, paying to park at work, on top of getting no annual pay award – all of which adds up to a significant real terms pay cut – and we are having to ask them for another two years of such measures, as we fight to keep as many staff, delivering as many services as possible to the residents of Blackpool.

Rewarding people for good attendance is laudable but publically penalising people for being ill (whether you happen to be 4 or 44) seems a strange way to do business, and a strange way of motivating people.

Maybe we shouldn’t do it anymore?