‘Benefits TV show could tarnish resort’s image’

Channel 5 producers have been urged to stay away from Blackpool
Channel 5 producers have been urged to stay away from Blackpool
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Stay out of our town.

That was the defiant message today from worried business chiefs across Blackpool, after it was revealed a TV programme featuring people on benefits in the resort is set to be aired.

Channel 5’s Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole will look at unemployed people in Blackpool and how they use their benefits.

Some of the filming for the show, due to air later this year, has already been done.

But leaflets, seen by The Gazette, have also been distributed across the town by producers urging people on benefits to go on camera as work on the programme continues.

The company behind it has promised it will feature “larger than life characters” from the resort.

But the plans have sparked growing fears such a programme could cause major damage to the resort’s image, two years since the airing of Channel 4 programme 999:What’s Your Emergency?

After what tourism leaders say has been the most successful summer season in the town for several years, there are concerns a programme about life on benefits here would cause untold damage, with one business boss saying it will make Blackpool look “like Jeremy Kyle’s waiting room”.

Stephen Pierre, who runs the Galleon Bar, in Abingdon Street, said: “To be honest this programme coming to Blackpool is very, very damaging.

“If it was something positive I would welcome it.

“But this would be making Blackpool like Jeremy Kyle’s waiting room. The disadvantages outweigh the advantages.”

The concerns follow the fall-out from Channel 4 documentary 999: What’s Your Emergency? and a move by Blackpool Council to block TV reality show Geordie Shore being filmed in the resort earlier this year.

Tony Banks, owner of several hotels in the resort, including The Royal Carlton, The Royal Seabank, The Boston and Southbank said: “I hate all these programmes.

“Unless it’s sensationalised it does not make good TV. Instead of looking at good quality TV they look at shock tactics.

“The programme would be better to show the positive impact of the resort. Everybody this season has had a wonderful season - the best since 2007.”

Dave Daly, owner of The Castle Pub on Central Drive, and chairman of North West Licensees Unite Union, added: “I just think it is bad for the town. The 999: What’s Your Emergency? programme is still doing damage.

“We are no worse than any other town. I think everybody in Blackpool is trying to do their best. Blackpool is on the up after a great season.

“It is a nationwide thing saying we are full of people on benefits. We are no worse than anywhere else. With us being a holiday resort it does affect our economy. Blackpool is a brand around the country and it (the programme) damages the Blackpool brand.”

Helen Mansell, vice-president of Stay Blackpool said: “Coming hot on the heels of 999: What’s Your Emergency? we do not want any more negative publicity.

“After a wonderful season and half-term we want a really good positive image for the town.”

Blackpool Council was heavily stung by the fall-out from last year’s Channel 4 documentary 999: What’s Your Emergency? which showed the town in a negative light as it shadowed the emergency services, which agreed to being filmed for the programme.

Hoteliers said it was hugely damaging for the town with people calling up to cancel bookings having watched the controversial show.

After the programme finished, a media group was set up between the council and attraction and business groups in the town.

It agreed to carefully consider all filming requests to ensure Blackpool was portrayed as positively and fairly as possible.

Hugh Evans, of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: “We need to talk the town up – that is the key priority.

“As everyone saw with the 999: What’s Your Emergency? programme it might make good TV but it is not an accurate portrayal of what is happening.

“What we do not want to see happening is TV promoting a negative image of Blackpool - from past experience that is likely to be the case.”

“The town has its fair share of problems but so do other seaside towns.”

Coun Graham Cain, Cabinet Member for tourism and leisure, said: “The 999: What’s Your Emergency? programme generated a great deal of negative feeling in the town with both residents and businesses feeling it reflected badly on Blackpool.

“While we couldn’t stop the programme from being filmed it certainly highlighted the strength of feeling from local people.

“Since then we have pledged to keep interested parties informed of any filming requests that we receive, whether it be positive or negative. We let local businesses know our own view on each filming request and then it is up to them whether they decide to take part.

“We are aware that Channel 5 is currently filming in the town and we have chosen not to co-operate with them. While the issues it appears to be filming are not unique to Blackpool we do not think it will be positive for the town to be highlighted in this way. It is always a worry when vulnerable people take part in TV programmes like this as they rarely result in a positive outcome for them. In the case of 999: What’s your Emergency? there were a few people whose problems were made much worse once the show was aired and they were publicly known.

“Throughout the year we work closely with lots of production companies that want to come to Blackpool and portray the resort in a positive way.”

A spokesman for Channel 5 said the programme would bring viewers “another slice of the lives of people who are on benefits.”

He said: “It’s the second series of Channel 5’s top-rating in-house production which gave the channel some of its best viewing figures ever.

“With heart and humour, tears and joy, the new series brings viewers another slice of the lives of people who are on benefits. The second episode of the series features some of the larger than life characters who live in Blackpool...where many find it hard to get a job.”

Other places set to feature in the documentary series, which will feature four 60-minute episodes, are 
Liverpool, London and Birmingham.

A leaflet which has been distributed across the town by production bosses, says: “Are you an unemployed or a seasonal worker struggling to make ends meet? Channel 5 is making a new programme looking at seasonal work and unemployment in seaside towns. We are offering individuals and families the chance to speak about their personal experiences.”

The show is due to air later this year.