‘Don’t criticise – get involved’ says chief

Shirley Matthews (below) and Chief Supt Richard Debicki  who said the group could still be an influence without a budget.
Shirley Matthews (below) and Chief Supt Richard Debicki who said the group could still be an influence without a budget.
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A body set up to make Blackpool a fairer place to live has been criticised over a lack of action 10 months after it was first formed.

Shirley Matthews, one of 160 commissioners involved in the Fairness Commission, told of her frustrations at a meeting at the Solaris Centre held to update both the group and members of the public on its work so far.

Shirley Matthews

Shirley Matthews

But the commission’s chairman, Chief Supt Richard Debicki, insists it can still influence the future of the resort, despite having no budget or method of delivery.

The commission was set up to give residents a stronger voice in town hall affairs. When it was launched, it was intended that its role would include lobbying for Blackpool at national level, improving local engagement with the town hall and find new ways of working with other groups.

Speaking to The Gazette at the meeting, Shirley said: “I joined thinking we could make a difference and get a fairer Blackpool but I haven’t heard anything since January.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t understand what it’s about, I just feel nothing’s happened. If you’re going to have this kind of thing surely we should have some aims.”

During the meeting Chief Insp Debicki gave a presentation about the work of the commission, which is led by representatives from the public, private and voluntary sectors. He said: “We don’t hold a budget and that makes us fundamentally different.

“We don’t specifically have a delivery arm and that’s really important to recognise because what we rely on is people working on our behalf to achieve what we’ve got to achieve.”

John Garnham, a member of the public who attended the meeting, said: “I’m still completely baffled as to what (the commission’s) going to do.

“It doesn’t seem to have achieved anything and if you ask most people they’ve never even heard of it.”

Five working groups have been set up to discuss issues surrounding the resort night-time economy, child poverty and public consultation.

Speaking to The Gazette, Chief Supt Debicki, who is set to stand down from the chairman’s position in September due to work commitments, defended the commission’s work so far.

He said: “Our achievements so far are getting ourselves established and getting set up and fit for purpose - and that’s been a sizeable ask in itself.

“I’m not quite sure what people would be expecting and it’s very easy to stand on the sidelines and be critical of something, but what I would say to them is come along and be part of it.

“If anybody thinks the issues will be solved overnight, that’s a naive outlook.”

Jane Hugo, chief executive of the Streetlife charity in Blackpool, is to head the commission’s working group on consultation and engagement.

She said: “My area is around the way that Blackpool as a town consults with residents. Something I’ve always noted is there aren’t many young people who get engaged in consultation, and we could pull together to change that.”

Paul Greenwood, chief executive officer of the Bay Housing Association, also attended the meeting.

He said: “Wherever you go there’s always people who find criticism in anything.

“I see this as more of a long term thing.”

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