Leader’s letter to the people

Blackpool Council leader CVoun Simon Blackburn (serious)

Blackpool Council leader CVoun Simon Blackburn (serious)

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BLACKPOOL town hall leader Coun Simon Blackburn today missed an impassioned plea to the people of Blackpool: “We need your help to solve the town’s problems.”

Coun Blackburn admits the resort is beset by social issues but believes its fortunes can be turned around.

And the Labour leader made a plea to residents to join his fight to restore civic pride in a letter to the people of Blackpool.

He wants to confront the culture of “dependency on the state” found in some areas and pledged to tackle the issue of migrants from other towns and cities who put a strain on social housing and services.

He said: “We must have hope, a vision for a better future, and an unshakeable belief things can change.

“I believe if we show enough pride in Blackpool, enough dedication to developing policies, and pursuing them doggedly, we can start to turn around the dependency culture which has been created – allowing us to target tax-payers cash on those who are in genuine need of help, and who take responsibility for their own lives, but I need your help.”

The Gazette today publishes Coun Blackburn’s mission statement in full and asks Blackpool people what they think.

The letter has received cross party support with Conservative leader of the opposition Coun Tony Williams describing some of the comments by Coun Blackburn as “representing an almost Berlin Wall moment where it’s acknowledged that the state no longer has all the solutions and the money to fix societies problems”.

Coun Blackburn’s open letter to the people of Blackpool:

“TWO events have drawn me to the same conclusion recently.

Firstly, there has been the 999: What’s Your Emergency> program on Channel 4, and the subsequent heated debate. Secondly, my car broke down. Seemingly unconnected, I know, but bear with me.

I live in Blackpool, just off Preston New Road, two of my three children were born in The Vic, and all three attend Blackpool schools. I work part-time for a small local charity just off Lytham Road.

Now nearly 40, I occasionally make it to the Blue Room (and even more occasionally, The Tache), but for many years, while working for the Pleasure Beach, at the De Vere, and at the Waxworks I was a fairly frequent visitor to the town centre to sample the pleasures of our night-time economy. I’ve lived in a variety of bedsits, flats and houses in both north and south Blackpool, and have represented both Bloomfield and Brunswick. I know my patch - or I thought I did.

I didn’t really pay a great deal of attention to the Channel 4 stuff at first – other than meeting with the police and expressing the view they should have consulted with us before embarking on this, a point they accept. However, as the episodes went by, the debate sharpened, and my friends’ accounts of what they had watched grew ever more lurid, I thought I ought to take a look.

Some of you may recall that in 2004 (I think), I was attacked in the street by some local charmers – more bruised pride than anything else. We were burgled in 2000 and again in 2005. I’ve had my car stolen – but on all four occasions, I remember feeling I was a victim of crime, and as my colleague Coun Eddie Collett points out, whatever the statistics show, whether there is a two per cent decrease in reported crime or not, when you’re the victim of a crime, you are 100 per cent a victim of crime.

Now television packs hundreds of hours of filming into bite-sized, dramatic chunks. The accumulated pain and misery of many months has been distilled into a few hours of actual “action”. But its not pretty is it? The simple fact of the matter is in some parts of Blackpool, it is more than a bit like that – in other parts it is very much like that – and that pain and misery can be both terrifying and oppressive at the same time.

Blackpool’s population hasn’t changed much over the past decade in terms of figures, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t changed. There are more people out of work now than 10 years ago, more people on long-term benefits, a worse public health outlook, more poverty and little improvement in alcohol and drug fuelled violence, disorder and anti-social behaviour.

My car having broken down has given me another window on these issues. I now walk, take the bus or take the tram. This means I stray from my usual routes – so I find myself going through Mereside at 11pm, through Grange Park at 8am, along Central Drive at 2am in a cab. Not only are you able to watch things more intently as a passenger but you also have the company of others.

I am forced to wonder therefore, at what point we accepted that Blackpool was going to become a refuge for the dispossessed and the never-possessed? When did we simply accept that if people turned up here with both profound and enduring criminal records, major social problems, housing issues or poverty issues, we would scoop them up into our bosom and seek to fix them?

Any society can, and absolutely should, cope with some people who are criminal, some who are out of work through circumstances, some who are sick, some who are just plain idle, and others who need a wide variety of other help and support.

It becomes an issue though when we are fuelling a culture of dependency on the state, a dependency we are struggling to afford now, never mind in another 10 years time.

How much longer can we run around after people fixing their problems because we are frightened that nobody else will do it?

Do we need a bit more stick and a bit less carrot? Would that allow us to focus our resources on those people who are vulnerable and poor BUT who want to help themselves to change?

Before people start, I am not talking about the deserving versus the undeserving poor.

What I am saying however is there comes a point whereby after a wide variety of interventions and attempts to support people, we cannot usefully continue to seek to spend our way to happiness even if we could afford it, and we can’t. A colleague spoke to me the other day about the notion of developing a suite of policies to try to manage this situation.

Essentially, we’d be saying Blackpool is full, and if people are planning on moving here, they need to think long and hard about securing accommodation, a job, and means of entertaining themselves which do no negatively impact on the wider community.

At the same time, we would continue to pursue policies such as selective licensing, to drive out bad landlords and begin to soak up the vast oversupply of naff bedsits and one-bedroomed flats.

There are a great many people in Blackpool who work very hard, take their role in the community seriously, spend their lives unknown to police and social services, are good neighbours and pay their taxes.

I talk a lot about fairness. Is it fair that the great many people who work hard are supporting a growing number of people that don’t? Don’t get me wrong, as a socialist – and actually, I think this is a belief common to most political parties – I want to support those who are genuinely sick, who have disabilities, and who are jobless and in need of support despite their best efforts.

But I can’t stand by and let Blackpool be seen as some sort of hapless victim of society’s ills. The recession has been tough – people are hard up, jobs are scarce. But we must have HOPE, a vision for a better future, and an unshakeable belief things can change.

There has been a lot of furore recently about the NHS spending £85,000 on No Smoking signs in parks – but nobody is talking about the fact the NHS spends £5m, right here in Blackpool, every year, on services connected to drug use and abuse. £5m. Is that fair when, daily we read in the national press of people being denied treatment or medication on the grounds of cost?

I believe if we show enough pride in Blackpool, enough dedication to developing policies, and pursuing them doggedly, we can start to turn around the dependency culture that has been created – allowing us to target tax-payer cash on those who are in genuine need of help, and who take responsibility for their own lives.

But I need your help.”