Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn brushed off calls for his resignation in wake of the criticism levelled at this year’s Illuminations’ Switch-On.
The calls came from opposition Tory members during last night’s full council meeting in which Conservative group leader Coun Tony Williams accused Coun Blackburn of “losing his credibility” with the town’s electorate for an apparent lack of willingness to speak out on the issue.
Organisers Marketing Blackpool – the council’s tourism arm – said this year’s poorly attended event lost £372,000.
Coun Williams said: “Through good and bad, leaders lead. They go on television when they’re being criticised or being praised.
“This one only wants to go on when he wants to launch one of his daft schemes.
“In doing so we don’t have a leader anymore.
“(Labour) may think you have a leader but the town certainly don’t think they have a leader. I think his position is untenable. The leader has lost his credibility and he should resign immediately.”
This year’s Switch-On – headlined by Gary Barlow and Jonathan Ross at an entry fee of £34 – sparked widespread criticism. Less than 5,000 turned up for Switch-On – a third of the usual crowd when it was a free event backed by a radio station partner.
Coun Maxine Callow said: “People out there are positively disgusted. We’ve been told we’ve lost £372,000.
“Until this year it was the greatest free show on Earth.”
Responding to Coun Williams, Coun Blackburn said: “I’ve seen off two Tory leaders, I’ll see you out. I look forward to leading Labour into the next election and beyond. I very much doubt he will do the same.”
In relation to the Switch-On itself he said: “Switch-On is a Marketing Blackpool issue. We will continue to work with them on the lessons to learn from this year.”
Moving onto other issues, he accused the Tory group of “rattling on about one night of the year” while his group was “getting on with running this town” and dealing with its
serious social problems.
Accused of being arrogant over his leadership and policies, Coun Blackburn stated: “There’s nothing wrong with arrogance as long as you’re right... and I’m right.”
The Conservative group also made calls for the resignation of Coun Graham Cain, the cabinet member for tourism.
Coun Williams said: “He said 20,000 people had attended the event – he’s not only made a laughing stock of himself, he’s made a laughing stock of the town. He no longer has the credibility to carry on in his position. You’ve got to resign, Coun Cain.”
In response, Coun Cain said: “In respect to your general comments regarding me resigning, I’m going nowhere and I’ve got the full support of the Labour group.”
Arrogance, accusations, calls for resignations... just another quiet night at Blackpool Town Hall then.
Council leader Simon Blackburn batted away calls for him to quit and issued a defiant message to his Tory opponents. To paraphrase: “I ain’t going anywhere – I’ll see you off at the election in 2015.”
Last night’s clash was always going to be lively in wake of the debate which has raged since this year’s Illuminations Switch-On came in at a loss of £372,000.
On one side we had Tories queuing up to call for Coun
Blackburn and tourism portfolio holder Graham Cain’s heads as well as answers . They got neither.
Coun Blackburn and Coun Cain both steadfastly stated it was an issue for the council’s tourism arm, and event organisers, Marketing Blackpool.
That is true, but some will be puzzled given, three weeks ago, neither councillor was exactly backward in coming forward in appearing to take credit on live TV for Gary Barlow stepping in at the 11th hour to headline Switch-On.
The Tories accused Coun Blackburn of running scared – one even suggesting he hid behind the skirts of a well-known Blackpool hotelier who came out in support of the council and Marketing Blackpool’s organisation of the event.
“It’s time to go... resign now” was how former Tory leader
Peter Callow summed up as the debate became personal, at times, too personal.
In typically bullish fashion Coun Blackburn stated he was working with Marketing Blackpool “on lessons to learn” from this year. “I’ll see you out and look forward to leading the Labour group into the next election and beyond,” he said.
It will certainly be an interesting next two years.
Party political point scoring from both camps, however, is a sideshow to the main issue.
There was a serious point made – and, no, not Coun Cain’s ludicrous suggestion that his own wildly ambitious estimation of 20,000 people attending Switch-On weekend had been taken out of context by this newspaper, something which I as editor totally reject.
It was more the admission that lessons do indeed have to be learned by all those involved in the event. This year’s Switch-On will sadly be remembered in Blackpool for those who were not there rather than those who were.
As good as the show was, too many were put off by £34 tickets – or maybe the original headline act – and this is central to the debate, as is how Marketing Blackpool intends to claw back the £372,000 loss.
This matter will be raised again and again, and so it should be.
While it is only “one night of the year” it is Blackpool’s biggest and most prestigious night of the year and the council and Marketing Blackpool have to get it right.