Shocking jobs axe toll

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THE full devastating effect of cutbacks on the Fylde coast can today be revealed.

Blackpool Council has said it expects 4,500 public sector jobs to be lost over the next three years.

Of those, 2,000 posts are believed to be at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and would equate to more than a third of staff based in the resort.

Union chiefs today said Blackpool had been more badly hit than anywhere in the country due to the large numbers working in public service.

Just last week, 400 Blackpool Council workers, from across all departments, left their offices for the last time.

Meanwhile, a report, compiled for the authority’s tourism and regeneration committee also revealed the average household income in Blackpool is the lowest in the North West.

The average household income has dropped by 5.6 per cent in the last year to just £28,500 in Blackpool, the only area below £30,000 in the North West.

Peter Middleman, regional secretary for the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), said: “The full effects of the axe had not been felt yet, but Blackpool is one of the worst affected areas.

“We’re expecting an announcement shortly cutting 2,000 jobs at the DWP, which is a huge blow because there are only 5,500 employees in Blackpool.

“It’s ridiculous, and ironic, the department which provides support for the unemployed is suffering the biggest blow.”

The PCS is planning a national protest in the resort, alongside Unison, with details to be announced next month.

Brian Doherty, from the Blackpool Centre for the Unemployed, said: “The cuts and job losses the town are facing are going to devastate Blackpool.

“We have four or five new people come through our doors every day either asking for help with Employment Support Allowance, Disabled Students’ Allowance or crisis loans.

“I’m not surprised Blackpool has the lowest household income in the North West, and I think we’ll see a lot more homeless people, and people turning to hostels, because of cutbacks in housing benefits.”

The Government, through the Welfare Reform Bill, recently announced a 10 per cent cut to housing benefits for those on Job Seekers’ Allowance for more than a year.

On a visit to the resort, Conservative Party chairman Sayeeda Warsi said she understood people’s concerns about jobs being lost.

She told The Gazette: “Some tough decisions need to be made.

“It’s sad when any jobs have to go. I remember when my dad lost his job when I was growing up and it isn’t a good feeling for any family.

“But these are difficult times and difficult decisions government and local authorities are having to make. People understand this.”

Town hall bosses today admitted the problem in Blackpool was almost double that of other areas.

Alan Cavill, assistant director for tourism and economy at Blackpool Council, said: “It is not a good thing to be forced out of your workplace.

“The 4,500 figure is only a prediction, and is over the next three years, so we won’t see everyone spilling out on to the streets at the same time.

“Blackpool has been hit the worst because almost 40 per cent of its workforce are public sector workers, compared with 20 per cent nationally.

“But we are doing everything we can, including investing in the Tower, the Pleasure Beach and working with colleges to ensure people’s skills match the thousands of new jobs available.”

Blackpool’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) has introduced extra help after being inundated with calls for help during the last year.

These include financial capacity sessions, which have been set up to provide advice to prevent people getting into debt.

Marie Blackshaw, from Blackpool CAB, said: “We are receiving around four new clients for our financial capacity service every day, from people who are in debt.

“Council workers are normally members of a union, who will provide them with advice, but we have had some ring us.”

Council-run and CAB-led advice sessions have started up to deal with the escalating number of unemployed, including redundancy sessions at the Solaris Centre.

CAB accessible advice manager Andy Gillett added: “I was at an event at the Solaris Centre in March, and four cafe staff had just been handed their notice. It came as a shock and they were devastated, so we know people need help.

“Our next session is on Monday, but we also need more volunteers to work on our phone lines, which we know will be very busy over the next few months.”

The report also states Jobseekers’ Allowance claims have rocketed by two per cent – or 2,660 – since February 2008.

The next CAB redundancy sessions will be held at the Solaris Centre at 9am on Monday.