‘Blackpool isn’t dying anytime soon’

Kristen Durose, Managing Director Red Star Wealth Management
Kristen Durose, Managing Director Red Star Wealth Management
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Business leader’s response to an article in The Economist slating resort

An entirely bleak depiction of Blackpool – complete with cartoon of a wilting Tower – depicted in The Economist this week has been rounded on.

Fylde By Air Aerials

Fylde By Air Aerials

Columnist Bagehot – journalist Jeremy Cliffe – dedicated his page in the magazine to a blistering oversight of the downfall of the resort from its Victorian heyday, painting a picture of a grim, failing town in an attack on Chancellor George Osborne’s plans for a Northern Powerhouse.

He wrote: “Blackpool in its pomp was everything a mill worker or clerk could wish for in a holiday resort. There were the piers and beaches, the outdoor dancing stages and the music halls, ludicrously extravagant Moorish and Indian follies where entertainers from Laurel and Hardy to Frank Sinatra delighted the crowds. And there was the Tower, modelled on Eiffel’s in Paris, with its lights, ballroom and mighty Wurlitzer organ. One in five Britons holidayed in the town. So the memories of those years lived on long after the dawn of mass foreign tourism in the 1960s. The recent success of “Strictly Come Dancing”, a televised ballroom-dancing contest, is testament to a lingering national soft-spot for its old blend of sequined razzmatazz and Victorian politesse.

“Today the memories are almost all Blackpool has left. Abandoned for the Costas, it failed to find a new role, became one of the ten most deprived towns in Britain and is now almost cinematically bleak: Coney Island meets Detroit.

“The town centre is a smelly (urine and fried food, with notes of cannabis) patchwork of charity shops, nightclubs with fading playbills and unloved tourist emporia flogging boiled sweets in saucy shapes. In the back streets scrawny men loiter outside terraces of peeling boarding houses, swigging from cans and glaring at the seagulls.”

By not looking at a single positive for the town, the writer leaves an image of Blackpool that is entirely negative – and damaging

“ ‘People aren’t usually in Blackpool if they have somewhere to go,’ says Brian, an unemployed waiter outside the job centre. His comment reminded Bagehot of a song by Morrissey in which the gloomadon-popping Lancastrian evoked ‘the coastal town that they forgot to close down’. The lyric captures something of Blackpool’s sadness, but also the economic transformation under which it is falling yet further behind and which was advanced by George Osborne in his budget.”

Bagehot says the Chancellor wants people to ‘escape’ the town and head for the likes of Manchester where more opportunities await.

He cited Council leader Simon Blackburn warning new cuts from Whitehall mean some leisure centres and libraries may have to close. Yet the same situation is happening in authorities across the country – both Lytham and St Annes to the South, and Thornton and Cleveleys to the north, both regarded as far wealthier areas, face the prospect of losing libraries.

Bagehot adds: “Through cuts to welfare and local government, Mr Osborne is dismantling the zimmer frame built up by Labour to keep decrepit towns on their feet. Blackpool is the local authority which has lost most per person under austerity, because it is so reliant on public spending.

A big crowd gathered in Banks Hey Street today for the opening of the new R.H.O Hills store. 1968

A big crowd gathered in Banks Hey Street today for the opening of the new R.H.O Hills store. 1968

“Its private economy is weak and seasonal and its people are relatively poor, unhealthy and troubled: one in four claims welfare benefits, life expectancy is five years below the national average and the town has acute crime, drug-abuse and alcoholism problems. Removing the zimmer frame was always going to send it toppling, and so it has toppled: public-sector employment has fallen and, unlike in much of Britain, the private sector has not filled the gap. Blackpool’s economy shrank by eight per cent over the five years from 2010.”

While many of Bagehot’s statistics may be true, there are many he leaves out. Would he dare have written about the level of homelessness, the level of crime, the level of teenage pregnancies and the level of drug problems in London, mentioning nothing else about the city?

By not looking at a single positive for the town, the investment in infrastructure, the nearing demolition of its only tower blocks, the arrival of the central business district, he leaves an image of Blackpool that is entirely negative – and damaging – about the resort.

So step forward business leader Kristen Durose.

Crowds flocked to the Blackpool Illuminations Switch-On  2015

Crowds flocked to the Blackpool Illuminations Switch-On 2015

The managing director of red Star Wealth Management at Whitehills – the name of the business alone suggests there must be some money somewhere in the resort – with a balanced response that flies in the face of Bagehot’s picture of a doomed town. Above is her response to Bagehot in full.

The response from Facebook was immediate.

Mike Smith wrote: “It’s about time these metropolitan wassocks stopped being so bloody snobby. However I’m quite happy keeping the Fylde coast to ourselves.”

Paul Galley added: “Fantastic letter Kristen, for me Blackpool’s best years are ahead of it and I’m really excited about our town’s future.”

And Tara Jayne Cooper addd: “Love this! Read the article you posted and it stuck with me... I’m going to post something after this one - my Blackpool my hometown - my son. Well done Kristen.”

Letter

Blackpool Tower

Blackpool Tower

I find I have to write to counterbalance the view of Blackpool put forward in the article “A coastal town they forgot to close down” (March 19, 2016).

While the writer might be trying to make a political point that George Osborne’s apparent desire for the Norther Powerhouse has stopped way before reaching the M55 (“The sad underside of George Osborne’s metropolitan revolution), it reads more like PR rhetoric to reinforce Osborne’s – or rather his father in law’s opinion that the north of England, with Blackpool and the Fylde Coast in particular being “the desolate North” and now apparently “derelict”. Terms used by Howell in reference to the shale gas industry’s desire to carry out “fracking”.

You see as I pointed out recently at the public inquiry into Cuadrilla’s appeal against Lancashire Count Council’s rejection of their application to frack, it is easier to convince the UK that us Seasiders need to be saved from extinction and being washed into the Irish Sea, if articles like this tell a tale of woe about Blackpool’s fortunes.

So let me enlighten you shall I? In March 2015 Helen Carter wrote in The Guardian about the £1.295 BILLION annual turnover in Blackpool. Now unfortunately the waiter you spoke to isn’t one of the thousands of people employed in tourism in the town, but I guess if you spoke to any unemployed person outside the job centre in any town in the land, you might get less than a positive spin on their situation. Blackpool is not alone in this.

In fact the language used to describe Blackpool, (smells of urine? So does some parts of Florence!), could be used to describe any number of towns or cities and whilst those who like to batter Blackpool into submission (it won’t work by the way, we don’t even close the top of the Tower until the wind is more than 45 miles per hour) love the statistic of “deprived boroughs” you might be interested to note that in the Government’s “The English Indices of Deprivation 2015 Statistical Release” both Liverpool and Manchester were higher up the list of the “20 local authority districts with the highest proportion of their neighborhoods in the most deprived 10% of neighborhoods nationally”.

That would be Manchester that your writer refers to as a “creative- and financial-services boomtown” and the “crane-dotted pivot of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.”

Don’t get me wrong, I like Manchester but it has more than a good share of problems including homelessness with citizens living in tents in Piccadilly Gardens despite Manchester City Council’s solution being fines of up to £5000 or imprisonment for rough sleepers.

You ask what Mr Osborne’s plan is? In my opinion it is to keep banging the funeral drum for Blackpool in the hope that the rest of the UK bids us a fond farewell. But with projects like the Blackpool Museum (£1.24million from the Heritage Lottery Fund) or the LightPool project (£2.4million including a grant of £2million from the Coastal Communities Fund), Blackpool isn’t dying anytime soon. Perhaps your reporter would like to come and meet some of the people in Blackpool making a difference to every bit of the town and every size business from Merlin Entertainments, The Winter Gardens, The Grand Theatre, to community interest company’s like Jobs Friends & Houses (a life changing multi awarding winning business) twho frankly, in the majority, are tired of the type of negative, disapproving, lazy reporting which lacks imagination or vision.

Time for more positive report of Blackpool’s fortunes I feel (just don’t ask about the football team because that’s a whole other letter I would have to write)

Kristen Durose

Managing director, Red Star Wealth Management