Blackpool's 'movers and shakers' group's ten years in business

Blackpool Business Leadership Group meeting at Viva Blackpool
Blackpool Business Leadership Group meeting at Viva Blackpool

It started out of a need to address a failure.

In 2005 Blackpool was looking at ways of improving its economy and boosting enterprise growth, aiming to qualify for Government funding for economic development.

There were not enough well-paid jobs, low aspirations, a low number of self-employed and small businesses being set up and surviving.

One application for economic aid fell short due to a lack of private sector input into the bid.

The group was mooted in 2006 with a handful of businesses coming together. In 2007 it was formally established and since then has helped shape the economic development of Blackpool – and become the place to meet its movers and shakers, to have a say on crucial issues and find out what is going on in town.

It is less about networking than achieving consensus on what needs to be done and how the private, public and third sectors are stronger working together.

It meets every two months and has representatives from various sectors including the visitor economy, construction, retail, banking, manufacturing, transport, small business and social enterprise.

It works closely with public sector organisations such as Blackpool Council and NHS Blackpool; educational establishments such as Blackpool and The Fylde College and Blackpool Sixth Form; plus groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Blackpool Business Improvement District.

One of its first tasks was to link together various economic initiatives and endorse Blackpool’s successful bid for £14m from the Government-funded Local Enterprise Growth Initiative (LEGI). A number of projects became possible to create a more enterprising town.

A new business start-up team called Get Started has gone on to advise more than 1,300 new businesses; social enterprises were encouraged; a new online business support portal, Blackpool Unlimited, was launched; Blackpool Enterprise Centre and FYCreatives provided much-needed incubator and small business space; and Blackpool Build Up was formed to train and connect residents with construction industry jobs.

On top of that, Positive Steps provided further employment support, and a spate of other initiatives to promote enterprising attitudes and skills in schools and colleges.

It has lobbied for television advertising campaigns to promote domestic tourism and it backed the bid for a super casino, which ultimately failed in 2007 when the Government awarded the licence to Manchester.

John Barnett, chairman and founder of Radio Wave, was there at the start and served as the first chairman of the group.

He said: “I remember it well. The first meeting was at the Hilton Hotel. Peter Legg, head of economic development for the council, was one of the driving forces behind it being founded.

“Blackpool was in the process of making a repeat application for funding having failed in the first round.

“One of the reasons was the lack of private sector partnership at the time and the idea of the group was to get the private sector on board to work more closely with the local authority.

“A meeting was held on July 19, 2006, where there was a proposal to set up the group. The idea was to make it as inclusive as possible.

“The group was set up and we discussed issues around the application for the Growth Initiative and eventually it was successful.

“The idea was to bring together our business leaders to support the town and work together. Peter Legg and Alan Cavill from the council were at the first meeting and it is great that they are still taking part in the group.

“The group is a huge asset to the town because it provides a strong forum for information to pass both ways. It lets business owners have their say on a whole range of things and it lets them know what is going on in the town.”

Martin Long has been chairman of the BBLG for five years, taking over from Howard Lewis of the Hilton Hotel who was the second chairman of the group.

He said: “The group ensures that the private sector has a strong voice. One important aspect is that we also give the opportunity to the third sector to have a platform to present – charities, social enterprises.”

Although a partnership, he said the meetings were not afraid to tackle controversial issues such as fracking or the recent problems in the town centre caused by road works in the run up to Christmas. He also highlighted the group’s role in pushing for the return of a direct rail link between Blackpool and London.

“We lobbied for the direct services and when Virgin Trains announced that it was returning to Blackpool we were delighted,” he said. “I was on the first train down to London to see it happen.

“The group has a real positive feel and atmosphere about it with a common interest in making Blackpool a better place to live and work and to carry out business in.”