Blackpool's budget dance
A briefing this week by principals of public sector organisations embracing Blackpool Council, Fire, Education and Policing revealed the stark decisions being faced in the light of massive cuts by central Government. While local authorities and public bodies elsewhere in England, notably in London and the Home Counties are favoured with marginal cuts to their budgets - the north and especially Blackpool have been singled out for a slash and burn approach by ill minded directives from Westminster. Brave efforts by Blackpool's Council in recent years have pursued key developments in the town which include the tramway extension to Blackpool North as fulfillment of the Talbot Gateway scheme, plus two Enterprise Zones north and south of Blackpool, among other pro-active decisions.
However the untrammelled political agenda pursued by the current Government is now doing serious harm to the front line (and just about every other line) delivery of fundamental services. These were spelt out in detail by spokespeople for the respective sectors, including Leader of Blackpool's Council. For those with eyes and ears focussed on trams - the tram extension remains on track (so to speak) whilst a European study on tram train conversion of the South Fylde line is apparently still alive if not exactly kicking. Much will wait on the results of the South Yorkshire tramtrain trial linking Sheffield and Rotherham centre. This will take some years to be refined so don't hold your breath.
Reading our local press only touches the surface of the impact on the town and this Council by sustained budget cuts being applied from London - with so far a grim 'we can take it' reaction from Council Leaders. This has been manageable to a point but the Rubicon will soon be crossed with further reduction in grants now planned - and a consequent different reaction not only from this Local Authority but many others in the so called 'Northern Powerhouse' beloved of George Osborne. One positive development would seem to be the formation of a joined up Lancashire Authority (it has some typical official name) in which the County Council links up with all of the Local Authorities within its jurisdiction and with an elected Mayor.
This arrangement would translate into a funding commitment from London which could be further supplemented from the (wait for it) EU. Whether the latter is a viable element beyond June 23rd remains to be seen. But in any case the public sector picture presented to a local audience this week in Blackpool is unreservedly black. Just how all of this came to pass without a more violent public reaction and assertive response is really amazing. The isolated and individual bubbles of protest are (for the Government) fortunately unconnected; whether its schools, libraries, disability benefits, bedroom tax, and reduced services in mail, bus routes, waste collection. Not to mention major reduction in numbers of firefighters, police and a policy of academisation which does little to uplift the quality of education, just making it more expensive whilst taking it away from local authority oversight. Taken as a whole and hearing firsthand from representatives of police, fire and teaching unions - its truly frightening. For the moment all attention is focussed on the In out referendum but there are many more policy implications which will follow on. An inspection of the salaries of Head Teachers and 'administrators' of these so-called Academies is a just one salient example of how our money is being spent. Transport wise - Blackpool at least has ownership and control over its own transport system and an effective management team at the helm with Council participation. Long may this remain. If as much public reaction were brought to bear on national politicians as that being pursued by the professional opponents of fracking in Lancashire - then the Government (with its slender majority) might take notice. But it seems fracking protest comes before libraries, schools, hospitals, policing, firefighting, the disadvantaged, disabled and the plain poor parts of our society.