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City Sickers

City SickersIt's not usual for counterbalance disagree with the Evening Gazette, but their "Voice of the Coast" opinion column of Tuesday 13 March is plain wrong. In an unusually critical editorial column headed: 'Blinkered Thinking' it castigates Fylde's Councillor Paul Hayhurst for "thinking that belongs to a past era of parochialism in its worst form"

If blinkers are in evidence, they're on the Gazette.

So how come the Gazette has been stung into making this unusual sort of comment? What has provoked them?

Well, whilst Blackpool is understandably still smarting from losing both the Casino and yet another party conference, the present cause seems to be an allegation that Blackpool is 'the sick man of Lancashire' and this has proved to be the final straw for the Gazette.

The quotation is attributed to Fylde's Independent Councillor Paul (The Mauler) Hayhurst - at least that's the name counterbalance readers will know him by. It conveys his independent,  uncompromising, straight talking, I-will-not-be-bullied, approach.

He was commenting on a Fylde Politburo Cabinet report that will see the three Councils tied together more closely than ever before.

Already Fylde's Spin Doctor/Press Officer is actually a Blackpool employee. In no time at all the benefits and finance staff are likely to transfer to Blackpool Council's payroll, and according to our beloved Commissar, the planning department staff at Fylde will soon cease to exist, because they too will be transferred to Blackpool.

His plan for closer working spews out the usual doublespeak when he says:

'A strong case exists for pursuing a joint approach to a number of common socio-economic issues affecting local communities for the following reasons:

• that a joint approach would provide visible leadership to a “community of interest” which would facilitate the development of sustainable long-term solutions to some of the major strategic challenges facing the councils,

• that a joint approach would provide the foundation for exploring additional opportunities for joint working and the achievement of efficiency gains,

• that a joint approach would provide a “good fit” within the context of the new Local Government Bill in relation to enhanced two-tier working, multi area agreements and “place shaping”,

• that a joint approach would lead to the creation a significant sub-regional body capable of carrying greater influence than the individual councils with regional bodies such as GONW, NWDA, NWIN.

The Council’s of Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre propose to work together in a spirit of openness, trust, mutuality, common learning and learning transfer to secure improved outcomes for our local communities.

The initial focus of the proposed collaboration will seek to address the long-term, socioeconomic factors affecting Fylde coast communities including housing, planning and transportation, economic development and tourism.'

This of course is the usual claptrap designed to make the Commissar look as though he is an intellectual, but buried in the middle is the key point "would lead to the creation a significant sub-regional body capable of carrying greater influence than the individual councils" - the City of the Fylde

When challenged, he says this is all on a strategic level, and pie in the sky, and it's nothing to worry about. (Maybe that's not so surprising if Blackpool's spin doctors are writing his scripts), but when he says 'don't worry' - you can be sure it means exactly the opposite.

And our intrepid and independent Cllr Hayhurst has spotted it.

He highlights two main concerns (counterbalance has a few others as well, like joint planning and joint tourism and, judging by the self evident success of Blackpool's economic development initiatives, that too)

But Cllr Hayhurst worries about a land-grab by Blackpool, and he worries what it will cost Fylde residents if we head toward a City of the Fylde.

So let's try and cut through some of the myth and rhetoric and look at some facts.

First, Cllr Hayhurst was wrong to say Blackpool is the sick man of Lancashire - it's no longer part of Lancashire for local government purposes. 

Like Blackburn, it withdrew from Lancashire and became a Unitary Council. None of the taxes paid to Blackpool go to Lancashire County Council. 

So in Blackpool the County Council doesn't do the roads, or education, or social services, or libraries, or any of the other services that Lancashire County Council does in Fylde and the rest of the County. 

In Blackpool, Blackpool Council does it all - hence the name - 'Unitary'

When they absorbed the huge social  and education leviathan departments from LCC, Blackpool's existing services (like tourism for example) suddenly became minnow services, and got lost in the works. And it shows.

So if the 'sick man' allegation is justified, and Blackpool is the sick man of anywhere, it's not going to be Lancashire. It would probably be better to describe it as the sick man of the North West .

Next we look at Commissar Coombes' assurance there is nothing to worry about. 

As usual, he bases this perception on how much cash he can save  - but then he never can see much further than the rolling £££ signs in his eyes.

Remember the quote about 'the creation of a significant sub-regional body'

Well, you'll also remember when Two Jags wanted to implement Regional Government, his first step was to take the more peripheral emanations of the state - (sports council, tourist board, health authorities, fire, ambulance, development agencies, that sort of thing), and quietly re-align their individual boundaries (by mergers and efficiency re-organisations) so by the time Joe Public wakes up to the fact, the new regional authorities exist in all but name.

It's difficult to know whether the words of the song 'Here we go again.....' are the most appropriate here, or the song from Barnum that begins 'There is a sucker, born every minute...' 

The Commissar hasn't spotted he's being taken for a sucker.

The City of the Fylde will be here before we can blink, and we'll have him to thank  - unless people  like Hayhurst can stop it.

But the Gazette disagrees. 

It demands to know why we don't want to join up. It asks why Cllr Hayhurst can only see the problems others have, and not the benefits they bring.

The answer is he can see both, but he is not so blinkered as to fail to see the overwhelming disadvantages to the people that elect him and, unlike the Commissar, he is choosing to listen to them, not to a political party line, or to the Government. 

For this the Gazette says he is parochial. We say (unlike our Commissar) that he understands representational democracy.

Blackpool is landlocked. It has built on all its useable space, consequently, it is desperate to find land to expand into. However, no one wants to give it any of theirs. 

Cllr Hayhurst sees what has happened around Bispham and sees the need to worry about development around Blackpool's periphery. He knows that could spell the end of the character that presently marks places like St Annes or Poulton as being separate and different.

The other disadvantage is cost.

It will arguably cost Fylde residents more than it costs them now if they have to shell out to subsidise the deprivation and social problems that successive Blackpool councils have allowed (or perhaps even encouraged) the town to develop. (Note here that deprivation gets you big government grant settlements, so it is a lifestyle choice for some Councils.) 

But the Gazette challenges this assumption, saying that Blackpool is the main commercial and economic centre for the Fylde, thus implying that its neighbours should be ready to pay a bit more for the benefits we get. 

What benefits, you may well ask?

We're not altogether sure, so we looked up some of the statistics.

The percentage of the population officially classed as "deprived" in Blackpool 24%. In Fylde it is one third of this figure at 8.6%

Employment deprivation in Blackpool is 18.4% whilst in Fylde it is half this at 9.3%

The average household income in Blackpool is £27,000 in Fylde it is £33,000

What about the socio-economic groupings then?   Well....

CategoryFylde    Blackpool
Large employers & higher managerial 4.3%1.7%
Higher professional occupations 6.8% 2.4%
Lower managerial & professional 19.3%14.0%
Intermediate occupations 10.2%9.7%
Small employers & own account workers8.2%10.0%
Lower supervisory & technical6.7%7.7%
Semi-routine occupations9.6%13.4%
Routine occupations  5.9%10.4%
Never worked 1.3%2.5%
Long-term unemployed0.5%1.2%
Full-time students4.8%4.5%

If Blackpool is, as the Gazette claims, the main commercial and economic centre for the Fylde, then it pretty much doesn't provide the sort of jobs that will keep Fylde residents in the manner to which they have become accustomed, with its high preponderance of low skilled or unskilled routine occupations and its low proportion of professional and managerial jobs.

The inescapable conclusion is that Blackpool's economic engine is a third world model powered by cheap labour, whilst Fylde's is knowledge-based.

So maybe this is why the Gazette wants us to focus less on the problems, and more on the benefits. But the benefits are all for Blackpool, and our role is simply to subsidise and help pay for those in greater 'need'.

However, maybe deprivation and economics aren't the be all and end all of this. What about quality of life, what about - say, the crime rate?

Here again we have the same story. Blackpool has more of a malaise than Fylde. Measured by recorded crime per 1000 population, violence against the person in Blackpool is 37.8 per thousand, whilst in Fylde it is about a third of this level at 11.5

Robbery is 1.1 per thousand in Blackpool, but in Fylde it is only a quarter of this at 0.3 per thousand. Burglary is 5.9 per thousand in Blackpool and half this at 3.3 per thousand in Fylde.

So that doesn't get Blackpool off the hook either.

But maybe Cllr Hayhurst was being literal when he said 'the sick man' - maybe he was talking about health and longevity. 

There are dozens of statistics here, and to be honest, we couldn't find a single one where Blackpool was better than Fylde. In fact, the opening sentence of the NHS health profiles for Blackpool and for Fylde sum it up perfectly:

"For Blackpool, 22 out of 25 indicators are worse than the regional and national average."

"For Fylde, 17 of the 25 indicators are better than the national average and 20 better than the regional average."

Case closed. Diagnosis complete.

As we said at the beginning, it is the Gazette that is wearing the blinkers this time, and it's only when they come off, and the Emperor is seen without his shiny suit, that any progress is going to be made.

Not long ago, Blackpool's motto was 'Progress.' That's long gone, and there have been several changes, ending up quite recently with 'Blackpool, where people come first.' You might have one for its neighbour that says 'Fylde, where people come back.'

When left alone, we don't normally criticise what Blackpool's politicians are up to. Blackpool's own residents are the ones to decide if they are being well served.

Anyway, we have quite enough trouble with the Commissar and his Politburo. Whilst we are still way ahead of Blackpool on economics, quality of life, and health, we are moving in the wrong direction and its only by acting now that we will stop sliding down the same slope that has ruined Blackpool.

But where we will take an interest - and where we will have something to say - is when the Commissar is foolish enough to sleepwalk into giving away all the advantages we have worked hard for, simply to gain what he believes would be a majority for his own political party in a sub-regional City of the Fylde.

Dated:  14 March 2007

See also: Steps toward a City of the Fylde


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