Austerity in Blackpool: Next round of cuts are '˜beginning of the end'
Council chiefs today revealed 150 jobs are set to be axed in Blackpool as they look to make savings of Â£18.7m next year.
Pensioners will be charged £1 to ride the tram and council tax will rise 3.99 per cent in a bid to plug the funding gap left by years of Government cuts.
But Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn said there was light at the end of the tunnel, calling the latest savings ‘the last of the big cuts’.
But despite the budget squeeze, which will see 80 people made redundant and a further 70 lose their jobs as contracts expire, he said the council still plans to borrow £17.5m to fund a new hotel on the Wilko’s site.
Coun Blackburn added: “We have to raise council tax otherwise it will cost more jobs, more services ending.
“This is hopefully the last awful budget we are going to have to do.”
Speaking at Bickerstaffe Square, he said: “This year we have tried to protect front line services as much as we possibly can, by looking at new and creative ways of saving money and generating income.
“We are not expecting to lose as many posts as in previous years, but that is no consolation to the hard-working staff that will be affected.
“All employees will be asked once again to volunteer to take unpaid leave which will save approximately £1m a year.
“We have been taking difficult decisions for the past five-and-a-half years and area therefore in a much better position than some local authorities nationally.
“But unless there is some sort of change in Government policy to our detriment in the future this should be the last of the big cuts.”
He said the council would have to find £4.8m savings for 2018/19 and £6.6m for 2019/20 but he said raises in council tax and revenues would mean they would not mean more drastic cuts.
He said: “It is not the end but perhaps the beginning of the end.
“Over the next three years we will be assessing the feasibility of transferring existing council services into wholly owned companies.
“There are financial benefits to establishing these companies and in turn protecting the services that we know are important to the residents of Blackpool that may not have a secure future under the current funding arrangements.”
He rejected the idea of selling off services to let private companies run them, pointing out that in the past the council has been left picking up the pieces when private businesses have pulled out of running more costly and complex services, such as elderly care.
He said pensioners, who previously rode free of charge, would have to pay £1 to use the trams adding: “If they really have not got a pound, they can still get the number 1 bus which runs parallel.”
On investments to boost Blackpool, Coun Blackburn said interest rates were extremely low and the council would borrow on locked-in rates to pay for infrastructure and improvements that private sector businesses could or would not do.
He said: “We are proposing to borrow £17.5m to fund the development of a hotel on the Wilko site.
“As a council we have the ability to borrow at a lower interest rate than others.
“We need to take this opportunity and use it to our advantage, both to invest in key infrastructure and help businesses in the town to expand whilst guaranteeing the council an income. The new tramway will do this, as will the conference centre, as would new high-end hotels, as would new retail, leisure and tourism facilities, as would improved transport links.
“Investing now is absolutely vital to our future to create jobs, to boost visitor numbers, boost the economy and secure future income for future generations.”
On council tax he said the rise was in line with central Government expectations and had been assumed by Whitehall when calculating such things as extra funding for adult social care.
He said: “This administration when we first came in froze council tax for four years. We have to raise council tax otherwise it will cost more jobs, more services ending.”
He said it was not possible to borrow to keep services going as those services do not offer a return to pay the loan back. He added that staff facing redundancy would be offered help and advice on finding new jobs or setting up their own businesses.
He added: “Once this coming year is done hopefully the staff will be able to relax and not worry about redundancy.
“Up until now it has felt like staff have been working on a 12-month contract almost, without being able to plan properly.”