Here come the new seats (same as the old seats)

Details have emerged (care of Guido Fawkes – see, he ain’t all bad, even if he has blocked me on Twitter) of the boundaries review which follows the coalition’s decision to get rid of 50 mps.

There’s a midnight media embargo on it, but it’s midnight where I am, so here’s an early look at how it lines up in Lancashire.

In Blackpool, it’s a case of back to the future – Blackpool South and Blackpool North and Fleetwood will be pretty much as they were from 1997 to 2010.

Fylde gets Poulton-le-Fylde, which strengthens its Tory credentials even further, while Lancaster inhertits much of rural Wyre – again, just as it did before the last review, as well as a few Trough of Bowland towns, including Chipping and Ribchester, which have about as much in common with Lancaster as Fleetwood did. Morecambe and Lunesdale stays much as it ever did, with a bit more Lune Valley added in for good measure.

Chorley, South Ribble and West Lancashire stay much as they were before 2010.

In east Lancs, it all starts getting a bit more bizarre and unfamiliar. While Blackburn stays largely the same, Rossendale and Darwen is squeezed into Darwen and Haslingden, with Rochdale North and Rawtenstall taking the rest (and knocking a few grand off property values in the leafy Rossendale valley, no doubt).

Burnley is split down the middle, with half of it joining with Accrington and the other merging with Pendle. The fag end of Pendle becomes part of a Ribble Valley mega-seat, stretching from the Yorkshire border to the edge of Preston.

But even that doesn’t compare to the megaseat of Penrith and Kendal which stretches, in the commission’s own words, ‘From the outskirts of Carlisle to the Lancashire border.’

The consultation excercise will continue until 2013, after which you’ll see an epic bunfight between existing Tory MPs, not many of whom are ready for the knackers yard just yet, for the choicest morsels.


Home truths from abroad

I’m not allowed to vote in the local elections in Blackpool (due to moving to Hong Kong in January). And it’s probably just as well.

In my ward, Tyldesley, there’s a true Hobson’s choice. We can pick a couple of Labour candidates who we kicked out four years ago, or a couple of Tories who’ve got a profile lower than a snake’s belly (sersiouly, I once pushed their names through the archive at The Gazette and came up with one – yes, one – reference to one of them. And it wasn’t even for council business) and a list of achievements that’s as short as the membership list of the Nick Clegg appreciation society. Not even a paper Lib Dem to break up the monotony. For the first time, I’d be faced with the unedifying prospect of spoiling my ballot paper – there’s just nothing between ’em.

It’s a similar picture in much of Blackpool. The same old faces from the same old parties. The only candidates I can really vouch for are the ones I know personally. The town hall would be a better place if Jon Bamborough won in Anchorsholme and Steven Bate took Ingthorpe. And it would be a poorer place without Fred Jackson in Victoria, Jim Houldsworth in Marton (even though some people really don’t seem to like him), Lily Henderson in Highfield and Henry Mitchell in Bispham, all old stagers with a contribution that goes beyond sticking their hand up when the party whip tells ’em too.

For a fuller preview, have a look at the always excellent Philtheone blog. Phil predicts a balanced council with two Lib Dems holding the balance of power. I think a couple of independents might just muddy the water and that Labour’s youthful leader Simon Blackburn might find himself in trouble (voters in the western part of Lancashire seem to have a taste for decapitation – up in Lancaster, no sitting council leader has held their seat since 1995).

There’s an even more comprehensive look forward to the vote in Fylde, where independents are likely to prevail, on Counterbalance – just a thought, but isn’t this the kind of thing local newspapers used to do?

Government’s new jobs blow for Blackpool

SO Preston has its long-awaited Tithebarn project – or at least permission for it. Who is going to sump up £700 million for a shopping centre in this economy is anyone’s guess so, much as with Blackpool’s ill-fated casino plans, we’re going to see years of potential developers being scared off by the potential behemoth in their midst.

But far more interesting is the small print. Apparently, according to the Lancashire Telegraph’s estimable Tom Moseley, the inspector accepted the arguments by Blackburn and Blackpool councils that the scheme would kill more than 1,000 jobs in surrounding towns.

That’s on top of the 1,000 jobs going at Blackpool Council. And 2,000 or more at Blackpool’s civil service sites.

That’s on top of the fact that the inspector believes the scheme will clog up Preston’s already congested city centre.

So why did he approve the scheme? Erm, he didn’t.

Apparently he’s been over-ruled by Tory minister in charge, Eric Pickles, who was, perhaps, excited by the prospect of the Tithebarn’s array of pie shops.

So that’s Blackpool shafted in three different ways in six months under the new administration . . . which rather begs the question, when are they going to do something for us?

Those cuts hit home . . . and why they won’t work

The news that close on 1,000 Blackpool Council workers are to be axed brings the pain and misery of the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review home.

To put it in perspective, here are a few figures. According to Nomis statistics, there are 141,000 people in Blackpool, of whom 59.5 per cent are of working age. Of those, 77.6 per cent were ‘economically active’ of whom 7.3 per cent were unemployed. A few back-of-the-envelope calculations puts the number of jobs in the town at approximately 60,500. So a tad under one in 60 of the jobs in Blackpool will go.

And that’s not the worst of it. The most telling line from the above statstics is that just 30.9 per cent of the jobs in Blackpool are in ‘managerial and professional/technical occupations’. Thats a quarter less than in the North-West as a whole (40.6 per cent) and almost a third less than the UK average (43.5 per cent). We still have no idea what the breakdown of the cuts will be – but it’s not hard to imagine that plenty of those drilled out will be at a professional grade. While it may be that one 60th of the jobs go, the likelihood is that the amount of money taken out of the local economy will be significantly larger.

And, before the predictable comments start about ‘cushy public sector jobs’ and ‘useless layabouts’ – consider these two points;

Firstly, there are feckless wasters in any organisation, there certainly have been in any I’ve worked for – probably plenty in a body as big as the council. No, they wouldn’t be missed, but consider this – feckless wasters become feckless wasters ’cause they’ve been in post for a long tim and no-ones has ever quite had the heart to push them or sack them. They’ll not be putting in for voluntary redundancy, will be last in line for compulsory redundancy and if anyone tries to push them, they’ll know every trick in the book to stay just where they are. Redundancy is no way to deal with wasters. Secondly, people in the public sector are treated decently by their employers – shouldn’t we all be? OK, so we can’t afford their pensions any more, but are thing like flexi-time not something every employer should be aspiring to offer?

So we wait for the private sector to mop up. After all, those nice business leaders said they’d create more than enough jobs to satisfy demand (in that letter to the newspapers that they weren’t, in any way, coerced into writing).

Well, let’s see what’s on offer in the ‘Pool today?

New Media telesales executive – telesales
Automotive Operations / Telephone / Call Centre Account Manager – telesales
Sales & Marketing Assistant – sales (but you’ve got to speak Russian)

You can probably get some idea of the kinds of jobs on offer from the conversation I had with a pimply ‘Jobcentre’ operative during my (mercifully brief) period of unemployment early this year; “Do you have any sales experience? Social care experience?” – the ‘then forget it’ was unspoken, but implied.

So where are these council staff going to end up? Who is investing in Blackpool? The Pleasure Beach? It’s just had to go cap in hand for a loan from . . . the council (there’s £5m well spent – I wonder which lucky teacher, social worker or technician is going to get minimum wage for wearing the Dora the Explorer costume?) Then there’s Merlin, which is doing some very promising work on upgrading The Tower after it was bought by . . . the council (with rather controversial government help). Merlin’s attractions promise to be stunning and may go some small way to keeping Blackpool’s regeneration ticking over at a time when it could quite easily splutter into reverse gear – but jobs it directly creates are more likely to be low-paid and seasonal – not the sort that will keep paying the mortgage on a three-bedroom house in Heron’s Reach, or keep Bispham’s Sainsbury’s open.

And therein lies the problem. Who in their right mind is going to invest in Blackpool at a time when one 60th of the jobs – some of the best jobs – are going? It’s more likely that stores and services will be withdrawn and, as the recent, farcical case of B&M Bargains shows, there’ll always be somewhere better located and with a bigger stock of desperate jobseekers – so forget manufacturing and distribution work.

And all this is before we factor in the jobs that are about to be lost in the civil service here . . . perhaps up to 2,000. And when one 60th becomes one 20th, the effects start to look apocalyptic . . .

Like so much of ther North, Blackpool is being left to rot – just as it was in the 80s. And it’s done purely on ideological grounds. To say the country is close to bankruptcy is ridiculous. Sure, belts will need to be tightened for a good few years yet (they could start by not wasting money on pointless schemes like this) but a severe economic downturn is no time to be taking money out of the economy – especially in areas that were already suffering. We’ll see how much damage they inflict this time . . .

How can this be right?

B&M Bargains, which used to be an obscure corner shop in Cleveleys, has suddenly become a national phenomenom. Its stores are popping up on corners across the nation as its owners neatly fit into the ‘stock it high, sell it cheap’ niche that Woolworth somehow managed to cock up. Good look to its entreprenurial owners . . .

. . . or maybe not. For reports suggest they’re busily shafting loyal staff by refusing them redundancy pay when B&M’s Blackpool warehouse closes and moves to Speke in Liverpool. While B&M wouldn’t have a leg to stand on legally if it attempted to deny workers who don’t fancy a 120 mile commute, it appears a calculation has been made that screwing the help will work out cheaper than doing the right thing.

And that’s not the end of it. While the move is elminating jobs in one poverty-ravaged town, the authorities in another are funding it to the tune of £1.75 million.

There’s something very wrong in the system of regeneration funding if this shifting of work is being encouraged.

Private buinesses dipping into public funds need to play by the letter and the spirit of the rules. Or lose it.

Left on the sidelines

There’s been a welcome return, in recent weeks, for the excellent Philtheone blog, perhaps Blackpool’s best (unless you know better).

He’s come up with some real scoops and, on a few occasions, sailed a little too close to the wind. The opinions are steadfastly right wing (albeit heavily against the current Tory leadership of Blackpool Borough Council. But occasionally Phil – and more to the point, some of his fellow contributors – come out with some real nonsense.

Where to start with this swivel-eyed, crypto-fascist nonsense?

What poster True Blackpudlian are saying is that ordinary working people do not deserve the human right to organise as they see fit. Our unions are already among the most restricted in the world. Union members have a right to vote on whether their union has a political fund or not. If the union has a political fund, members have a right to opt out of contributing to it. What more restrictions do you need? Why should the ordinary working people who make up the trades unions not have the right to have paid professionals at the top of the organisation? After all, if they don’t like them or don’t think they’re up to the job, they can always vote them out. Could it be that the reason (some) trades unions oppose the cuts is because it is not in the interests of their members for their members jobs to be slashed?

If any institution in this country needs to be democratised it is big business and pension funds. They’re supposedly run in the interests of their shareholders, yet can you get rid of or call to account the trustees of your pension fund? Are they made to hold regular conferences at which all members can have their say on policies? Are they hecker’s like. So billions upon billions of pounds ‘belonging’ to ordinary working people is ‘managed’ by a tiny cabal of very wealthy people in shady corners of the City of London, based on whatever ‘relationship’ is ‘bought’ by this powerful yet shadowy elite.

And while we’re at it, how about shedding a little more light on other organisations which play a role in our political process yet fail to follow even the most basic rules of transparency, never mind democracy. Who pays for the Taxdodgers’ Alliance? Who elected its leaders or set it policies? While foreign-based billionaires can buy their way into the political process, ordinary working people are in a vice-like grip. And you want to make it worse. Shame on you.

A good way to bury bad news?

So Blackpool’s Council leader is trying to get resort casinos back on the agenda case of the coalition…. nice try Cllr Callow, but it’s not going to happen.

Firstly, was it not opposition from the Tories and the Lib Dems – or, at least, their proxies at The Mail and The Telegraph – (and some Labour backbenchers) that got the whole megacasino experiment torpedoed in the first place?

Secondly, is one of the big casino operators going to be interested in coming to Blackpool when they’ve just pumped billions into the fast-growing Macau market and newly-liberalised Singapore? Some may still think Britain is the centre of the world, but the truth is that the axis has tilted far eastwards. Laos, not Layton, is the new frontier for the gaming industry. And, at a time when ‘austerity’ is our watchword, that’s not going to change any time soon.

Thirdly, will parties comitted to free trade and, err, liberalism, really going to acquiesce to laws that give a tiny dot on the west coast exclusive rights to a new type of gambling, to the exclusion of the rest of the country?

The truth is it will never happen and Peter Callow, who I’ve alwayds had a lot of time for, must know it. Perhaps he and his town hall colleagues are more interested in shutting out this report from the Guardian. It suggests that top civil servants tried to block the sale of the Winter Gardens and Tower to the council on the grounds that it wasn’t a good deal. Most people had been pretty optimistic that the takeover would end up benefitting Blackpool. Are we so sure now?