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 . . .

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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.