Home > Council and Democracy > Agenda item

Agenda item


To consider the controls being implemented to manage the strategic risk relating to the local economy.   



The Committee considered a progress report outlining the individual risks identified within the Strategic Risk – Unsustainable Local Economy and Increased Deprivation. The Committee queried the lack of considerations identified within the covering report in relation to sustainability, climate change and environmental issues. Mrs Tracy Greenhalgh, Head of Audit and Risk assured the Committee that appropriate narrative would be included in future covering reports.


Consideration was given to the sub-risk ‘Increased deprivation and unemployment,’ with Mr Neil Jack, Chief Executive providing an update. He outlined a number of employment support programmes being delivered by the Positive Steps into Work service which had been proving effective but acknowledged there was still further work to do. The Committee expressed concern that the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme payments, in conjunction with the £20 reduction in Universal Credit and increases in National Insurance contributions from April 2022 would have a negative impact on the lives of Blackpool residents and questioned whether it was anticipated that these would impact on the Council Tax and rent collection rates. The Committee also asked if the Council would be protecting Blackpool residents from the resulting risk of homelessness. Mr Jack advised that the government had just announced that discretionary grants of £500 would be made available to individuals, with further details awaited. With regard to rent and Council Tax collection, he reported that the Council took a sensitive and realistic approach which took account of individual circumstances, whilst noting that approximately 75 per cent of rent charges were paid directly via Housing Benefits which should therefore remain unaffected by the changes.


Mr Steve Thompson, Director of Resources advised that debt collection rates would be closely monitored over the coming weeks as an adverse impact arising from the changes was potentially anticipated. He reported that the Council would be reviewing its Fair Debt Policy as well as its Financial Inclusion Strategy in conjunction with updating the Income Debt Recovery Strategy and recognised that challenging times were ahead for many Blackpool residents


The Committee asked whether the Joseph Rowntree Living Wage which was in place for Council and wholly owned company employees was applicable to all staff or if there were any exceptions and if contractors used by the Council were also encouraged to pay the rate. Mr Thompson confirmed that the Living Wage rate was paid to all employees, at both the Council and its companies and that in addition, the tendering process entered into by contractors heavily weighted applications which demonstrated payment of the rate to its employees. Mr Jack clarified that there were some external residential care and care at home staff who were paid the national living wage rate, but that an uplift was applied in such cases where possible.


In response to a question from the Committee asking if any measures were planned to help move Blackpool away from being a predominately seasonal employer to a place of year round employment, Mr Jack stressed that the Enterprise Zone was a 365 days a year place of employment which was helping people into permanent not seasonal work. In addition, he advised that Blackpool’s season was being extended as far as possible and that investment in areas other than hospitality was in place.


The Committee sought clarification over how economic growth in Blackpool was measured, asking whether the Gross Value Added (GVA) method should be utilised. Mr Antony Lockley, Director of Strategy and Assistant Chief Executive suggested that GVA could be a crude measure of economic delivery as it provided no information regarding the distribution of wealth or any link to overall wellbeing. He advised that the Council monitored a host of measures around wellbeing, average rates of pay and detailed surveys of sectoral employment levels, noting that a stronger economy was the key to people living happier, healthier lives.


The Committee questioned whether the new employment opportunities in the town centre would include encouragement for employees to relocate to the area. Mr Jack reported that good quality housing would be available not necessarily directly in the town centre but certainly within a walkable distance and offered to provide a more thorough update at a future meeting once the details of the new town centre office space had been released within the public domain.


Mr Lockley provided an update in relation to the sub-risk ‘Poor quality housing in inner Blackpool continues to drive transience and deprivation,’ reporting that 850 individuals had been successfully rehomed since March 2020 during the start of the pandemic and that the Council continues to develop quality, affordable housing, citing the commitment to 131 new homes within Grange Park. Mr Lockley informed Committee Members that My Blackpool Home had successfully completed work on 500 homes to improve the quality of accommodation available within the town and that work on the Foxhall Village development was to be recommenced.


In response to a question from the Committee as to whether the sub-risk acknowledged the impact of the pandemic and increased pressure on the local housing market, Mr Lockley advised that Covid-19 had not been explicitly included within the risk but that efforts made via the Council’s housing companies had responded to the homelessness issues around the pandemic. He acknowledged that the price of acquiring properties suitable for remodelling had recently increased but advised that at present this had not impacted on the ability to continue to meet the development programme targets.


The Committee discussed the potential impact of the government’s White Paper on Social Housing and Mr Lockley advised that the Council had already been preparing for any changes which may arise and had been involved in consultation meetings on the anticipated changing measures. The Committee questioned whether increased safety measures might result in the necessity to install sprinkler systems within new properties and refurbishments, with Mr Lockley reporting that the government had been giving consideration to the introduction of such measures but that any resulting changes would be implemented via planning controls as opposed to the White Paper.


The Committee considered the sub-risk ‘Lack of appropriate transport infrastructure’ and received an update from Mr John Blackledge, Director of Community and Environmental Services. He reported that the tram extension at Blackpool North station had been progressing well and that Project Amber had commenced with close collaboration established with the Department for Transport on the generation of beneficial Key Performance Indicators to capture output.


The Committee questioned whether the town’s transport network was adequately connected to residents’ places of work, citing a lack of buses running to the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) site at Peel Park. Mr Blackledge assured the Committee that transport routes were closely monitored in order to best meet demand and Mr Jack elaborated to inform Members that the original buses which had been subsidised by the DWP had been discontinued due to a lack of passenger take up. The Committee suggested that demand be reviewed in light of the introduction of the Kickstart scheme which had increased the number of young employees based at Peel Park.


Further to a question from the Committee regarding the new junction at Common Edge Road, Mr Blackledge advised that an externally commissioned impact assessment was scheduled to be undertaken, the findings from which would inform the design. The process of appointing consultants and designers was underway and he offered to provide a further progress update to the Audit Committee early in 2022.


Mr Jack provided an update in relation to the sub-risk ‘Lack of educational attainment/appropriate training to meet the needs of the economy,’ reporting that whilst GCSE performance had improved, the agreement not to publicise performance figures until 2022 had resulted in a lack of reliable comparator data and informed the Committee that the decision to reinstate formal examinations had just been announced. The Committee was informed that the renewed Inclusion Strategy had been integrated into the Education Improvement Strategy 2020/2030 and that the number of pupils being referred to the Pupil Referral Unit or being excluded had reached their lowest levels since 2003.


The Committee sought clarification on the Council’s ability to intervene when necessary in light of the majority of Blackpool’s secondary schools falling under academy administration. Mr Jack advised that whilst the Council had a level of influence, academies were out of its direct control. He noted that the Education Improvement Board was designed to encourage a culture of collaboration and as a result cooperation had greatly improved.


In answer to a query as to why Blackpool and the Fylde College had not been included within the Strategic Risk Register, Mr Jack advised that as a highly successful college, it was not considered to be a risk and that successful collaborative working between the college and the Council was in place. An update on the Energy College was also requested, with Mr Jack reporting that the college provided a wealth of hands-on experience and top of the range manufacturing facilities to help create employment opportunities around maintenance roles. The Chair suggested that the opportunity section of the Strategic Risk Register could be utilised to include updates on Blackpool and the Fylde College and the Energy College.


[Mr Blackledge left the meeting during consideration of this item.]


Supporting documents: