IN AN article about the spending review on the Blackpool Council website, council leader Peter Callow made a statement which I believe will shock many residents and particularly those that are facing receipt of their public sector P45.
“our investments in the Winter Gardens, Pleasure Beach, Tower and Sandcastle are all helping to create more quality jobs for local people”
Lets look at these “investments” then.
The Winter Gardens and Tower are obvious; the council contributed about £10m of their money into this and they now own both. The council took out a loan to the tune of £2.5m and handed this cash to the Sandcastle (which they also own) to build some new slides. The loan will be repaid over 10 years at a rate of £290,000 per year and this money will come from Sandcastle profits. Fine.
Callow suggests jobs are being created, but one presumes the Tower and Winter Gardens, if anything, will be cutting staff, and there are 6 jobs to be created at the Sandcastle. So, about £40m spent, and 6 jobs created. Seems rather a lot. But then there’s the Pleasure Beach.
We know very little about this deal, but the facts are that £5m of taxpayers’ money has been pumped into Amanda Thompson’s funpark by the council in what we are told was a business loan, repayable over 7 years. The trouble that many people have with this is the secrecy that surrounded it.
Peter Callow is now referring to this as an investment in the same context as the Sandcastle, Winter Gardens and Tower – all of which the council own in their entirety. So is this £5m cash injection actually a stake in Blackpool Pleasure Beach rather than an arms length loan on transparent business terms? Have the council done what the government did with Lloyds and RBS and effectively bought shares in the Pleasure Beach which will give a return over a period of time?
Semantics aside, there doesn’t seem to be any fundamental difference between the two scenarios.
Of the Pleasure Beach development, Peter Callow said in June;
“A new attraction of this scale is going to have a huge impact on visitor numbers and that’s what we are all about. Not only will Nickelodeon Land benefit the Pleasure Beach but the whole visitor economy of Blackpool.”
More like this attraction will benefit the Pleasure Beach only. Is it not the case that most visitors to the Pleasure Beach come to Blackpool for the day, stay within the Pleasure Beach all day, and then go home? The 274 jobs that will be created in this scheme will be seasonal, low paid, and taken up by transients or Eastern Europeans. We also know that despite an apparent rise in visitor numbers (according to, you guessed it, Cllr Callow) that these people are not staying overnight.
I hope Nickelodeon Land does attract more families that want to make a week or weekend of it in the town, but if the Pleasure Beach can be supported by a bottomless pit of public money – just like the banks were – you can understand the anger of local business owners that were recently told by Maxine Callow that they had to fend for themselves and that the council would no longer be funding events and attractions in Blackpool.