BLACKPOOL’S PREVIOUS council leader Peter Callow often touted the deal which saw many of the town’s publicly owned tourism assets operated by Merlin Entertainments as being the saviour of Blackpool’s ailing tourism industry.
Indeed, it formed the basis of the Conservatives’ election campaign material and on the face of it, a lot of taxpayers’ cash is being invested into this empire. It’s always good to walk around and see that things are be happening.
The Merlin alliance is labelled as a partnership, but having seen the figures for the amount of money being paid to Merlin every month, I am starting to wonder what’s in it for us and whether the local taxpayer is getting a raw deal.
It reminds me of the so-called special relationship the UK has with the USA; the US puts in almost 100,000 soldiers to Afghanistan and we put in 9,000. I’d be hopping mad if I were the US President.
Whether Merlin were selected through a fair and transparent tendering process is a discussion for another day; some say they were the only company involved in the tendering process; but one thing for sure is that they have been paid a fortune in the last few months alone.
March 2011 – £130,049.27
February 2011 – £258,989.27
January 2011 – £663,483.36
December 2010 – £74,632.59
November 2010 – £310,141.37
Note: The council don’t supply any figures prior to November 2010, but the relationship between the council and Merlin started much earlier. It is therefore likely that these payments were being made for many additional months. Similarly, over half of the entries seem to be missing from the April 2011 figures, which is why they are not above.
What the previous council didn’t seem to understand is that whilst jobs were going and services being cut, money like this was being paid out to Merlin and the Pleasure Beach and people thought the council were propping up big business at the expense of locals. Given that all the million of pounds of building work which is being done on the never-never but guaranteed by the taxpayers’ wallet, what exactly are we getting by paying Merlin almost twice the yearly CCTV budget (before it was cut) in five months?
Was Merlin’s Iain Hawkins charging £10,000 per word for all the positive soundbites he was reeling off which were heavily used in Conservative election propaganda?
We were told at the time the Tower and Winter Gardens were acquired that Merlin would be paying us rent for these assets. So far, the cash seems to be flowing the other way.
The previous administration even tried to spin it and suggest that Merlin were paying for the Tower Ballroom roof to be repaired after M P Marine’s hydrodemolition techniques resulted in tons of water being deposited on top. Not the case, of course: taxpayers were paying every penny of the £650,000 that it cost.
Ever year the Gasjet run endless stories, backed by Claire Smith and her wierd and wonderful ideas to tax hotel businesses, appealing for donations to the Illuminations. They say the Illuminations ‘shortfall’ is around £250,000. So why do the Gasjet not place a huge question mark over this Merlin deal? We’re paying Merlin more than that Illuminations shortfall per month, and it’s going undetected.
Something fishy is going on…