Blackpool Shows Challenges for New U.K. Leader Liz Truss

BLACKPOOL, UK – The famous annual light show that still illuminates the sky every night in the seaside town of Blackpool in northwest England, has survived a nationwide effort to conserve energy. But beneath the glitter, everywhere is evidence of decades of decline.

The signs on the small hotels along the coast have faded and the message “blank” pops up on their front windows. Concealed storefronts dot the streets of the town center. The doorways of the now-defunct nightclubs were packed with people fast asleep.

Liz Truss, who took office as prime minister on Tuesday, will have no shortage of issues to deal with in a country facing severe economic crises. On Thursday, Ms. Truss will announce the plan limit the sharp increase in energy costs.

But the toughest challenges will come in towns like Blackpool, one of the most deprived towns in the UK, according to government statistics.

Blackpool South, home to the popular Pleasure Beach theme park, has long supported the Labor Party but turned to support the Conservative Party in the 2019 election that brought Boris Johnson to power. It’s one of Britain’s poorest areas for partisan transitions.

But with the cost of most things rising and worrying that Energy bills can skyrocket up to thousands of pounds a year for the average household, there are already signs of a fracture in the Conservative coalition.

“I don’t think having Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak will make any difference to Blackpool’s economy,” Ava Makepeace, a resident, said of Ms Truss’ rival in the race for the leadership position. ended this week with her victory,

Ms Makepeace, 51, has criticized Conservative policies and said Brexit, which Blackpool overwhelmingly supported in the 2016 referendum, also had a negative effect on the town.

“Nobody can get decent staff anymore,” she said of restaurants and hotels that have relied on foreign workers. “And poverty in some areas of central Blackpool is the worst they’ve ever had.”

She said it seems that northern towns like hers have been completely forgotten.

Once a thriving seaside resort, Blackpool has seen a steady decline in recent decades, as the popularity of vacations to more exotic locales and a bustling tourist industry the span was once narrowed. Against its backdrop, the town has been left with deep social problems. Both men and women are there lowest life expectancy of any local government in the UKaccording to the Office for National Statistics.

The erosion of support among northern, working-class towns like Blackpool would be a blow to the Tories, who benefited from a loyal shift away from Labor in Mr Johnson’s 2019 win. . Many voted in favor of Brexit and were eager to see the government make that 2016 decision. And in struggling areas where industry is no longer driving the economy, people are looking for ways to revive and revitalize their towns and cities.

The Conservative Party has garnered support there with plans to implement the Brexit vote and promise a nationwide “upgrade” – a program to raise living standards and promote economic and social development. associations in less prosperous areas of the country. Locals and policy experts say that pledge, which boosted the party in the last election, has yet to materialize here.

Nigel Heckford was walking his dogs in Blackpool on Monday, shortly after the news of Ms Truss’ win, and said the town’s decline had him fearing for his young children.

He said he had little confidence that Ms Truss, or the Conservatives for that matter, could bring about the broad changes needed to revive a venue like Blackpool.

Mr Heckford, 52, said: “Her massive tax cuts could benefit only the rich and could mean more cuts in council services here, which This makes me really nervous,” said Mr. Heckford, 52. will probably get worse.”

The government’s years of austerity, following the 2008 global financial crisis, resulted in billions of pounds in cuts to welfare payments, housing subsidies and services. children, and other programs.

The coronavirus crisis has dealt another serious blow to Blackpool, forcing struggling businesses as a travel platform to shut down during the nationwide shutdown. Jonathan Webb, a senior research fellow at the North Institute for Public Policy Research, a British think tank, says rising prices present particular challenges for the North.

In places like Blackpool, land leveling is always happening “against the specter of austerity,” says Webb, which reduces the ability of local governments to provide residents and meet their needs.

As a historic area that voted with Labor before the last election, unfulfilled campaign promises will likely be left behind by communities that currently feel forgotten, he said.

Continuing erosion will be “a major challenge for Liz Truss in the north and across the country,” he said.

In general, the quality of housing available in the North is poorer, and therefore less energy efficient, leading to higher heating costs. Incomes in the north of England also tend to be significantly below the national average, he said.

Shop owners and residents of Blackpool were feeling the pinch. Michael Yale, 59, who has been out of work for a while and just started a permanent job at a printing warehouse, says he’s looking to cut back.

“I am worried about turning on my stove because of the cost,” says Yale. He’s using a microwave instead of using less electricity.

However, Mr. Yale said he remains hopeful that things will improve despite the difficulties. He is delighted that Ms Truss has been elected as the new prime minister, saying he is confident that the tax cuts he expects her to announce will somehow trickle down to benefit people like him. .

This week, on a cool early September evening, tourists are still strolling among the amusement piers, filled with arcades, confectionery shops and food stalls. But business owners worry about a tough winter ahead.

There have been some positive signs of development in recent years. Blackpool is £39.5 million bonus (about $45 million) This year’s government to renovate tourist attractions, address the effects of the pandemic and create a hub for young people looking for work. There are efforts underway to improve the quality of education and develop better transport links.

This year, a newly refurbished £30 million convention center opened its doors, hoping to attract many new visitors to the town.

The Conservatives held their spring conference there in March, and Mr Johnson, then prime minister, vowed the party would “do everything it can to help people with their day-to-day expenses, help help people with the cost of living”.

Authorities have vows to maintain one of the town’s signature attractions, the Blackpool Illumaries light show, despite concerns about rising energy costs. The show, which starts over the weekend and runs through fall and winter, features twinkling lights on the main promenade that stretches six miles along the coast and dates back to the Victorian era.

But Craig Smalley, who was born and raised in Blackpool and has owned a fast-food restaurant there for the past 16 years, and other small business owners worry that the cost of the gig could eventually come back. so unsustainable and fear they might lose another travel. .

“It might get to a stage where they have to turn it off soon,” Mr. Smalley said. “And I really hope that doesn’t happen.”

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