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Doubt cast over attractions free entry plans

A promise to give Blackpool residents free admission to attractions has come under fire after inquiries revealed no  record of formal discussions in relation to the plan.

The town’s Labour group included the pledge in its manifesto ahead of the May local elections when it retained control of the town hall for a third term.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request asking about progress on the scheme has found all discussions so far have been informal and there are no written guarantees.

But council leader Coun Simon Blackburn says the scheme remains on track to be introduced ahead of the 2020 season.

Bispham resident Paul Siddall submitted an FOI in October asking the council when the first inquiry had been made to attractions about the proposals.

Mr Siddall also wanted to see documents relating to each attraction’s response, details of meetings and the cost to existing financial budgets.

In its response the council was unable to provide any written documents and admitted the dates of the first inquiries to local attractions are “not recorded”.

The response says: “There have been several informal discussions over the past few months between council officers and local attractions in relation to the free ticket scheme.”

It adds: “All of the discussions to date have been verbal. There are no written responses held by the council.”

There are also “no recorded meetings” in relation to the financing of the scheme, although it is “not intended to impact on council finance budgets”.

In response to Mr Siddall’s request for dated copies of all relevant documents in relation to the scheme, the council says: “There is no written documentation held in relation to this matter.”

Coun Blackburn said it was “naive” to think there would be public records of initial  confidential meetings.

He said: “We continue to negotiate with a variety of operators, and it is our intention to launch the scheme prior to the start of the 2020 season, as promised, and as originally planned.

“It is naive in the extreme to imagine that we would keep public written records of initial and exploratory commercially sensitive discussions.”

But Mr Siddall said he believed the answers showed Labour had included the pledge just to win votes.

He said: “It was purely to persuade people to vote for the Labour party.

“The council can’t tell me who has made the contacts and to which attractions.

“When they publicised it they should have said it would take 12 months, but they chose not to do so in order to persuade people to vote Labour.”

When Labour made the pledge last April as part of its election manifesto, Coun Blackburn said it could be met without any cost to council tax payers.

He said it was “fully costed and fully deliverable” and that residents would be “able to enjoy a wide and growing list of attractions for free, including free parking, and it won’t cost the council tax payer a penny.”

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