West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper has slammed West Lancashire Borough Council for its abject failure to act over Matalan’s decision to move its head office out of Skelmersdale.
MP Rosie submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Borough Council to obtain details of the Council’s efforts to encourage Matalan to remain in West Lancashire.
“From the time of Matalan’s move being revealed it was clear that West Lancashire Borough Council had failed to act swiftly and see what they could do to ensure Matalan stayed in West Lancashire.
“It is clear that the Borough Council demonstrated incompetence of the highest order in their handling of this situation. Through their failure to act immediately on hearing the rumour in December 2011, I believe that the Borough Council has failed in its duties. It is understood that for over a year Matalan was openly looking for accommodation for their expanding business, yet no one in the regeneration team noticed what was happening?
It is the Council that has responsibility for regeneration, growth, businesses and job creation. Due to their failure to notice what was happening and when they did hear the rumour, act in a quick and timely way, we will never know if there was something that could have been done to keep Matalan and its jobs here in West Lancashire.
“Even when the Council finally wrote to Matalan in January 2012 to seek a meeting there is no mention of the rumour they were considering leaving. This lack of understanding of business gets even worse when the Council were willing to wait for a meeting with Matalan until May. A whole six months after hearing the rumour!
“Once I’d heard the news, (the Council had failed to share their information with me back in December), it was a matter of days before I secured a meeting with the Executive Chairman and the Chief Executive. Following this meeting I announced it was too late to stop Matalan moving on the 14 May because Matalan had already signed the agreements to move to the new site in Knowsley. After all this, the Council only managed to meet Matalan on the 21May, a week after my meeting. The horse had long bolted and this failure to act on the initial rumour meant that by the time they did meet with Matalan it was all too little and far too late.
“The public needs to know why they are paying council tax for a woefully inadequate regeneration service and to know why they didn’t act more forcefully to try and keep a national business in Skelmersdale. They should have been prepared to camp out on Matalans doorstep until they got a meeting as quickly as possible and no later than early January.
“It is all well and good the Council trumpeting the creation of apprenticeships. They also need to be committed to protecting jobs and businesses in West Lancs where those apprentices can be employed.
“If the Matalan debacle is a measure of how this Borough Council deals with local businesses then there won’t be many companies to provide apprenticeships; they’ll have disappeared to other adjacent local authorities where they are valued.”
I would say the series of events as detailed in the FOI is a damning indictment of the leadership of West Lancashire Borough Council. Residents have every right to question the Council about why the effectively sat on their hands as one of the biggest companies in this area walked off up the road.