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Meeting the multi-millionaire Yousuf Bhailok who wants to be Preston’s next MP

Posted on - 3rd July, 2024 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Redevelopment
Yousuf Bhailok pictured in his home at Haighton House Pic: Blog Preston

One of Preston’s richest people is seeking to be its MP, saying at the age of 67 he is ‘ready to serve’.

Yousuf Bhailok, the multi-millionaire property developer and with a wide portfolio of companies, is standing as an independent candidate in the 10-person battle to be the city’s next MP.

We sat down with Mr Bhailok to ask him about his views, proposals and campaign – which has seen posters of himself plastered across empty buildings and pieces of land in the city centre in particular which are associated with his groups of companies or wider family.

Read more: See all our general election coverage

He said: “I am standing to be MP because I want to give something back to the city which has given me so much throughout my life.

“I grew up here, I went to school here, I learned my trades and my skills here. I went to Preston Polytechnic and that gave me the launchpad to begin my career in law and business.

“Preston is a great city, but it could be so much more and I want to use my tenure – if I am given it – to fast-track the development of this city.”

Previously on the Conservatives list of approved candidates, since 2005, Mr Bhailok has decided to shun his long-held political allegiance and stand as an independent.

He said: “Following the Iraq war then I wanted to stand in Blackburn, against Jack Straw, but although I made the list of approved selections they – rightly – picked someone else to stand there in Blackburn.

“I stayed on that list but for me it was about Preston. However, it has become clear to me over time – especially now I am older – that this is the time for me to make my stand because otherwise there will be no time left.

“So forget about party politics, I am standing for Preston and for its people.”

How can a multi-millionaire relate to the cost of living crisis?

For the interview, we’re sitting in Mr Bhailok’s wood-panelled living room within his mansion on the outskirts of Preston between Grimsargh and Goosnargh. A house he bought from football manager David Moyes. The drive is lined with Mr Bhailok’s Rolls Royce and a number of other sports cars – he says repairing old vintage cars is one of his ‘passion projects’.

In his campaign videos – slickly produced and promoted across social media – Mr Bhailok has said he will give away his MPs salary if elected.

He said: “If you take the salary of an MP over five years then that gives you nearly £500,000 and I pledge I would give that to the city as a fund where people can bid in for initiatives or things they want to do.

“I have a lot of experience of creating these kinds of start-up funds and also giving to good causes, through my charity works. I want also this fund to specifically be for young people.

“When you are a young person then suddenly getting a few thousand pounds to help you achieve your ambitions then this can be a big motivator for them.”

Mr Bhailok references his upbringing, he said: “I came to Preston as a young boy. We came from India, where we had nothing.

“I was very lucky to receive some great schooling, first in Avenham, then Ashton-on-Ribble, then the sixth form in Moor Park and then Preston Polytechnic. I worked hard, we grafted and I have built up my companies. But I do not forget it. I do not forget growing up in a house with an outside toilet and it being cold, and us getting free school meals because we couldn’t afford it. I am proud of where I have come from.”

Asked why he wasn’t already doing this in the city, given his considerable wealth, Mr Bhailok said: “Yes, I could do it, but I think that being the MP means you are then legitimate and it means people have put their trust and faith in you, to deliver for the city.

“I have also through my work with the NHS, the university and during Covid in particular shown my contributions to the city – when they were struggling with obtaining PPE then I went a got it for them. When something needs doing, I will do it.”

A call for a unitary authority for Preston

Mr Bhailok then went on to criticise the current local government set up in Preston, calling for a unitary authority.

He said: “We need an elected Mayor and a unitary authority. I’m partly standing to be MP because there’s no system where we can have an elected Mayor at the moment.

“You look at what has happened in Manchester, Liverpool, we need the same for Preston and we need a strong figurehead to be representing the city.

“I don’t think those who have done so far have done that enough.

“We need to look at where the efficiencies are, people go 10-15 miles each way between places like Preston, Penwortham, Chorley, Leyland. Why not have one council which can get things done and have the powers to do so?”

Mr Bhailok reels off a list of pledges around healthcare, education – saying there has to be much stronger investment in schools in particular. Asked how he would pay for it all, Mr Bhailok returns to efficiencies within government.

He said: “I have done a lot of work with governments during my time in business but also with the Muslim Council of Britain, and there are lots of efficiencies to be made.

“I have lots of family who work in the NHS, there are definitely savings that could be made. We need to make sure the money is going to the right places.”

Refuses to condemn Hamas and calls for UN intervention in Gaza

During his campaign he has also been vocal about the conflict in Gaza. Mr Bhailok, a Muslim, was unable to attend the city’s election hustings in mid-June as he was on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

On the Gaza conflict he said: “We need a peace, on both sides. I think the international community needs to do more because if you look back at Northern Ireland, at Serbia, then we had the UN take action and there was a peacekeeping force.

“Why do we not have this for Gaza? This will stop the killing there.”

Asked about Hamas, Mr Bhailok – similar to Michael Lavalette in the Preston election hustings refused to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organisation only saying “I think if you were in that situation, then you would want to defend yourself – and I think the Palestinian people have a right to defend themselves.”

Defending his record on regeneration and those posters

Returning to Preston matters, we ask Mr Bhailok about a hypocritical tone in his election posters about ‘making Preston proud again’ which are stuck on many empty buildings across the city and plots of land which were either owned by Mr Bhailok, continue to be owned or he has an association with. Many of them have been empty for years and have fallen into disrepair.

The election posters have provided a helpful guide to where Mr Bhailok has had a business interest in over the years Pic: Blog Preston

He said: “I see what you’re saying, and I take that but there are many things needed when it comes to regenerating a city.

“With regards to the posters, I think it is important people see who they are voting for. That is why I am on them.

“It is also important to note that many of those buildings and that land I don’t own anymore, it has been sold to other people – and it is up to them now.

“But where I have land, of course I want to do something and I have sold off land – to the university and others and they have developed.

“I think the university here is something Preston should be really proud of, it has brought a lot of investment.

“What I think we need is a task-force just focused on regeneration for the city centre. We missed an opportunity with the Docks, it could have been so much better, and then Tithebarn collapsed, we have to make sure we get it right.

“We need a fast-tracking system though. This planning system, it is not good enough – it takes so long.

“And I am saying that I am here, I am wanting to do joint ventures and partnerships, and to get this city moving. Things are happening, just look at The Exchange going up – that was my land and initial plans.”

Read more: Five years on from the Stoneygate Masterplan and whether it will finally fix Church Street

Mr Bhailok says the city council needs to take more action, referencing ‘just knock down everything along Church Street with a compulsory purchase order’ but back-tracks when he is challenged about there being no feasible budget to do this.

He said: “I think there needs to be more action from the MP, whoever that ends up being, we need to attract some big names to the city. We have Primark, but what else? Why should people come in?”

And if you don’t win?

Mr Bhailok makes it clear, several times, he would only want one term in office – referencing potentially retiring in the next five years – if he is unsuccessful then will he still work for Preston? Or take a seat in the House of Lords?

Yousuf Bhailok and his dog, Rocky Pic: Blog Preston

He said: “I have already been offered the Lords and I turned it down. That is not my interest.

“Preston will always be my interest. I grew up on Bank Parade, and I stayed there in Avenham for decades. My children were educated here and they have all stayed around Preston. I am proud of that.

“So yes, whatever the outcome, I will keep working for Preston and maybe I will play a more active role in working for Preston.”

The other candidates standing in the general election on Thursday 4 July in Preston are:

David Brooks (Alliance for Democracy and Freedom)
Neil Darby (Liberal Democrats)
James Elliot (Reform UK)
Trevor Hart (Conservatives)
Sir Mark Hendrick (Labour and Co-Operative Party)
Derek Killeen (UKIP)
Michael Lavelette (Independent)
Isabelle Metcalf-Reiner (Green Party)
Joseph O’Meachair (Rejoin EU)

See all our coverage from the Preston general election hustings

Preston general election hustings: Candidates opening pitches to voters

Alleged ‘rundown’ state of Preston city centre blamed on car policies and cost-of-living crisis

Preston predicted to end up with two hospitals in next decade

State of Preston’s streets likely to remain top priority for residents

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