Archive for April, 2010

Fine week but just a shame about the weather

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Hello again.  Weather seems to have taken a turn for the worse over the last few days, but lets hope the forecasters have got it wrong and that we have a fine and sunny bank holiday weekend.

I spent some time earlier this week visiting a couple of Extra Care Housing facilities in Stafford and Stone that we have helped to develop in partnership with Housing Associations.  For those of you that haven’t come across Extra Care Housing before, they are designed to provide older people and vulnerable adults with a home where they can be supported by flexible amounts of care so that they can remain independent for longer and avoid having to go into residential care homes.  Both facilities were very new and the quality of the accommodation and care was fantastic – at Stone it was built on the site of a former residential care home owned by the County, and the difference between the two was unbelievable.  Talking to staff and tenants was great and they all appreciated the vast improvements that had been made.  We intend to develop more Extra Care Housing across the County and it’s a great example of an area where we have listened to our customers and developed something in partnership that really meets their needs.

 As I mentioned in my last blog I also had a meeting with the Director of Public Health for South Staffordshire PCT, Dr Aliko Ahmed.  Aliko is a joint appointment between the County and the PCT (yet more good partnership working!) and, like me, pretty new to Staffordshire.  He is really keen to start raising the profile of the public health agenda across Staffordshire and we discussed a number of areas where we could make further progress.  Improving health and well-being is one of the top 3 priorities for our residents and the public health agenda, through tackling issues such as smoking, obesity, and alcohol misuse to name but three, has a major role to play in this.  I will come back to this theme in the future.

Last night I had the pleasure and privilege to be invited to attend the Lord Lieutenant’s Cadets ceremony in County Buildings.  There are around 3,000 young people across Staffordshire involved in the cadets as well as numerous people who give up their time to be instructors to the cadets themselves.  The cadets – as well as having fun – learn a lot of important life skills that helps improve their confidence and they play a big role in helping their local communities.  It was great to be at the event where the contributions of the cadets and their instructors was recognised and to chat to some of the parents who were immensely proud of their children.  Two of the  cadets had won the national prize for best male and female air cadet – the first time that Staffordshire has had two winners in the same year, which is great for them and the County.

On the topic of awards it has been yet another good week for Staffordshire.  The children’s team have won a prize at the first regional safeguarding awards event, and two of our trainee accountants have been recognised at the CIPFA awards, coming first and third in the national prizes for their final examinations.  Huge congratulations to them all.

That’s it for the moment.  I hope everyone has a great bank holiday weekend and a good chance to relax.  I’m heading up to the North East with Tracy and Matthew to see my Dad, Sister & Brother in Law.  We are hoping to get a bit of time on Saltburn beach, weather permitting (think I’d better pack my thermals!)

Bye for now

 Nick

Keeping busy in week 2

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Start of my second week here at Staffordshire.  First week seemed to fly by, but proved really interesting with lots of new people to meet and things to think about.

One of the key issues I will be grappling with over the next few weeks is how we should operate in the future to make sure we help local communities and individuals to meet their aspirations and improve their quality of life.  We have already made many strides along this path in different areas of the Council, and with our partners, but I believe that there is still more that we can, and should, do to enable everyone in Staffordshire to thrive.  I have kicked off a piece of work to look at how we could do this, and I’ll be really keen to hear ideas from everyone about this as it develops over the next few weeks.

Strong partnerships will be key to this, and I came across a really good example of 22 different organisations working effectively together on Friday when I visited the Civil Contingencies Unit based in the Beaconsfield Fire Station on Friday.  The Unit helps co-ordinate emergency planning and response activities across all councils, PCTs, fire and police across the whole of Staffordshire (including Stoke).  Its one of those services you hope you will never need, but when you do you want people who can respond in a sound, professional way and the Unit demonstrated that to me enormously, despite the fact that they were busy that day dealing with the potential impact of a chemical fire near the Staffordshire border.  They were even busier over the weekend helping to co-ordinate the response to a  fire on Cannock Chase.

Its always great to recognise groups of staff who are doing a fantastic job, and as well as the people in the Civil Contingencies Unit, I wanted to note the achievements of our printing service – a group of staff without whom the Council would be unable to work effectively.  They have shown fantastic dedication and customer service over the last year, and this has been recognised with 2 national awards from the printing sector – huge congratulations to all of them.

I have a busy week ahead of me.  On Tuesday I am visiting some Social Care and Health services with the Corporate Director for that area, Eric Robinson.  I’m really looking forward to talking to some of the front line staff and service users to get their ideas about how we can further improve things. 

I’ll sign off now as I need to meet the County’s Director of Public Health – yet another important aspect of the work we do.  May well be more about this in the next blog, so keep scanning for updates!

 Bye for now

 Nick

 (PS – hopefully nearly there on the house front with the family!)

Three days in

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Well here I am again – 3 days into new role and the second edition of the blog.

Since Monday the weather has been absolutely beautiful – maybe that ‘barbecue summer’ we were promised last year? It has certainly given everyone I have talked to a real spring in their step.

Just attended my first meeting of Cabinet today – its one of those occasions where you have to be on best behaviour as the meetings are now webcast on a live basis and held for posterity. Despite having a bit of a cold I fortunately managed not to sneeze at an inopportune moment! Actually it was a great meeting with some really important things being debated and decided, including the schools admission policy, the council’s continuing approach to helping our communities through the recession, the Children and Young People Strategic Plan that sets the framework for improving outcomes for our younger residents and the latest budget position.

All these are hugely important issues, but I wanted to single out two more from Cabinet that really do sit at the heart of an effective, customer focused Council that works well in partnership for the good of Staffordshire.

The first of these is a proposal to consult with key stakeholders about turning Blake Valley Technology College in Cannock Chase into an academy, supported by Staffordshire University and South Staffordshire FE College. This is part of a wider initiative about regenerating the local community in Blake that has been affected badly by social and economic issues over the years. The initiative is bringing together the County and District Councils with other partners, including the PCT, Police, College and University to deliver tangible differences and improvements to the community. This partnership approach to a local area is the first of its kind for Staffordshire and gives a great and exciting opportunity to help the community.

The other issue was the approval of the Corporate Property Strategy. It may sound pretty boring but it really is fundamental to the way we work and the way our customers access us and our partners. Bringing together services under one roof – as we plan to do with Tipping Street in Stafford – is a far better way of providing both a more efficient way of working and avoiding customers having to traipse through a load of different buildings if they have more than one query to resolve.

Finally good news for the Bell household – we have finally exchanged contracts on our house. We need to be out by 14th May, so now comes the househunting bit. I know what I will be doing this weekend…

Bye for now Nick

First day and first blog

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Hello and welcome to the first edition of my blog.

Today is my first official day in the office – I have been lucky in being able to spend quite a bit of time around the county before today, and have been really impressed by everyone I have met.  However, probably like everyone starting a new role, I feel both hugely excited and slightly daunted about what seems to have been a long ‘run-in’ period now becoming reality!

I hope to get out to meet many of you over the next few weeks and months wherever you work in the county, and to listen to your ideas about how we can further improve the things we do for our customers.  I have always believed that people dealing day to day with our customers have the best ideas about how to further improve our services to them, and I am keen to put those beliefs into practice here.

My first week is going to be fairly busy with a number of ‘getting to know you’ meetings with staff and partners, as well as my first meeting of the Staffordshire Chief Executives Group, that brings together all the Chief Executives of the Districts in the County, together with the Chief Executive from Stoke and myself.  There are many opportunities to become more customer focused and efficient that we can only grasp by working with all of our partners. I am very hopeful that this will be the first of many meetings where we can generate even more momentum to make a real difference on the ground.

I managed to get a few days break between jobs and I hope that others had the opportunity to enjoy the sunshine last week and at the weekend – its been a rarity so far this year but hopefully it’s the sign of a good summer to come.  I do, though, feel extremely sorry for those people who have had their flights and holidays disrupted by the volcanic ash from Iceland and I know that some colleagues in the Council are still stuck abroad trying to get home.  They, together with those who have had to cancel or change holidays at late notice, have my sympathy.

Finally it is turning out to be yet another busy week in the Bell household – we were lucky to get a quick offer on our house in January, but exchange of contracts has taken forever and looks like it might be resolved this week (fingers crossed) so we are all on tenterhooks as we can’t commit to a property around here until we have exchanged.  Until then looks like I’ll be living out of a suitcase….

Bye for now

Nick