Archive for May, 2010

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Hi – attended the senior manager conference on Tuesday at Uttoxeter Racecourse.

This was a great chance for me to meet many colleagues that I had not had the chance to talk to before. The agenda was quite wide ranging, covering key priorities for next year and how we further improve knowledge about Staffordshire and the County Council outside of the Council. This is really important for our economy, because companies tend to want to locate in areas they have a good knowledge. It is also really important from a national perspective.

I had the opportunity to talk to the conference about some of the things that I think are important for us to do. I focused on better understanding our customers, investing time and effort in developing our employees, making sure that everyone had the opportunity to contribute ideas around innovation and efficiency, the huge importance of strong partnerships with others including districts, health and police and the importance of delivering local solutions for local communities. Hopefully not a surprise to regular readers of my blog! Seemed to go down well but I’ll wait for official feedback with bated breath……

I’ll be doing another blog before the end of the week, but early warning that I won’t be around next week as the Bell family decamps to euro Disney (what joy!) I’ll be asking a couple of colleagues from CMT to do guest blogs for me in my absence to keep the flow moving, and will look forward to coming back to jokes about a Mickey Mouse Chief Executive……..

Bye for now Nick

Things to think about

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Hi – just spent the last few days wading through the headlines of the coalition government’s key policies, which were reinforced in the Queen’s speech yesterday.  While detail is still a bit light, it looks like there are some major issues for us to think about over the coming months.

 As expected, there has been an immediate announcement of funding reductions in this year – we know the amount for the whole of local government, but not yet the impact on us – we might have to wait for the emergency budget on the 22nd June for that.  As soon as we know more detail I’ll keep you informed. (One good thing is a signal that there will be more freedom around how Councils spend their cash – albeit that there will be less cash to spend.)

As well as tackling the deficit there is important legislation being signalled around schools, welfare benefits and regulation, all of which are likely to have an impact on our communities and the services we provide – as always, I’ll keep you in touch as the detail emerges.

Our Safer Communities team

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

This week I’ve had the pleasure of meeting our safer communities team who have a huge impact in this area. 

This is another great example of effective partnerships as the team comprises of representatives from the Police and Fire as well as the county and has very close links to the districts, PCTs and the voluntary sector.  They have been playing a key role in the reduction of many issues that affect our communities – including domestic abuse and alcohol misuse – as well as helping to co-ordinate targeted action on a wide range of issues within some of our communities most in need.  I was hugely impressed by their dedication, great ideas and the progress they have already made in many areas.

Great ideas and innovation is going to be critical to us over the next few years when money will be tight.  I also attended my first meeting of the Innovation & Efficiency Board on Tuesday, that brings together the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council with other members of Cabinet and CMT to discuss how we develop innovative ideas to give value for money while focusing on the needs of our customers. 

One of the main topics of discussion was how we generate and capture the ideas that everyone in the council has, and I will be working with colleagues to ensure that we have the best process in place for doing this.

Cheers,  Nick

Improving quality of life in Staffordshire

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Just come out of today’s Cabinet meeting, which agreed a couple of important items in our drive to further improve quality of life for everyone in Staffordshire.

The first of these was the County Reading Strategy – it’s often easy to forget the power of reading and its strong links to learning, economic prosperity, well-being and overall quality of life.  The strategy focuses on working with all of our partners to widen opportunities for and interest in reading across all of communities, and builds on the successes of the ‘National Year of Reading’ in 2008.  As an avid reader of many different types of book I am hugely looking forward to supporting the implementation of this strategy over the next few years.

The second item was dealing with an issue we are all unfortunately too familiar with – that of easy access into our major towns.  Stafford is destined to grow in the future, and needs the right road infrastructure to support that growth if traffic is not to become a major problem.  Following on from a wide ranging consultation Cabinet decided to submit a business case to release funding for major improvements to the western access to the town.  There is much further work to be done, but the hope is to start on construction within 4 years with the improved roads fully open by 2016.

That’s all for now – have a great rest of the week.

Cheers

Nick

On the move

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Hi everyone – hope you all had a good weekend.  Sorry my blogs were a bit light in content last week – we had to move out of our house in East Anglia on Friday, so it was all hands to the pump to help with the packing. It does mean this update is a bumper one but a lot to report and comment on.

I got a chance to visit a few more areas of the County last week.  As I mentioned in my last blog, this included a visit to Stafford prison.  We run the library service for all 6 prisons and young offender institutes across Staffordshire.  While it was somewhat daunting to go into the prison and hear the gate clang shut behind me, it was great to see the work that the library service were doing. Much more than just a book lending, but also in helping the inmates – many of whom had literacy problems – develop their skills so that they had a better chance of integrating back into the community and finding work when they were released. 

Tuesday found me in Burton College, talking to their principal about the great things they are doing to help their students.  While they already do quite a lot of work jointly with the county council, we both agreed that there was more we could do together, particularly to assist some of the more disadvantaged communities around Burton. This was obviously my ‘education’ day as I finished it at Keele University, discussing issues we had in common with the vice-chancellor and registrar.  As an ‘old boy’ from Keele (I did a one year teacher training course there in the early 90s) it felt good, if a little strange, to be back after nearly 20 years!

Later in the week I attended an event at Alton Towers Conference Centre where over 250 representatives from the public and private sector came to hear about our aspirations for our schools under the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme.  There were some really interesting and inspiring presentations, particularly those from students at some of the schools in Tamworth and Rugeley who hope to benefit from the funding.  Although we don’t know whether the BSF funding will survive the review of spending by the new government, the day was a huge success with many of the organisations who attended wanting to play a bigger part in helping us to achieve the vision. The BSF team who organised the day were superb and deserve huge congratulations.

Talking about the new government, while we are now clear who has key ministerial posts we are still waiting to hear the detail behind many of the new policies that have been announced in headline, as well as clarity around funding reductions.  Everyone in the public sector knows that we are in for a difficult journey over the next few years as the government tackles its deficit. We will need to look at doing things in completely different ways and far more in partnership so that we can continue to improve quality of life for all our residents, despite reductions in government cash.  This will continue to be a key theme for me and for the county council.

Hope you all have a good week – the weather forecasters are predicting a bit of a scorcher, so let’s hope they are accurate!

Bye for now

Nick

Out and about in Staffordshire

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Hi everyone – hope you all had a good weekend.  Like most of the country, I am still waiting to see what is likely to happen with the government after last week’s election.  The policies of the government will be really important to many things that we do, not least in the way they decide to tackle the country’s financial situation.  I will try to keep you up to date on issues and their impact on Staffordshire as they become clearer over the next few days and weeks.

As part of my tour of county premises I visited a couple of libraries last week, in Burton and Norton Canes.  At Burton I spent some time with a class of new arrivals to the UK who were learning English as a second language.  The library and the county council’s Adult and Community Learning Services hosts lots of these courses during the year, and it was great to be able to hear from the participants about the difference that a good understanding of the language was making to them. 

Norton Canes was a great example of really effective links with the local community – the community had been heavily involved in the design of the library as well as helping to secure funding for it and were actively using it as a learning and social hub for many of their activities.  It is a great example of the County working with local communities to help shape services that make a real difference to them.

On Friday I spent part of the day with colleagues from Development Services, visiting some of their sites in the South of the County, including a highways depot, a business park in Cannock, Chasewater innovation centre and Cannock Chase visitor centre.  The tour was fascinating and everyone I spoke to was really focused about improving what they did for the benefit of all our customers.  We finished the tour at Shugborough which I thought was absolutely phenomenal – a beautiful house and garden, with loads of attractions for visitors.  I will certainly be going back there with the family.

This coming week my visits include the prison library in Stafford.  Hopefully they will let me out again….

Bye for now

Nick

Saying goodbye

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

I have one more special blog entry for today. 

Last week we said goodbye to Peter Traves, our Director of Children and Young People. Peter has done some fantastic work to help our children, young people and schools over the last 10 years and is moving on to a regional role. It was great to meet so many of his current and former colleagues at his leaving do, and he will be sorely missed. Sally Rees is taking on the role on an interim basis and I am sure that she will do an excellent job in a critical area for the Council.

Looking forward to meeting more of you on my county council introductions.

Discovering Staffordshire’s past, present and future

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Hope everyone had a good Bank Holiday weekend – sounds like the weather was better in Staffordshire than in the North East where we got battered by the wind and rain!

Yesterday I continued my visits to parts of the County Council. In the morning I went to the Staffordshire Records office – they hold a phenomenal amount of information about the County’s past and it was great to see so many visitors using the records and volunteers helping to make the records more accessible. It was also fascinating to see the curators in action preserving many of those records for posterity.

After that I had the pleasure of visiting the Shire Hall Gallery. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went in through the grand entrance, but was amazed by how well they had used the space for the art exhibition. Their next exhibition features local artists and starts on the 14th May, running through to July. I will definitely be visiting that and am likely to be a very regular visitor in the future – it’s a great facility to have in Stafford.

 However, as important as a fixed gallery in Stafford is, it is even more important that we find ways of reaching all our communities. We now have a mobile museum (effectively a cunningly converted bus) that goes to communities and schools and enables more people to have a taste of their heritage. This year the theme is around toys and childhood of the past, and it was fascinating to see and read about what children used to play in the past. I have to say some of the exhibits brought memories flooding back (whoops – in danger of giving away my age!)

 I finished my day with a visit to Newcastle to see how adult social care is using new and innovative technology to help people stay longer in their own homes rather than having to go into care. There were some great examples of how we were working in partnership with health, landlords and the voluntary sector to hugely improve people’s lives. My Dad lives on his own in the North-East so I might well nick some of the great ideas to help him (I’m never one to miss an opportunity…)

 Well that’s it for now – more visits later this week to libraries and other sites around the County – more of that later!

Bye for now