Archive for March, 2011

Seeing for yourself

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

This week Deputy Leader Ian Parry has invited the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles to visit us.  The invitation aims to encourage him to help turnaround the perception that councils are failing to cope with budget reductions.

In the letter the Deputy Leader made the point that in Staffordshire we are succeeding in reforming and improving frontline services and he outlined many of the good things we are doing:

  •  A pioneering new bus travel scheme, giving under-20s journeys anywhere starting in the county for £1. This has received national backing from the British Youth Council. Older people are also being offered free 24/7 bus travel
  • library usersA pledge to protect all county libraries with initiatives including wifi roll-out, the introduction of eBooks and “Touchdown Centres” to make libraries temporary workplaces for people on business
  • Groundbreaking use of technology to allow elderly people to live independently at home
  • £4 million extra funding to tackle potholes

 The strong message is that councils are not all about cuts and that Staffordshire County Council is making a difference by focussing on our priorities of supporting the county’s economy and our most vulnerable residents.  We are asking Eric Pickles to – “come and see for yourself” – and we couldn’t say that with confidence without the hard work that you all put in to deliver services.  I’ll let you know what his answer is!

I wanted to take the opportunity to mention a visit I made recently to the Therapy and Sensory Team in Burton-upon-Trent.  During the day John Maun and his colleagues introduced me to their work, and to a number of residents that use their service.  I started to get an idea of just how challenging life is when you lose your sight, and the range of things that the team can do to support their service users.  I learnt a lot during the day, and I appreciate the time they took to show me their work, the frank questions they asked and the honest answers they gave to my questions.

On a final note I had the privilege to attend a session at Walton Hall Youth Club the other week.  The youth club is run mostly by volunteers, many of whom are parents of current and past children at Walton Hall special school.  The parents had been concerned that there was no wider support network for the young people, many of whom have significant issues around confidence, after they left the school and set up the youth club a few years ago with assistance from the County.  It was great to be able to see how the sessions at the youth club were helping the young people build this confidence and equipping them with some key life skills.  Talking to them and their parents really helped to remind me about the hugely important role the County plays in helping potentially vulnerable people with a wide spectrum of needs.

A 100th birthday and new beginnings

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Listening to regional and national news recently, you would be forgiven for thinking that libraries are an endangered species.  I am proud to be able to say quite firmly that Staffordshire’s libraries are going from strength to strength, innovating and improving the service to meet the needs of the whole community.  Our libraries played a big part in the successful World Book Day last week, with a series of events and giving away books to rail commuters in Lichfield and Burton. 

We have also recently announced the six teenage book titles on the shortlist for the Staffordshire Library Service’s Young Teen Fiction (YTF) Award.  Since September last year, young people in Staffordshire aged between 11-14 years have been nominating their favourite book of the year and now they have until 8pm on Tuesday July 5 to vote online for their pick of the shortlist. 

This week we have also celebrated the 100th birthday of one of Staffordshire libraries’ most loyal customers.  Norah Snow has borrowed up to 8 books a week from Codsall Library since it opened in the early 1960s and Cllr Patrick Corfield presented her with flowers at the library this week.  I make this almost 20,000 books in total.  People like Norah remind us that our libraries are an important part of our community and that they have something to offer all ages, so I am proud that we have a thriving library service. 

As the spring seems to be nearly upon us, I am looking forward to a visit to Shugborough.  From 18 March visitors to the estate will be able to explore the private apartments of the Earls of Lichfield for the first time.  Ten rooms are being refurbished and an array of beautiful artefacts will be on display.  In addition, Patrick Lichfield’s private island arboretum will also be open daily and will contain a new 2011 sculpture trail and nature walk.
 
This is a major development for Shugborough and provides a real boost to the tourism offering in the county.  I’m sure that the new attraction will attract even more people to the stately home as well as into Staffordshire as a whole, supporting our aim of developing a prosperous county.  Good luck to the team with their grand opening!

Back to work – prosperity and innovation

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

I’m back to work this week after a relaxing break with the family for half term.  Many thanks to Eric for his guest blog – and for deputising as Chief Executive for the week.

My week kicked off with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) board meeting on Monday.  The LEP is driving an entrepreneurial culture and aims to encourage prosperity in the region.  We are seen as one of the top business led partnerships in the country by the government and we will be advertising for new board members next week.  If you have contacts within the business sector and they have a passion for improving life in Stoke and Staffordshire then check out the LEP website.

I’ve mentioned the Your Voice sessions before, and I know many of you have come along to ask questions of the senor leadership team.  We have also introduced a ‘Your voice’ survey, which runs every three months.  It will help inform us how we do things in the future and will also allow us to measure how we’re doing.  The survey is confidential so please take a few minutes to complete it. 

The listening dogFinally I wanted to share with you a really innovative idea that has been taking place in Glascote library.  Tamworth school children have been encouraged to improve their literacy skills by reading to a pair of ‘listening dogs’.  The idea is that children lose their fear of reading aloud because the dog is a non-judgemental, friendly, audience.  I’m impressed with the idea, and also pleased it has really put Staffordshire on the map this week, with coverage in the Guardian ,  many of our local media and as far away as Canada.