Archive for January, 2017

How we fit in with the Government’s new Industrial Strategy

Monday, January 30th, 2017

Last week saw the publication of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, it’s plan to grow the UK economy and spread the benefits across the whole country. We haven’t had one as a country since the 1970s and it is a very helpful document, particularly as we plan the direction of travel for Staffordshire once we leave the EU. It is worth a read.

There are 10 pillars, all of which are inter-linked; the big idea is to link skills, infrastructure, research and development, investment and institutions in a joined up, mutually supporting network. All well and good, and my first question on reading it was who will pull all of this together at a local level? The reality is that, in the absence of any other organisation with the reach and capacity, it will fall to us in Staffordshire County Council to act as coordinators and leaders to bring the relevant people together. To give one example on skills, there is an aspiration to give technical vocational education and training the same status as academic study. This will require a cultural shift across the country, and we will play a role. As an engineer, I’m delighted to see this, and particularly here in Staffordshire, the crucible of the first Industrial Revolution.

We can already point to recent, current or planned projects in Staffordshire that could serve as ready-made case studies for the 10 pillars in the strategy. The Keele Deal is all about investing in science, research and innovation, while the Chancellor was at the county council’s Redhill Business Park last week as part of the Industrial Strategy launch, to see how General Electric is investing in new facilities in the town to produce world-leading energy systems. And there are plenty more examples that show Staffordshire is well placed to grab the opportunities the strategy presents.

The strategy also talks eloquently about cultivating world-leading sectors and providing the advice and setting the conditions for success. This is absolutely right, but we must do it more effectively than the “picking winners” of the 1960’s and the “national champions” that France has done in the past.  Some of the new economy companies that we have in Staffordshire, focussed on the digital market, will, if we get it right, put Staffordshire at the heart of what people are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The challenges of an ageing population

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Health has again this week loomed large in our consciousness. I attended the Health and Care Transformation Board and was interviewed by NHS England about our experience in the Better Care Fund this year. These events, and several other interactions in the health and care arena, are set against the backdrop of public debate on the subject of the latest winter crisis hitting the NHS.  It is sometimes instructive, when facing a really difficult issue, to step back and think a little.  Einstein put it succinctly, when he said, “If I had an hour to save the world, I’d spend 59 minutes thinking about it.” The NHS faces a momentous challenge; to remain free at the point of delivery while being affordable to the nation. With people living two years longer every decade, and those extra years being bought mainly by advances in medicine rather than healthier lifestyles, something has to change if we are to enjoy whatever extra time we are to spend on this planet.

The Story of Staffordshire this year has a graphic which brings the challenge to life, and I find that it has particular resonance for me. In 1985, the year that I graduated from Sandhurst, I was one of five working people for every retired person. In 2030, the year in which it is projected that I will start to draw my old age pension, there will be only two people of working age for every retired person. That is unsustainable, and I suspect that I’ll be working for a fair bit longer than currently planned.

My mother, who started as a student nurse in inner-city Glasgow in 1950, recently observed that the NHS worked then principally because there wasn’t much that could be done for people; they either got better or died. We live in a very different world now, where once fatal conditions such as pneumoconiosis (a lung disease found mainly in miners and farmers) are treatable if not curable. This is a good thing, but too many of our elderly relatives are spending too much time in hospital. We are working with University Hospitals North Midlands to get people home with the right care package as quickly as possible, but the Sustainability and Transformation Programme (STP) must concentrate on stopping them ending up in hospital in the first place.

Einstein had a point, but we do need to move from theory to practice pretty soon.

Future plans for Stafford’s Beaconside site and keeping people active

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Philip Atkins and I met with Kai Liu on Friday. He’s the Chief Executive of the Chinese company that has bought the Beaconside site in Stafford that formerly belonged to Staffordshire University. They have some very exciting ideas to teach British and Chinese young people both of school and university ages. It was fascinating to hear their plans, which are still at an early stage, but which, if they come to fruition, will give the county a real advantage. 

I also met Russell Turner from Sport England with a group of our colleagues to discuss how we can participate in their local delivery plans. With an ageing population, it is more important than ever for us to keep people active and Sport England’s focus on getting everybody to undertake 150 minutes of exercise of any type in a week is very welcome.  


Looking forward to a busy year

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Firstly, and most importantly, I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.  I hope also that you had an opportunity to spend some quality time with those whom you love during the break.

Perhaps not surprisingly given the momentous events of 2016, the New Year has got off to a rapid start and doesn’t show any sign of losing momentum. We will see the inauguration of President Trump this month, the triggering of Brexit by the end of March, as well as elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany. We’ve also got our own election in the county council in May, at the same time as a mayoral election for the West Midlands Combined Authority in the Birmingham conurbation. Political commentators will not be short of raw material for their trade.

Meanwhile, we have some big plans to implement. The Newcastle public sector hub will be completed, bringing together borough and county services as well as the police in one building, and in Stafford, we will start the formal movement towards smart working with the closure of the Wedgwood Building and the consolidation into Staffordshire Place 1 and 2. In both cases, the moves will be the catalyst to becoming a more agile organisation, confident in our abilities and focussed on the citizens of Staffordshire.

Finances will continue to occupy our thoughts for the foreseeable future. We received some positive news from Government before Christmas with additional funding for adult social care, however as it stands we still need to find another £4.6m of savings to balance the books for next year. This won’t be easy but we should avoid the necessity of in-year savings in 2017-18, as we have had this year. It will be a tough year, and the pressures on local government around social in particular are now being better understood by the population at large, which can only be a good thing. Our partnership with SSOTP, our NHS partnership trust, to provide adult social care on our behalf will continue, but we will take back responsibility for buying care packages and managing budgets. We need to make a success of this transition – it’s an opportunity rather than a threat.

Overall, although I don’t underestimate the level of the challenge, I’m probably more optimistic this year than I was at the same time last year. I know that I can rely on my colleagues to rise to the challenge as we have before.