Archive for September, 2019

Universities, education and increasing digital jobs

Monday, September 30th, 2019

I was very fortunate this week to attend the opening of Staffordshire University’s London campus. It’s called the Digital Institute London, and is offering the class-leading courses that Staffs Uni offers, such as Cyber Security, Computer Gaming and eSports.  The campus is to be found in Here East, the former press centre for the 2012 Olympics on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London.  I have to say that it is a superb location, with a real energy and vitality to it.  Indeed, I was reflecting with somebody who, like me, went to university in the 1980s, that Staffordshire University are very much more student-focussed than I remember my own undergraduate experience – I remember feeling that we were the necessary encumbrance for the lecturers’ lifestyle.  Part of that, certainly, comes down to the fact that students now pay for their courses, and are therefore much more demanding customers, but I also sense that the university sector is much more dynamic that it used to be, which cannot be a bad thing at all.

Darryl Eyers and I also met with Tony Evans, who leads Amazon’s Financial Services business, and has recently returned to his native Staffordshire.  Tony has spent the last 20 years in the United States, and has a real passion and energy for doing something positive for the county.  We talked about how we might increase the number of well-paid and highly-skilled digital jobs, aligning the efforts of ourselves, the universities and colleges, and the Local Enterprise Partnership to attract large financial employers into the county.  It’s a very exciting prospect, particularly coming at a time when we are working with those partners on the Local Industrial Strategy, and we will follow up with enthusiasm.

Staying with the theme of inspiring people and events, I spent some time with Mike Donoghue, the Chief Executive of the John Taylor Multi Academy Trust (MAT).  Mike’s organisation runs the excellent secondary school that we built in Branston, near Burton, and it was there that I met him for a discussion about how we work more effectively with MATs like his.  The conversation ranged widely over local and national issues, and Mike gave me some great insights.  We talked at some length about how we can achieve greater inclusion for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), and I was most impressed to hear that Mike insists that his newly-qualified teachers spend some time in SEND settings to better understand the needs, challenges and opportunities.  The conversation certainly gave me a lot to think about, and I left feeling energised and optimistic.

Clothes Swap, and the Queen’s Award for Enterprise

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

For this week’s blog, I wanted to remind everyone about the Waste Team’s brilliant ‘Clothes Swap’ taking place in SP1 today. We throw away so many clothes these days, when many can be reused or recycled. This clothes swap is an excellent way to recycle your old or unwanted clothes, and will help us to think more carefully about what we throw away in future.

For more information and to get involved in this and future swaps, click here.

It was a pleasure to attend the awards ceremony for the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Conversion Rates Experts, a small and highly international digital company which is based in the unlikely setting of a country house in Rugeley.  Most of the employees were there, gathering for their one day a year when they meet face to face.  The rest of the year they work from their homes designing and optimising some of the most world’s biggest companies’ websites.  As well as sharing in their celebration, I learned more about Smart Working from a company that really makes it happen.  They have developed techniques and tools which build the ethos of the company, but the key is getting the culture right, which came as no surprise to me.  In an industry where people move very quickly, they have built up an amazing loyalty.  I’m hoping that Ben Jesson will come to one of our future Senior Managers’ Conferences to explain not only what a successful digital business in Staffordshire needs from its county council, but also perhaps share some tips on the next steps for us in Smart Working.

On a completely different subject, and testament to how varied this job is, I returned to the office to present the Health and Care Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) Estates Strategy to senior NHS officials.  Last year, we were disappointed to receive an “Improving” grade for our work, but we listened to the feedback, and this year it looks like we will be heading into “Good” territory.  This is testament to the efforts of a large number of people, but if I can single out 3 for particular praise, it would Wendy Woodward, Becky Jones and Phil Brenner.  The Estates Strategy will not in and of itself makes the transformation that community care needs in Staffordshire and Stoke, but it will enable many of the changes that need to be made, and support the new workforce model, as well as integration of health and care, and the digital offer. 

Brexit, Parliament and planning for the future

Monday, September 9th, 2019

I could not write this week’s blog without mentioning the events in Parliament.   Local Government has always been a good place to work, but right now we do appear like an island of calm in an otherwise turbulent political sea.  I see no reason why that should not continue as we focus on providing the positive outcomes for Staffordshire’s residents.  Many of you will be involved in the preparations for Brexit, and specifically for a potential no-deal departure from the European Union.  We have covered as many of the areas that we can forecast, but there is no doubt that we have to retain some capacity and vigilance to deal with the unexpected. 

The Chancellor’s financial statement was, for us, the most important event of the week, almost lost among the drama of Brexit, with the indications of extra money for Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), as well as a continuation of the money for social care from last year.  While we will have to wait for the detail of the announcement – the Chancellor only covers the highlights in his speech with the detail normally coming out just before Christmas – it does look like some good news, but for next year only.  From Staffordshire’s point of view, it probably means that we will be able to stick to our hard-won Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), without having to resort to more savings measures.  In essence, the extra money will likely cover the pressures that are building up in Children’s Services and SEND, but it is almost certainly not enough to allow us to cancel any of the measures that are already in train.  And with the one-year nature of the spending round – we had been hoping for a 3-year settlement – we won’t be able to make any new commitments, long-term or otherwise.

Closer to home, we have this week circulated the final draft of the Strategic Infrastructure Plan to all Staffordshire and Stoke local authority Leaders and Chief Executives.  It’s an excellent piece of work, led by our own James Chadwick and Matt Shufflebotham, and with significant assistance from AECOM; I understand that we are now one of about 5 places in the UK who have undertaken this level of analysis, and it is a real win that it covers Stoke-on-Trent as well as Staffordshire, as this is also the footprint for the Health and Care STP, Police, the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), amongst many others – it therefore makes sense that we have contiguous boundaries for this piece of work.  As well as covering the things that you might expect, such as roads and rail, it covers a wide range of health, educational and social factors that will be invaluable for anybody undertaking any strategic planning work.  It will now go through our scrutiny committees and Cabinet, and the intention is that we keep it up to date with regular revisions, probably annually, incorporating any suggestions and amendments as we progress. 

#CouncilsCan

Monday, September 2nd, 2019

With the return from summer holidays, for many of us our thoughts turn to finances.  That is especially so this year, where we are awaiting Chancellor Sajid Javid’s one-year spending round being unveiled on Wednesday 4 September. As was reported in the LGC last month, uncertainty is hanging over at least £3.5 billion of council funding streams for 2020-21, including the £1.8 billion Better Care Fund. 

On Monday 2 September, we will be joining in with the Local Government Association’s #CouncilsCan campaign, to call on the Government to give us the certainly we need from the spending round and ensure we can sustain the services we provide. Councils up and down the country will be posting about how secure funding from Government will help to continue local services. I hope you can join in with the campaign–look out for the hashtag #CouncilsCan on the County Council’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages, and get behind the campaign by pressing the like button, retweeting and sharing the posts.  

Hopefully, this will highlight all the great and innovative work done by you and local government every day to keep communities running.  It’s a timely intervention, and I would add that Councils Already Do, and Will Do in the Future, but that probably doesn’t have the same ring as #CouncilsCan!