Brexit, Parliament and planning for the future

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. 

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