Posts Tagged ‘Weather’

Storm Dennis, and the Integration of Health and Care

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Having written last week’s blog entry during a lull in Storm Dennis, I probably should update readers on what happened next.  In short, it continued to rain.  By Monday afternoon, the River Trent in Burton was causing concern, and we activated the Incident Management Team, led by Becky Lee, our Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manager.  Burton had suffered from serious flooding in 2007, and significant barriers have been built since.  It shows the unprecedented times in which we are living that the river level peaked at 11.00pm only 4cm below the tops of the barriers.  The team, with John Tradewell, who was our duty director this week, worked through the night, planning a response to the flooding, taking in such diverse considerations as notifying householders, planning for the potential evacuation of care homes, moving sandbags to shore up defences, and assisting the Environment Agency and Fire and Rescue Service.  Becky Lee is in effect our Operations Officer, and it may surprise you to read that the IMT has been mobilised 4 times since the start of 2019: the collapse of Allied Healthcare; the wildfires on the Staffordshire Moorlands; a building response in Newcastle; and now Storm Dennis.  They are 4 very different scenarios, but the core team are up and running in an hour in Staffordshire Place 1, providing the communications and control that allows the subject matter experts to work effectively.  It’s a seriously impressive organisation. 

On a completely different tack this week, it might interest you to read about the integration of health and care that is progressing in Stoke and Staffordshire.  I had a very useful session with Dale Bywater, the Director of the National Health Service England and Improvement for the Midlands (known as NHS E and I in the vernacular).  This is a relatively newly combination of the commissioners (the CCGs) and the providers (the hospital and community trusts) which has provided some welcome clarity to the system.  Dale is very happy with our Long Term Plan, one of 5 out of the 11 in his region to be passed as good to go.  He is clear that the time has come for implementation, and I made it clear that the county council is very supportive of getting on with it.  It reminds me of 2 old military adages; no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and plans are useful, but planning is invaluable.  In short, the plan is not perfect, because it can never be perfect, but it is good enough to start us in the right direction.  The planning that we have done over the past months will give us the knowledge and confidence to adapt our thinking and actions as the situation develops.  The role of the county council is many-faceted; we are the single biggest commissioner of social care and therefore must align what we do with the plan, and we are also the largest democratic body in the county, with a role in ensuring that people of Staffordshire get the healthcare and social care that they need in the future. 

Climate Change and Storm Dennis

Monday, February 17th, 2020

As I write this on Sunday morning, we are in a lull in Storm Dennis, our second named storm in a week.  Last weekend saw our Highways Department deal with 292 incidents of fallen trees or local flooding, about 7 times what we normally expect in a weekend.  Thankfully, we appear to have solved the issues fairly quickly, which comes down to a bit of luck, but also the preparation that we have undertaken, for example with the more targeted approach to gulley cleaning.  So far, Dennis appears to have been more rain than wind, but of course that comes on top of significant rain in Ciara last week, and a very wet autumn and winter.  We remain ready to respond and help Staffordshire’s residents who have been affected.

Following on from a 5 month drought in 2018 and a dry winter last year, it seems clear that we are seeing changing weather patterns, with lengthy periods of alternately hot and dry, followed by warm and wet.   It was therefore timely that I attended Engie’s Senior Managers’ Conference in Birmingham this week, to speak about our journey to zero carbon.  Engie is a French-owned energy company who ran the coal-fired power station in Rugeley, which closed a number of years ago.  They intend to redevelop the site themselves as a zero carbon settlement, with energy-efficient housing, solar panel farms and a zero carbon school serving the residents.  It is an ambitious scheme, the first of its kind in the country, and we are delighted to be working closely with them on it.  My part was speaking about our own journey, and I majored on reducing our carbon footprint in everything that we do, and across the county as opposed to just the county council.  Staffordshire County Council employs about 1% of the county’s workforce directly, and probably pays the salaries of another 7% in our commissioned operations; we also make up about 2% of the county’s carbon footprint.  We should clearly aim to reduce our internal carbon footprint, but the key will be in facilitating the wider county to reduce.  The target is huge, with about a third of energy consumed at home by heating and power, another third in transport, and about 18% in employment sites.  Helping our residents to make better choices in terms of insulation and heating in their homes, and in their personal transport, will be key.   

It’s not all about transport and housing though.  There are significant secondary benefits from such programmes as Superfast Broadband, allowing more people to work from home, reducing the traffic on our roads.  Our own Smart Working programme has taken an estimated 1 million miles off Staffordshire’s roads, which works out at 100 cars on an average annual mileage.  It doesn’t seem much perhaps, but if every employer in Staffordshire did the same, it would be 10,000 cars, and nationally it would be 500,000 cars.  Now we’re talking. 

The Annual CCN Conference, and our hard-working highways engineers.

Monday, November 25th, 2019

Last week the Council Leader, Philip Atkins, a number of Cabinet members and myself attended the annual County Councils Network Conference.  With the General Election campaign ongoing, there were no leading national politicians there, but that gave us the chance to concentrate on the issues that face all county councils across England.  There were excellent sessions about children’s services, the challenges of improving adult social care, and many others.  I find this probably the most useful of the few conferences which I normally attend, as it is more focussed than those which cover the whole local government sector.  We are all doing the same things in different places, and as a result there is much learning to be had.  One thing that was noticeable was that, despite the uncertainty of Brexit and the outcome of the General Election, morale was robust.

With this very wet autumn, which is such a contrast to last year’s 5 month summer drought and dry winter, spare a thought for our highways crews who are working across the county to keep traffic moving.  One aspect that has struck me is that our work in mapping and analysing the drainage system appears to be paying off.  About four years ago, we didn’t know how many drains (gulleys in the highways vernacular) we had and where they were.  We do now – we have 148,000 of them across the 6,400km of roads in the county.  Having done that piece of work, which was an accomplishment in itself, our highways engineers then worked out which ones need cleaning more often than others. Like so many things in life, putting in the effort up front before the emergency reduces the effort required to recover from the emergency.  And so it has been with the recent flooding.  The system relies on Severn Trent Water’s mains drains and the Environment Agency’s stewardship of our rivers, but the water has abated more quickly in known flooding areas on our roads than it has done previously.  We will need to keep an eye on the pattern of rainfall as the climate changes, to work out whether the overall system is capable of dealing with it, so there’s no room for complacency, but so far, so good.      

Thanks to our gritting crews, a ministerial visit, and recognition for Families First

Monday, March 5th, 2018

I couldn’t start this week’s entry with anything other than the winter weather – the combination of snow and wind has made it especially challenging for those keeping the roads clear. Our gritting crews have been flat out for the best part of a week now, and they’ve done a magnificent job. We shouldn’t also forget the Fleetcare crews who have been keeping them on the road in some of most inhospitable conditions for mechanical machinery.

We had a visit from Nadhim Zahawi MP, the newly appointed Minister for Children and Families, on Thursday to see what we are doing in the Government’s flagship 30 hours of childcare scheme. In the pilot, Matt Biggs and his team have taken a bold initiative and engaged with employers as well as families and childcare suppliers to persuade them to change shifts and work patterns so that the families get the most benefit. The challenge is now to do the same at scale with the main scheme but we are already making great progress with Staffordshire now having one of the highest take-up rates in the region, with almost 4,500 children taking advantage of the funded childcare.

It was also a very pleasant surprise to hear that one of our Families First Colleagues is to be recognised by Staffordshire Police for her part in Operation SHADE, a particularly complex and harrowing Child Sexual Exploitation case which came to a conclusion recently. She and a number of colleagues have worked conscientiously and carefully over many months in some pretty difficult circumstances to ensure that the twin aims of bringing the perpetrators to justice and looking after the victims is achieved. It’s quite humbling to be part of the same organisation.