Setting out our priorities for 2020

It seems like a distant memory now, but I hope everyone had an enjoyable break over the Christmas and New Year period and got the chance to spend some time with friends and family. And for those of you who made New Year’s resolutions, I hope they are still going well. I’d also like to pay tribute to those who remained on duty over the festive period. That includes the engineers on the Lichfield Southern Bypass who worked round the clock from Christmas Eve until the 28th to install a new rail bridge, with minimal disruption to rail passengers.

It’s been a busy January so far and last week I met with colleagues to set out our budget and priorities for the year ahead.  And, with a new Government in place, I’m excited about the future and about how we can make Staffordshire an even better place to live in, work in and to visit.

I have written about the ever-growing demands on caring for our elderly and increased pressures on children’s services in numerous posts. But they still remain our biggest challenges.

Ten years ago we were spending around £200 million per year on care to help support the most vulnerable in our communities, but this year we will be spending a record £320 million.

We have been swift to recognise the challenge though, and have had plans in place to reduce costs to help manage the growing pressures. This all means we can live within our means, deliver a balanced budget and still protect everyone eligible to receive care next year.

In addition to the essential spend on care, we will also be investing more than £120m on important capital projects like schools and business sites, an extra £8.1m in helping to keep more children out of care, and £650,000 on climate change projects.

To help meet the increasing pressures and costs, particularly around care, and with national Government funding continuing to fall, council tax will rise by 3.95 percent, which includes a 2 percent levy to help towards the care bill. This is still amongst the lowest rate in the country and works out at less than £1 per week on the average bill for a Band D Property.

As we start 2020, I remain incredibly optimistic about how much we can still achieve with partners and our communities for the benefit of Staffordshire families.

Be assured, our work to create even more better paid jobs for people, protect the most vulnerable, and give everyone the best shot at living as healthy, rewarding and independent a life as possible will remain our focus.

Growing places, growing Staffordshire

Dunston Business Village

Growing our economy and creating more better paid jobs for people has been a priority for us for many years now and one that will continue into 2020 and beyond. And, as the year draws to an end and we continue to see near full employment here in the county we have lots to be happy about.

Calling Staffordshire businesses! Local companies might be interested in the Growing Places Fund, which provides interest-free loans to support the growth of projects in the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership area.

The fund is now in its 14th round and over the years has seen both large and small companies benefit. Feedback from those who have benefitted from the fund has also been hugely positive. One such project supported by the fund was the award-winning Dunston Business Village, which is now not only completely occupied but also has a long waiting list. This just goes to show once again that Staffordshire remains an attractive place for companies all over the UK.

There’s further details at www.stokestaffslep.org.uk, just click on the Enterprise Support section. Alternatively, you can call 01785 277706. But make sure you get your applications for this round submitted before the closing date on Friday 31 January.

A busy year for Trading Standards

Sniffer dogs Scamp and Yoyo

This year has been a particularly busy one for our Trading Standards team, and indeed a successful one as a recent report from the Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers has revealed.

I blogged about the teams work and some of their recent successes back in September but looking back over the last twelve months there’s lots to shout about.

Counterfeit goods are a real blight on our communities, they pose a serious risk to people’s health; whether they are cosmetics with dangerous chemicals, electrical goods which can cause fires, toys which can seriously harm children or food or drink which can damage your health. In addition they take legitimate trade away from local businesses and drain vital money away from our communities, whilst bringing organised crime further into our County.

The annual report revealed that trading standards services nationally had detained over 20 million illegal products including more than 15 million potentially dangerous cigarettes in the last year.  And, in Staffordshire alone over the same period, 34,300 counterfeit items with an estimated value of £204,000 were taken off the streets, including, 24,000 illicit cigarettes with a street value of £12,500.

Dealing with counterfeit goods reflects a small part of what the team gets involved in. Trading Standards cuts across the whole of our lives from protecting vulnerable people from predatory criminals, maintaining the safety of food and drink, the welfare of our farm animals, the safety of goods, as well as maintaining a level playing field for businesses across the whole trading environment. The team support legitimate business whilst focussing on those who prefer not to play by the rules.  

The full report can be viewed here.

The ’12 Myths of Christmas’ busted by our foster carers

Staffordshire foster carers and our Fostering & Adoption team are working together to bust fostering myths!

As in previous years, our Staffordshire foster carers have joined together in a Christmas campaign to encourage more families to consider fostering.

Christmas can be a tough time for many of our children in care but it can also be a good time to highlight the need for more families to help.

This latest campaign, ’12 Myths of Fostering’ is all about busting some of the most commonly reported myths holding people back from fostering.

We know from talking to potential foster carers that there are a lot of misconceptions about who can and cannot foster, and this campaign is all about exploring those myths and debunking them. There are 12 videos online, on Youtube, on Facebook and on Twitter for you to watch and share with your friends and family.

It’s really important that we get the message across as with record numbers of children being in the unfortunate position of being placed in care, it’s vital that we have a strong network of foster families to give them the love they need. If fostering is something you might consider, then you’ll find out more at www.care4child.org.

Have a very merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year.

Artificial Intelligence and even the use of robots?

At the county council we’ve always prided ourselves on looking for better, more effective ways of doing things, using new technologies and finding innovative solutions to problems.

Well, in our Public Health annual report published this week, we’re calling for a debate on the increasing use of technology to help support our ageing population.

I have blogged about this before, but between now and 2029 the number of over-65s in Staffordshire is expected to increase by almost a fifth. And while the county’s average life expectancy is 80 years for men and 83 for women, it’s calculated that on average ill-health begins at the age of 63 and 64 respectively. 

We know that traditional health and care services are not adequately ready to cope with this increasing number of people with multiple long-term conditions, but if we can use technology where appropriate, it could not only help people themselves but could reduce pressures on and benefit the health system at the same time.

I’m sure you’ll agree, technology such as smart phones have already totally transformed our lives.  A decade ago it was unthinkable that banks would be disappearing from the High Street, but some of us now manage our account on our phones, even paying for things with a simple tap.

Artificial Intelligence, remote consultations, smart speakers and even the use of robots are now all technological developments which could be used alongside traditional support. And, they’re not that far away from being deployed in easy reach.

Digital technologies really could offer an opportunity to do things differently, enabling people to take more control of their lives including their health and wellbeing.

It’s an interesting report and you can read the full Director of Public Health Annual Report 2019 here.

Fireworks Safety

Fireworks cluster.

This time of year is one when we want to have some fun and lighten things up as the nights draw in. It is also a busy time for our Trading Standards team. Christmas and New Year are just around the corner, and before that we have Halloween and Bonfire Night; and the one thing these events have in common is fireworks!

We do want people to be able to enjoy their celebrations and have a good time but we want them to do it safely. Fireworks by their very nature can be dangerous so there’s a few areas of work that keep us busy as a county council.

Over the next few weeks our Trading Standards team will be visiting traders to make sure that those licensed to stock and sell fireworks are doing so safely and responsibly. This includes storing them safely, only selling to over 18s and only selling within specific dates in the run up to Bonfire Night and for New Year.

We’re also reminding consumers to be particularly cautious when buying fireworks too. This includes only buying items from properly registered sellers and not to be tempted in to buying fireworks through social media.

Only last week our team led an operation into an individual who was storing a large quantity of fireworks and selling display fireworks from a flat in a multi-story block. Not only was he putting his family at risk but also the entire block of residents. These were ‘display fireworks’ with high amounts of explosives which should only be used by professionals.

There’s lots of advice on fireworks safety here and anyone concerned about unsafe selling of fireworks can contact the Trading Standards confidential helpline on 01785 277855.

Have a good time, but please stay safe.

Signing off on our housing and economic development plan

I have always maintained we have a need for a long-term plan for housing and economic development, the infrastructure needed for it and what we can all in the public and private sectors do to support this.

Well, at our Cabinet meeting this week we signed off on a plan that will support the construction of new homes and ensure our communities are provided with job opportunities, high quality transport, leisure facilities and excellent digital connections. 

As a county council, we have the responsibility to provide an overview that will help to inform the various organisations and companies that would be involved in the actual work. This includes, potential developers, investors, transport organisations and energy and waste companies. 

Having the plan means there will be better coordination to ensure new communities have excellent schools, healthcare, leisure and community facilities, in addition to protecting established town and village residential areas. It also means that the necessary infrastructure like roads, utilities, broadband can all be put in place earlier on in the process and ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum.

Some of the areas for larger developments to watch out for over the next few years include:

  • Stafford Gateway and Burleyfields
  • Branston Locks near Burton
  • Liberty Park in Lichfield
  • Tamworth golf course
  • Rugeley power station
  • Keele Science and Innovation Park
  • Biddulph and Codsall

Well planned housing development is a key part of our continued economic growth and will also make sure we have thriving communities across our county.

I will keep you posted on the plans.

Jobs figures make good reading

Today we got some more encouraging news which shows the county is maintaining a near full employment rate. This proves our work to build a strong economy and create more better paid jobs is paying off.

The figures show that in Staffordshire just two per cent of the local population are claiming out-of-work benefits. This is lower than both regional (3.7 per cent) and national (2.8 per cent) figures.

Regular readers will know that building a strong local economy with plenty of skilled jobs is one of the best ways of making Staffordshire a great place to live and work. And to achieve this, our work with our Local Enterprise Partnership  and local councils continues at pace.

We continue to have a good story to tell and plenty to shout about. Across the LEP area since 2011, 58,000 jobs have been created. In the same period of time wages have risen by 13.5 per cent and during 2017/18 there were a total of 2,750 apprenticeships in place across the county.

Just as important as creating the higher skilled jobs, it’s also vital that people have the skills to take them on. This means our work with the LEP’s advanced manufacturing and engineering skills hubs, local colleges and training providers remains key too. Good jobs comes hand in hand with having good skills.

Importance of good health and wellbeing

In my last post I spoke about this year’s Stoptober campaign and how it’s helping people quit smoking and hopefully live longer.

But there are lots of other things we can do to help us stay healthier and happier too. Encouraging people to stay active, improving our mental wellbeing, helping people reduce their drinking and eat more healthily are some of the areas we continue to focus on.

Keeping fit, healthy and having positive mental health can really improve your quality of life and could help to prevent diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and reduce your risk of suffering a stroke or living with dementia and frailty in later life. Making small practical changes that fit into your life can make a big difference.

We also know that people in Staffordshire are living longer, which is a good thing, but not necessarily healthier lives. And, with less money available, we need to encourage people to take greater responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, so that the council can focus its resources on those that need help the most. 

So, to help people improve their health and wellbeing, we have a handy online health and wellbeing planner that will signpost people to advice and support from a range of public, private and voluntary organisations.  The planner can help identify what changes people might want to make in their lives, what they can do differently to achieve their goal, and has advice to help them along the way. A personalised report is produced at the end of the tool summarising all the actions along with the relevant information and guidance.

You can go straight to the online health and wellbeing planner and get started here.  

In addition to this, there is also a targeted lifestyle service for people aged 50-plus who  live in priority areas where residents have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and poor health. The service provides NHS Health Checks as well as lifestyle help, including weight management, advice on diet and malnutrition, physical activity, stop smoking, falls prevention and social isolation.

If this has left you thinking, and you are serious about making some lifestyle changes then there’s more information on the Staffordshire Everyone Health website.

Stoptober’s back!

Stoptober, which has just kicked off this month, is the national campaign to help people quit smoking and it’s a really important initiative we’ve been supporting since it launched in 2012.

Now that the county council are responsible for Public Health in Staffordshire, one of our major areas of work is encouraging people to take greater responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, so that the county council can focus its resources on those that need help the most.

This probably won’t be news to most people, but half of all smokers die from smoking-related illnesses like heart disease and lung cancer, so it’s still a major health problem.

But there is help available. Through the Stoptober campaign you can get a personalized quit plan and support via the Stoptober app to help you on your journey. And remember, research shows that people who can give up smoking for 28 days are five times more likely to quit for good.

Finally, quitting is good for your friends and family too who don’t have to breathe in the smoke and leaves more money in your pocket, saving the average smoker over £150 a month or £1,800 a year, enough for a good holiday or other healthy pursuits.

If you are serious about quitting smoking, you’ll get more information here.