Good year for our economy as jobseeker figures remain below national average

For those of you who keep a close eye on our employment figures, I’m pleased to report that it’s more good news for Staffordshire this month.

End of year figures show that the county continues to have near full employment with  the latest statistics showing that just 1.3 per cent of the local population are claiming out of work benefits. Once again, this is lower than both regional (2.9 per cent) and national (2.3 per cent) averages. We’ve been outperforming our neighbours throughout most of the year which is encouraging news.

It’s been a pretty good year, and with even more developments scheduled for 2019, we have many fresh opportunities coming for better paid jobs to be excited about.  We have the extension of i54 South Staffordshire, beginning of construction of the Stafford Western Access Route and Lichfield Southern Bypass.

These, alongside full occupancy at sites like Four Ashes and Redhill are all projects that will support even more better paid, higher skilled jobs for people in Staffordshire.

Christmas in Care

For most children their Christmas lists will consist of the latest gadgets, games and toys. But for many children in care, all they’ll be asking for this year is a loving family.

This is where foster families can help by providing a stable and supportive family environment which is something that many of our vulnerable young people in care have never had. It’s also why we have  launched two new campaigns in the run up to Christmas to help recruit more foster carers.

We know that in most cases, foster families can give children in care the best chance of a happy life.  And, with record numbers of children being placed in care, it’s vital that we have a strong network of foster families to give them the love they need.

The first campaign, ’12 Myths of Fostering’ is all about busting some of the most commonly reported myths about 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. People who have considered fostering, but ruled themselves out for one reason or another should definitely watch the 12 Myths of Fostering videos here.  We’re releasing one each day in the run up to Christmas.

Our second campaign is all about recruiting Resilience Foster Carers. This is a specialist type of fostering, and is for people with experience in dealing with teenagers with emotional and behavioural difficulties. It could include people who have worked in residential care, ex-police officers, prison officers or people who work in similar professions. There is a real shortage of these types of foster carers, so it’s vital that we reach out to try and find them.  If you think it’s something you could do or know someone who might be suitable, you can read more about it here: https://bit.ly/2ByMaP2

Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated, you can’t cross a chasm with two small leaps. You could bring joy to a vulnerable young child by giving them a loving family, and  a feeling of fulfilment to yourself.

 

Celebrating the best of the best in our annual tourism awards

Each year we recognise the contributions of our tourism businesses with the Enjoy Staffordshire Tourism Awards and this year was no different.

This year’s ceremony took place on Thursday at the brand new £8m Aspects Conference Centre at the National Memorial Arboretum and was hosted by Joanne Malin, who you may know from BBC Midlands Today.

More than 40 attractions, activities, and accommodation businesses entered, and I would like to say a huge well done to everyone, including a special congratulations to the winners.  Amongst them were Drayton Manor Park, who picked up 2 awards, Middleport Pottery, The Dorothy Clive Garden, Swinfen Hall Hotel and the NMA themselves.  Also, and on my patch, well done to Heywood Hall and Lower Micklin Touring Park both in Denstone who also picked up awards.

Tourism is a really important sector for the county and our local tourism businesses continue to do us proud and a great job, bringing in almost £2bn each year and sustaining tens of thousands of jobs.  So once again, thank you and well done.

People holding up trophies

Winners of the 2018 Enjoy Staffordshire Tourism Awards with their trophies

New approach to support young people with mental health issues

We had a busy cabinet meeting this week and one of the important decisions we made was to agree a new approach to helping children and young people with mental health issues.

This is not only about promoting good mental health, but also tackling the stigma around mental illness and improving attitudes towards it. A lot of young people may feel ashamed or embarrassed about their mental health, but we want them to know that they shouldn’t feel that shame, and that there’s people who understand what they are going through and can help them.

It’s a subject that’s incredibly important to us all and it’s vital that children get the help when they need it. That’s why we have joined forces with our local Clinical Commissioning Groups to ensure we can support them through any tough times they go through.

Around 40% of all young people experience at least one mental health issue by the age of 16. With 225,000 children and young people living in Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent, this means around 90,000 will experience an issue with their emotional health and wellbeing at some stage.

These are figures that cannot be ignored, which is why we are so committed to ensuring that young people get the help that they need.

I will keep you posted on the progress of the new approach.

Highways improvements to support new Designer Outlet for Staffordshire

Retail development in Cannock

MacArthurGlen Designer Outlet Cannock

This month we saw the start of a major highways project that will provide access to a new £160 million retail development at Mill Green in Cannock.

On-site construction of the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet started this summer and when it opens in 2020 it will be a huge draw for the county and create around 1,000 jobs for the local area. It’s a really exciting project, and great news not only for people in Cannock but the county as a whole.

As part of the overall development, McArthurGlen has committed £15 million towards the improvements which will be key to the success of the outlet. The highways works are absolutely essential. When the outlet opens we will see a significant increase in traffic around the area and this scheme will provide suitable access to the site and improve traffic flow on the surrounding roads.

It’s a major project, and as you can imagine, a huge amount of planning has gone into the works. Part of the improvements will be the construction of a temporary road to ensure there is no closure of the A460 while a new underpass for the outlet is built.

The works are expected to take around 72 weeks to complete and you can keep up to date with the project by signing up for regular email updates. You can do this here.

Positive feedback on our vision and Aspirations For Communities

Strong leadership, aspirational goals, partnership working and a clear grasp of financial challenges are some of the things highlighted in an independent review of the county council.

This was the feedback from a Local Government Association Peer Challenge in September which concluded that the county council was “ambitious” and had a “good understanding of the communities that it is working for. The review team also found that although the council faced difficult decisions it was prepared for this.

This is really encouraging news and the review was a great opportunity to get real constructive feedback about what is working well at the council and what could be done better. I am pleased the review highlighted much of the good work already underway and, at the very heart of this, the positive attitude and enthusiasm of our staff.

As I have blogged about many times before, local councils are in unprecedented financial times and it is an absolute testament to employees that this review recognised the council has a clear grasp on the financial situation and still has a drive to deliver our aspirations for Staffordshire people.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sitting down and looking through the recommendations to see where further improvements can be made. You can read the full peer challenge here.

Looking ahead to commemorating the 100th anniversary of Armistice

NMA Armed Forces Memorial

The National Memorial Arboretum Armed Forces Memorial

With names on war memorials in all of our towns and villages, many with relatives living today, Staffordshire continues its long history of involvement, reconciliation and a national focus for remembrance.

This Sunday we will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, when the nation will unite to remember the guns falling silent following the end of the First World War.

I’ve blogged about Staffordshire’s many connections with the Great War many times before and the role the county played both in training troops and how the home front contributed to winning the war.

Alongside the WWI training camps on Cannock Chase where over 500,000 men were trained and our many countywide war memorials and gardens, we are also incredibly proud to be the home of the National Memorial Arboretum.

Since the first trees were planted 21 years ago, the site which now provides a focal point for the nation’s commemorations has now become a world-class centre of remembrance.  It really is an inspirational and moving place to visit and both the candlelight vigil and Remembrance service over the Armistice weekend will be a fitting way to remember those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice giving up their lives for our freedom.

On Sunday I will be attending my local village service at the War Memorial in St Michael’s Lychgate, Rocester, which I have done so now for the last 37 years.  As like every year, the names of the 25 villagers who lost their lives during the two World Wars, inscribed on the church’s lychgate, are read out followed by a two minute silence.

A whole country falling silent together in respect of others is truly a powerful concept, and I hope people are able to take some time to attend a local service over the weekend to remember those who gave up so much.

 

The 2018 budget and what it means for Staffordshire

On Monday we had the Chancellor’s Budget with pledges for some short-term funding for adult social care, extra money to tackle potholes and £1.6bn to deliver the industrial strategy.

On top of this were details of the £20bn for the NHS – and the extra £650m for councils to help manage the growing adult social care bill next year.

While the measures are welcome news for the taxpayer and High Street business, we are now looking at the details to see exactly what it means for Staffordshire.

I’ve blogged before about the county council seeing the cost of funding adult social care and supporting children in its care increase by more than £100m in the past ten years. This is all at a time when national funding has continued to fall. And, the reason we face a shortfall of £35m in our budget for next year.

But in this budget it was good to see the Chancellor recognise the huge financial pressures councils face in funding care with additional funding for 2019/20. The additional money for roads, science and innovation and measures to leave families with a little more money in their pockets are equally welcome.

Later in December, we’ll also get the Government’s Financial Settlement which will tell us exactly how much we have to spend.

Our work to supporting a strong economy by creating the best conditions for business and housing development to thrive continues. Creating not only more jobs, but more well-paid, better skilled jobs will be better for everyone and the county as a whole.

Celebrating the best of our food and drink businesses

This week we got the chance to celebrate the best of the county’s food and drink businesses at the 2018 Good Food awards

We really do have a thriving food and drinks sector in the county and this year’s ceremony at Uttoxeter Race course was a great opportunity to bring together the industry and showcase what we have to offer.

There were ten categories and it was a particularly good night for the Staffordshire Moorlands, with The Three Horseshoes Country Inn, Leek, winning the Casual Dining Restaurant of the Year award for the second successive year.  The Roebuck in Leek also got Pub of the Year, The Cottage Kitchen Country Café, near Leek, won Tea Room/Coffee Shop of the Year While The Boat Inn, near Lichfield was named Independent Restaurant of the Year.

And, closer to home for me,  Denstone Hall Farm Shop near Uttoxeter was named the Farm Shop of the Year, as well as being selected for the special Judges Choice Award for getting a faultless 100% score on their inspection and their continuous achievement of excellent customer service.  There were also awards for South Staffordshire’s Essington Farm, Seed Chocolate, Tamworth’s Buzzards Valley Vineyard, and Calcott Turkeys.

Our businesses continue to do us proud, offering the best of quality produce and wonderful hospitality and I’d like to say a huge well done to them all.  Keep up the good work.

You can find out more about eating out in Staffordshire and this year’s winners at www.enjoystaffordshire.com/GFA

A digital future

We can all see around us how digital technology can make our lives easier, improve productivity, increase skills and help the whole county prosper.

I’ve blogged about smart technologies before, and how they are having a real impact on how we do things often providing great opportunities and solutions to problems.   For example the introduction and growth of smart phone usage and the numerous things we can now do when and where we please.  Businesses also continue to use innovation and digital technology to make them more productive and better serve and connect with their customers.

On Friday I was delighted to launch an exciting partnership with Staffordshire University that will help us all harness the power and opportunities that new digital innovations are bringing.  Working together, the ‘Staffordshire Deal’ will not only help support a thriving local economy but improve people’s lives by making the most of this latest technology.

As well as a new digital hub in Stafford, and the promotion of digital skills to support the needs of local business, the partnership will also create thousands of apprenticeships over the next decade. The deal will also make sure businesses are ready and waiting for the digital future, because  investing in the economy is the best way to raise living standards.

It’s exciting times.

The University is already celebrating 50 years of computing excellence and have been national pioneers in computing and the digital future .  Now, working with them, and our other partners over the next few years, we will create a stronger and prosperous county where  more people have access to better jobs, and have more money in their pocket because they have the skills they need.