Highlighting the difference fostering can make

Former foster child Jess Rees

Finding loving homes for our children in care is something that is close to my heart and I hope yours, and remains a priority for the county council.  Before Christmas we launched a new campaign to get more families to consider fostering and while we helped raise awareness of the issue there is still more work to be done.

We all know that foster care is the best option for most young people in care but to do this, we do need more foster families to come forward.  We have around 1,000 children in our care and need to recruit around 60 more families this year alone.  To help us, we have enrolled the help of two of our former foster children, Jess Rees and Marvin Campbell who are both doing very well in life and happy to share their positive experiences that fostering made to their lives.  Jess is now 19 and studying law at university and Marvin is a self-employed business consultant.  You can listen to their stories here.

All sorts of people from all walks of life can and do foster so if it’s something you might consider or you know someone who would make a good foster carer then please get in touch.  There’s more at www.care4child.org or by calling 0800 169 2061.

People can also attend one of the following informal information meetings with a chance to meet real foster carers:

  • Thursday 18 January,7pm, Burton Town Hall, Burton
  • Wednesday 31 January, 7pm, Staffordshire Place 1, Tipping Street Stafford
  • Tuesday 6 February, 7pm, Holiday Inn, Junction 15, Clayton Road, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

I hope you take the time to give this some thought, and help a child in need of a loving home.

Remembering those who lost their lives at the Minnie Pit Disaster 100 years on

On Friday we will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Minnie Pit mining disaster at Halmerend in Newcastle. This was a tragic event that devastated not only the village but touched the hearts of the whole area.

In total 156 men and boys from the Audley Parish were killed in an explosion at the mine on Saturday 12th January 1918, just 10 months before the end of the Great War. Twenty one boys were only fourteen years old and it took 18 months to retrieve all the bodies. Ninety eight people were buried at St James Church in Audley; 46 at St John’s Church, Alsagers Bank and 12 elsewhere. On some days there were as many as 5 funerals. The event was marked by a Memorial Service in Audley Churchyard on Sunday August 31st 1919 which was attended by over 3,000 people.

For those interested in finding out more about the event, The Audley & District Family History Society have published a new book about those killed, titled “Victims Of The Minnie Pit Explosion 1918” with photos and family records. The book will be launched at the Centennial Commemoration Event on Saturday January 13th 2018 at the Methodist Chapel, Halmer End in Newcastle.

You can watch a short tribute here with photos from the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Archives Service, Brampton Museum and the Museum of Cannock Chase.

Future plans building on past successes

Look around Staffordshire today and you’ll see new business premises and enterprise parks occupied by global companies, inventors, entrepreneurs and local creative companies. This is all part of our plan to grow our economy and create opportunities for people to fulfil their aspirations of a better life by generating more better paid jobs.

The importance of a strong and growing economy cannot be underestimated.  Ensuring people are in work and have money in their pocket to lead the lives they want remains the most important thing we can do to improve family incomes and reduce demand on public services.  We will do this by creating the right conditions for businesses to grow and thrive.

2017 saw yet another successful year with not only the further development of new business sites like i54 South Staffordshire, and Redhill Business Park,  but vital improvements to infrastructure like roads and superfast broadband now available at 95% of premises.  Our economy is in good shape.  Business Parks in Staffordshire are now home to leading international businesses such as Jaguar Land Rover, Gestamp and General Electric who inject millions into the local supply chain. But smaller local companies, which account for 96% of all businesses,   also play their part too, reinforcing their role in the local economy.

Since 2014, economy boosting projects with a total value of £383million have been completed, are under construction or being planned.  This should result in the creation of some 13,000 jobs for local people.  In line with this, we’ve also seen near full employment over the same period, with just one per cent of the local population claiming unemployment benefits. This is lower than both regional and national averages.  A high number of our schools are rated as good and last year our skills programme created more than 5,000 apprentices and supported three new Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Skills Hubs.  Teams also started visiting schools and talking to pupils  to raise aspirations about the higher skilled  jobs of the future.

With even more exciting projects like the Smart Innovation Hub at Keele University Science and Innovation Park coming online soon, and the completion of the A50 Project A improvements in Uttoxeter at the end of 2018, we are looking forward to building on these successes.

We’re opening doors for business to grow. We’re attracting  new investment to the county and we are making Staffordshire right for business to improve the lives of everyone living here.

I’d like to wish everyone a Happy and healthy 2018.

Staffordshire’s War, a window into the home front in Staffordshire

A number of years ago our Archives Service rediscovered some very interesting WWI Military Appeal Tribunal Papers  which should have been destroyed after the war but weren’t.  It was widely reported on the BBC and you can read more about it here. 

Well, these along with other eye-witness accounts, letters and diaries have revealed lots about life on the home front here in Staffordshire.  It’s all been pulled together in a new book called Staffordshire’s War written by Professor Karen Hunt and volunteers from our Archives Service.

It’s a fascinating insight with personal stories about ordinary people and how they were fighting their own battles to feed their families and help keep the war effort going.  It shows us how people managed to survive in a new wartime economy, how they coped to earn a living; how they shopped, cooked and shared food despite increasing food shortages and a rocketing cost of living. This is also when we saw for the first time, the introduction of food rationing, which was invented in local communities.

The project has taken two years with a huge amount of input from our volunteers, You can find out more about Staffordshire’s War by watching this short video.  And, if you’re looking for that last minute stocking filler for someone who enjoys their local history or the Great War, Staffordshire War is available from Amberley Press, £14.99.

 

Merry Christmas, Philip.

Setting out our budget

This week we set out our budget plans for the next five years which will see a record spending of £310 million on care for the elderly, more support for children in care and further work to grow our economy. 

The increasing costs of care for our growing ageing population continues to be our biggest pressure, as we still have to tackle a £12 million shortfall to balance the books next year. And, as we move to become self-financing due to the loss of Government grants It’s vital we continue to grow the economy, attract and support more companies to do business here and encourage more house building.

“We have already reduced the running costs of the county council by £195 million over the past eight years.  Alongside this, our work to grow the local economy has already brought in almost £400 million of investment and once complete it will see the creation of over 13,000 jobs. We will continue to do everything we can to both make sure we build on this achievement, but also continue to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.

It’s a challenging budget. Although nobody likes to pay more taxes Staffordshire has had one of the lowest county council taxes in England – and still does.  With a growing, ageing population to support we all have to now pay a little more and this includes a 3 per cent rise allowed by Government to help towards social care.  That means an increase of 4.95% which is just over £1 per week on a band D property.

The proposals will now go to cabinet on December 20, scrutiny in the New Year and Full Council in February.

 

Gritting crews working round the clock

Having been working round the clock since Friday to tackle sub-zero temperatures and snow, our gritting crews are continuing their work to keep the roads clear. And, while we’re not expecting more snow, the freezing temperatures are set to continue which means there’s still a risk on some ice on the roads and on the footpaths, so please take extra care.  If you are on the roads please drive to the conditions, slow down and leave plenty of room between you and the car in front.

Remember about your older neighbours too and to check them to see if they are safe and well.  It’s a long time since we have seen temperatures as low as this and we know that this can be serious for some older and more vulnerable people.  Drop round and say hello.  If we all play our part and look out for our neighbours we’ll get through the cold snap.

We’ve also seen a lot of schools closed today because of the ice but just a reminder that you can get an up to date list on school closures on our website at  www.staffordshire.gov.uk and searching for ‘school closure list’.  Schools should update the closure list once the head teacher has taken the decision so parents ought to check regularly.

Again, if you’re out, take care.

Reggie Bear needs your help!

Christmas is usually a special time for families and something that children very much look forward to.  But it’s probably worth remembering that not all children will have the same certainty in their lives.

We have around 1,000 children in our care, most of whom are living with foster carers.  And while we know that placing children with foster families gives them the best chance of a better life we do have a shortage of families.

That’s why we’ve enrolled the help of Reggie bear, the Fostering Service’s mascot in our latest Christmas push to highlight the urgent need for more foster families.  We are asking you to pick up a picture of Reggie from your local library or download it from www.care4child.org and take a festive photo with him in it. We then ask if you would post it on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #ReggieFosterBear and tag a friend who you think would make a great foster carer.

Not only is this a fun way to help to raise the profile of fostering and encourage more people to come forward but everyone who takes part will be entered into a prize draw to win a £100 Love to Shop Voucher.  You can read more about the campaign at www.care4child.org  .  And, if fostering is something that you would consider yourself, then there is more information on the website or you can call 0800 1692061.  You could also pop along to one of our information evenings, with a chance to meet foster carers and talk to staff about what’s involved.  The next one is at Staffordshire Place 1, in Stafford on 6 December at 7pm.  Everyone will be made very welcome.

The Budget and what it means for Staffordshire

Last week we had the Chancellor’s Budget with Pledges to invest more in the NHS this winter, a drive to increase house building and extra investment in education and skills,

Alongside this was increases in personal tax allowances for people, and housing stamp duty deals for first time buyers which I’m sure will be welcome news for many people. And, with greater support too for small companies it does look like there are lots of winners. But as always it will take time to go through the finer detail to see exactly what it means for the county, for residents and for local businesses.

However our focus and priorities at the county council remain clear, we will continue creating the right conditions to grow our economy and create not only more jobs, but more well-paid, better skilled jobs.  For example, since 2014 we’ve helped create and safeguard around 5,560 jobs and develop 3.7 million square feet of employment floor space for businesses, that’s around 60 football pitches.  Not to forget we have near full employment and our business parks are thriving, like Redhill in Stafford which is almost fully occupied.

Having a strong economy with thriving businesses and more skilled jobs puts more money in people’s pockets, which in turn is good for the county council. And that is because people in work tend to lead healthier lifestyles with less dependence on county council services, meaning we can focus our efforts on the most vulnerable in our communities, like children in care and our growing elderly population.

The budget also promised extra money for the NHS over the winter.  While this is welcome for Staffordshire, and for county councils in particular, the funding challenges and pressures on adult social care remain enormous and a long-term solution on how this is funded still needs to be fully addressed nationally.  This year we are spending a record £300m in social care to make sure people receive the best quality health and social care available. Getting the very best care for our older and more vulnerable residents is something we all want to see and we will continue to work more closely with the NHS to improve services and reduce the pressure on our hospitals.

Staffordshire’s best tourism businesses celebrated at awards

Tourism plays a vital role in our overall economy and on Wednesday over 40 of our top tourism businesses gathered for the 2017 Enjoy Staffordshire Tourism Awards.

The Awards held at Uttoxeter Racecourse were a great opportunity to celebrate and recognise the huge contributions they make, bringing in millions of pounds each month for the local economy and sustaining tens of thousands of jobs. I am sure you will agree that Staffordshire really is a great county with lots on offer, with wonderful attractions that we are all very proud of.

There were 16 award categories, Large Visitor Attraction of the Year went to the National Memorial Arboretum, and the new CBeebies Land Hotel at Alton Towers Resort was named Hotel of the Year.  Drayton Manor Park won gold for the second year in a row for Best Tourism Experience of the Year, for Drayton’s Magical Christmas, with accolades also going to World of Wedgwood (Guided Tour of the Year) and Uttoxeter Racecourse (Business Tourism Award).

The Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke-on-Trent and Colton House near Rugeley both won two gold awards, making them the biggest winners of the day.  Amber House of Alrewas went home with the Bed & Breakfast of the Year award, Cannock’s Dalraddy Cottage was Self-Catering Property of the Year, and Heywood Hall, Denstone won Self-Catering Holiday Provider of the Year.  You can click here to see a full list of the winners.

Finally “Well done!” to all our winners, and good luck to those going forward to represent Staffordshire at the VisitEngland Awards next year.

Keeping healthy this winter

Winter brings with it lots of different challenges for everyone and In my last post, I touched on our winter preparations from a highways point of view.  Well, gritting crews saw their first bit of action this winter and were rolled out as the temperatures dropped close to freezing.

But it’s not just the roads we need to look after, it’s important that everyone stays healthy over the winter months. We’re reminding the elderly and vulnerable that they shouldn’t hesitate, but seek help from their pharmacist at the first sign of an illness – even if it’s just a cough or a cold.

Free flu jabs are also available for the over-65s, the pregnant, those with long-term health conditions and for carers. Children aged two to eight can also have a free vaccine, but they have it as a nasal spray, rather than an injection.  I would urge anyone who is eligible for the vaccinations to have them as soon as possible if they haven’t already done so.

Although it has been quite mild up to now, it’s important to keep warm indoors and outdoors as it helps prevent colds, flu and more serious problems including heart attacks, pneumonia and strokes.  But as the colder nights do draw in, older neighbours, friends and relatives will be more vulnerable and may need a little extra help. Please keep in touch with them and check they’re warm and have enough healthy food to keep them going.

You can get more advice about keeping yourself and your family healthy this winter by clicking here.