Supporting our armed forces and their families

Armed Forces Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum

Staffordshire has a long and proud military heritage, which continues right up to today. We have the Defence Medical Services in Lichfield and the Royal Signals in Stafford, as well as a large number of Reserve units and Cadets based across the county.

Twenty years ago this week saw the first trees planted at the National Memorial Arboretum.  The Armed Forces Memorial, along with over 330 other memorials, is helping make Staffordshire the focus for the nation’s remembrance activities.

And as I travel the county I see people want to be able to support our local armed forces be more involved in local community’s activities and there is some funding that may help us do this. A new round of the £10 million annual fund available through the Ministry of Defence’s Armed Forces Covenant Fund is now accepting applications for grants. This is a really good opportunity to access financial support for groups and projects to help integrate Armed Forces and civilian communities and deliver valuable local services to the Armed Forces Community.

We have already had two organisations benefit from the first round of the Fund and all three bids to the last round have successfully secured funds.  Make Some Noise, Recruit for Spouses and the Army Welfare Service in Stafford have all benefited from the fund.

We are still able to support organisations who are interested in making an application and people can find out more at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covenant-fund-guidance-on-how-to-applyor contact amanda.dawson-blower@staffordshire.gov.uk

Working through the Chancellor’s Budget

This week we had the Chancellor’s Budget and while we work through the detail and what it means for Staffordshire, there appears to be support for small businesses, money for skills training, help for  those in need, and more childcare to help parents.

As I have spoken about many times, social care is the biggest pressure facing local authorities today. But this is a national issue and the Chancellor’s announcement of extra money to spend on helping the elderly out of hospital and back into their homes, including some to be spent from April onwards, is recognition that we can’t solve the problem in isolation.

Skills are also hugely important for us and we have £37 million earmarked for the next few years to shape the skills training system. This will make sure people can learn the high quality skills needed for the better paid jobs of the future and reassure employers that they will have access to a skilled workforce. The new ‘T-levels’ also means that young people have an equal choice between academic and technical routes to earning a good wage.

With regards to the changes to business rates we also welcome the news of the transitional arrangements. The fact that local authorities may eventually become reliant on business rates for their income, we would expect to play a full part in the future review of them announced by the Chancellor.

And finally, it’s also great news that the scheme to give 30 hours’ free childcare for three and four year olds, which has been piloted successfully in Staffordshire, will be rolled out nationally in September.  This will allow parents to either work more hours, or save money if they already are.

 

Staffordshire Strikes Gold again and hits the national headlines

Torcs discovered in Staffordshire

This week Staffordshire made the international headlines again with the discovery of yet more golden treasure.

This amazing archaeological find was made by two metal detectorists in a farmer’s field in Leek just before Christmas and is believed to include the earliest examples of Iron Age gold ever discovered in Britain.  Experts now believe the unique find could date back as far as 400BC and was of huge international importance.

It’s an incredible find and we’re unbelievably proud and lucky to be home to some truly exceptional finds, including of course the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold only seven years ago. This latest amazing find of gold torcs is quite simply magical and we look forward to sharing the secrets and story they hold in the years to come.

The collection, which has been named the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs are made up of three neck torcs and one bracelet, and are thought to be from the continent, possibly Germany or France.  The items are now on display at the Potteries Museum in Hanley and will be there for the next three weeks.  It’s well worth a visit.  You can hear from the two men who found them here.

Nurturing our young entrepreneurs

Walton School with their recyclable paper briquettes

It’s great to see thousands of our young people taking part in this year’s young enterprise scheme to help develop their personal and business skills.

It’s a great scheme that is inspiring and giving them a good grasp of the world of work and business.  Many of the jobs of the future will come from innovative ideas and start-up businesses so it is important to encourage them at such a young age. This is vital not only for their future, but also to ensure that we build a thriving local and national economy.

So far, our YE students have created their own company, come up with their own products and are now about to take them to sell at some of our local markets. Over twenty High Schools from across the county are already involved, so if you spot them at any markets, stop and say hello and maybe bag a bargain.

 

Highways crews battle with Storm Doris

Storm Doris made herself known this week as she swept across the county, bringing with her winds of up to 60 mph which brought down dozens of trees and power lines.

Over 70 trees were blown down by the strong winds with the south of the county being hit the hardest.  But, our crews worked extremely hard through the day in very difficult conditions, clearing roads and managing to keep all our roads open. The clear up operation still continues and anyone looking to report any issues can report them at www.staffordshire.gov.uk or by calling our main customer contact centre on 0300 1118000.

Growing the County town and beyond

Trebor building at Redhill Business Park

I keep repeating that growing our county remains a priority for the County Council and stagnating is not an option. Just this week we have seen the start of the next major phase in the Stafford Western Access Route project, all part of our ambitious growth plans for the town.  Not only will it help to improve traffic flow, but will help unlock millions of pounds worth of future investment, enabling future development and more jobs.

This latest phase will see the junctions of the A34 Foregate Street with Greyfriars Place and Browning Street upgraded to form part of the new route.  Improving traffic flow through the town has always   been an important part of the project and this essential work will help ease traffic by linking Foregate Street and the north of the town centre with the Newport Road on the western side of the town.

It really is an exciting time for Staffordshire as well as our county town.  Only last month we welcomed Chancellor Philip Hammond to the county for a visit of the new GE facilities at Redhill.  GE, who are Stafford’s biggest employer, are expanding their operations on the site which is great news for the area.

Elsewhere in the county, work to improve a junction on the A449 in South Staffordshire which will provide access to the Bericote Four Ashes development starts next week. Construction of Spanish automotive parts firm Gestamp’s new base is also well under way. Both i54 South Staffordshire and Redhill in Stafford are at near full-occupancy. Site development is progressing at Meaford Business Park near Stone, while the county council’s highways team continues its work in building the new Branston Road near Burton which will serve a major business, housing and leisure development.

By planning ahead, we have been able to provide the infrastructure and sites and the development of a skilled workforce to be able to attract and hold major companies. This in turn provides some great local opportunities for higher skilled, better paid jobs and puts money in people’s pockets to spend in our town centres in their leisure time.

Nominations now open for Staffordshire’s dignity in care Awards

It’s that time of year again when we start the search for our Dignity in Care champions and you’re invited to nominate care workers, carers, volunteers, young people, family members, teams and organisations.

The awards are for both individuals and teams who always put dignity at the heart of everything they do and this is not just for people working in the care sector but also for all those informal carers too.  There are thousands of people in a variety of caring roles right across the county and we want to recognise them for the work they do.

The Awards, which have now been running for over 5 years give us a wonderful celebration of those people and organisations who provide the highest level of care in our communities, always going beyond the normal good support and going that extra mile.  This year we want as many nominations as we can get to celebrate as many people as possible. Nominating someone is really easy and it’s the perfect opportunity to recognise and thank them for the wonderful difference they make.

You can nominate at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/dignityincare, and the closing date for nominations is Friday 26th May 2017.  Those shortlisted will be invited to the celebration event at Newcastle College on 2 August 2017 where the winners will be announced and presented with their prizes.

Approving plans for record spending on care

I met with Cabinet colleagues on Wednesday to approve plans for a record £300million spend on caring for the elderly, people with disabilities and vulnerable children.

This budget, while undoubtedly the most challenging we have seen to date, will help us build on our track record of growing our economy and at the same time spending more on care.

To help the national economic picture, over the last seven years we have reduced council running costs by around £200m and further reduced in-house costs to help tackle reduced funding and deliver a balanced budget.  This year, as well as reducing our costs, we have had to take some very difficult decisions in order to bridge a significant shortfall in our budget and meet our legal duty to balance the books.  As part of achieving our balanced budget we will be increasing council tax by 4.95%, of which 3% will be solely for social care. This is just over £1 per week for a band ‘D’ property.

With a growing ageing population to support, we all now need to look at doing a little more for ourselves where we can, while also paying a little more to help those who now need our help the most.

As you will know from reading previous blog posts too, We continue to bring investment into the county and to build more business parks to create more new jobs. This in turn gives Staffordshire families the opportunity to lead more prosperous, rewarding, healthier, happier and independent lives, which should help reduce some of the pressures on the services the council provides.

Welcoming Chancellor to Redhill Business Park

On Monday we welcomed Chancellor Philip Hammond to the county for a visit of the new GE facilities at the county council-developed Redhill Business Park in Stafford.

The visit followed the Prime Minister’s launch of the UK’s Industrial Strategy which will look at ways the government can provide support to businesses, agreeing trade deals and encouraging innovation and skills development.

GE, who are Stafford’s biggest employer, are expanding their operations on the site as global HQ for High Voltage Direct Transmission which is great news for the area and a clear demonstration of Staffordshire’s position as a key contributor to the emerging strategy. We have already made great progress in recent years in what the Government has set out as its ten priorities – from upgrading infrastructure to developing research, innovation and skills.

Our investment in Redhill, the New Keele Deal and the advanced manufacturing and engineering skills hub which I have spoken about many times before are all great examples of this. By planning ahead, we have been able to provide the sites and contribute to the development of a skilled workforce for international companies such as GE. This in turn provides some great local opportunities for higher skilled, better paid jobs and at the same time enable the generation of affordable energy and cleaner growth.

Securing the future of the iconic Shire Hall

Shire Hall Gallery GDMost towns and cities have their own iconic buildings loved by their residents, and for the people of Stafford and the county, it’s the town’s Shire Hall.

People who know the building will know what a wonderful structure it is, with the main hall leading out to the market square, and a mix of courtrooms and back offices.  There has been quite a lot of talk in recent months and I would like to reassure readers that the county council is committed to protecting and preserving the building for the future.

It’s in all our interests to have a busy, vibrant Shire Hall which contributes to the town centre and that’s what we want to see.  It’s important we find the best ways of keeping the building well-used, relevant to the community and the town, while allowing it to generate an income to sustain its future.

Because the Shire Hall was originally designed as a courthouse and is a Grade 2 listed building, there are practical and legal restrictions on what can be done.  But there are lots of possibilities we could consider, including office accommodation, pop-up shops, functions, wedding fairs, and markets.  I’m meeting with Cabinet colleagues in the spring and I’m confident that we will find a suitable use which will not only preserve and protect this wonderful building but will keep it busy and successful for present and future residents to enjoy.