Getting the best deal for Staffordshire is our aim as PM gives HS2 green light

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Phase One and Phase 2a of the HS2 rail project, which will run from the Midlands to Crewe, will go ahead.  He also said that Phase 2b should be considered as part of a wider integrated High Speed North rail plan and gave his backing to the operation of the Handsacre Link, which will allow the area to benefit from HS2 compatible trains via Stafford.

At the very least, this brings an end to years of uncertainty for communities. Regular readers of my blog will know that the HS2 project will cut through 45 miles of Staffordshire countryside and from the outset we have championed the cause of our county and our communities in terms of securing meaningful mitigation and compensation.

From the outset, we have been committed to getting the best deal for Staffordshire in terms of mitigation for our county. We have also made it very clear that Staffordshire must share in any economic benefits and improved connectivity. This includes ensuring we benefit from HS2 compatible trains via Stafford once the Handsacre Link is built. Although there has been some doubt over whether this will be built, it does have the backing of the Prime Minster and is part of the legislation passed to construct Phase One. We look forward to building on the measures we have secured so far and will be working with the new dedicated HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson MP to ensure the voice of Staffordshire continues to be heard.

With confirmation that the scheme will now go ahead, be assured  our work to get the best deal for Staffordshire and our communities continues and to make sure the government deliver on their promises. You can read more about HS2 here. 

Preparing for a new future in the EU

On 31 January the UK officially left the EU after 47 years bringing to an end the past few years of uncertainty. And, while this has brought certainty for our communities and businesses, to bring clarity there’s still a lot of important work and negotiations to be done over the next eleven months.

As Leader of the county council, my responsibility is to the people of Staffordshire and ensuring the county remains a place where everyone has the opportunity to be prosperous, to be healthy, and to be happy. 

It’s my job to make sure we continue to create the right conditions so businesses can prosper, and that their interests, and those of our local economy are safeguarded.

I have blogged about this before but we’ve already been working  closely with our partners locally and with various Government departments to help shape the national direction, and to raise Staffordshire’s profile in preparing for the future.

I do believe that our exit from the EU does present businesses with a wide range of opportunities, but businesses need to ensure they are aware of the advice and guidance available to help them prepare for 2021 when the transition period ends.

We’ve also been working with the Stoke and Staffordshire Growth Hub to put on a series of workshops for local businesses covering the main issues.

Another important aspect in relation to leaving the EU is the Government’s Settlement Scheme which will allow EU citizens, if eligible, to remain and work in the UK. EU citizens in Staffordshire make a great contribution to our economy, so we want to ensure as many of them as possible are aware of the scheme and can apply before the June 31 deadline.

I would like to reassure you that the county council is keeping a close eye on whatever happens so that everyone in Staffordshire remains prepared and ready for whatever opportunities the future may bring.

Launching our Dignity in Care Awards

Cllr Alan White with some of last years’ award attendees

Only last month, I blogged about our record spending on care, including adult social care, and how it now accounts for around 65% of the county council’s total spend.

Social care still remains one of the fastest growing sectors in the county employing an estimated 20,000 people. This along with the huge numbers of informal carers looking after family members means it’s a really important area of work that touches the lives of thousands of people.

That’s why every year we put on the Staffordshire Dignity in Care Awards.  Now in their sixth year, we recognise and celebrate those amazing carers and organisations who put dignity at the heart of everything they do.

Those working in the care sector, informal carers, young carers, care companies, and voluntary organisations are all eligible. There are 9 categories this year, so there’s something for everyone.

Nominating for the Staffordshire Dignity in Care Awards is quick and easy and you can start here: https://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/Care-for-all-ages/Dignityincare/home.aspx  

The closing date for nominations is Friday 1st May and remember those shortlisted get the chance to attend our special celebration event on 14 July at Newcastle College of Performing Arts.

If you do know an amazing carer, (who may be a work colleague, friend, family member or neighbour as well as a professional carer), or a great care organisation then please get them nominated for an award. Thank you.

Commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day

Staffordshire County Council Chief Executive John Henderson, Chairman Kath Perry, and Leader Philip Atkins, mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2020

Seventy five years ago, the infamous Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated and is the reason why we’re commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day.

It’s really important that we remember those affected by genocide around the world and the day gave us the chance to reflect on the past but also helping empower us to build a better future for us all.

On Monday and throughout the week, organisations from across the county are marking the occasion with memorial events and activities. Our own libraries have also got involved with a series of displays to raise awareness and encourage learning.  I do hope that people can take a few moments during the week to remember and reflect.

Work going well on multimillion pound Lichfield Southern Bypass

I mentioned this in my last post and gave a shout out to the crews who worked over the Christmas holiday to get work completed on a new rail bridge in Lichfield.

This was a fairly major engineering project and part of the multi-million-pound Lichfield southern bypass scheme which will help ease congestion and support economic development in the city. You can watch the installation of the rail bridge on time lapse video here.

Now, with the new bridge in place, the project team will be able to excavate underneath to connect the new section of road with the Falkland Road/Birmingham Road island. Once complete, the scheme will connect the A5127 Birmingham Road with the A5206 London Road.

This is another example of the county council and our partners delivering a major development project on schedule and is a hugely encouraging start to the new year.

I’m excited about 2020. Over the next twelve months we’re going to see significant progress with our main transport and business construction projects, namely the Stafford Western Access Route, i54 South Staffordshire western extension and Lichfield southern bypass. These are all vital projects for our future growth, bringing in investment, new homes, good quality jobs and improving connectivity.

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.