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.

National Adoption Week

I hope you will join me this week in supporting National Adoption Week and highlighting the urgent need for more adoptive families, in particular those willing to adopt sibling groups.

Currently in the county, Almost seven out of 10 children waiting for adoptive families are brothers and sisters in groups of two or more.  And, while finding families for sibling groups is the focus of our campaign, we are also looking for potential families for children of all ages, those with additional needs and children from ethnic minority backgrounds.

This week we’ve also seen New research that shows that the West Midlands has 4 times as many children awaiting adoptive families as there are adopters so there is a real need to find more loving families.

Children who come to adoption do so because their birth families are unable to care for them. Many of them have experienced neglect and trauma and need a loving, stable home.

We know that in most cases, adoption is the best option for children and it can transform the lives of those it touches.  I would definitely encourage people looking to start or complete their family to think about adoption and get in touch with the team.

Throughout the week, we have a series of road shows touring the county where people can find out more.  But, if you can’t make a road show you can also get in touch through www.Staffordshire.gov.uk/adoption or by calling 0800 169 2061.

Remember to get your flu jab

It’s that time of year again to remind anyone who’s elderly, who’s caring for someone who’s vulnerable or young children to have their flu vaccination.

As in previous years, the free flu vaccines are being offered to groups who are at particular risk of the virus.  Pregnant women, parents of children aged 2 and 3 years old, adults with underlying health conditions and young children are amongst the groups being encouraged to take up the offer of a free vaccination.

It’s really important that people eligible for their vaccination take this offer up.  Those who have had Flu will know how nasty and unpleasant it can be and for people with underlying health conditions it can be even more serious.

This year, children aged 2 and 3 will also receive the vaccine through their GP which comes in the form of a nasal spray. Pupils in reception and school years 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 will also be given the vaccination spray in school but parents are reminded to make sure they have signed the consent form.

The flu vaccine really is the best defence against the spread of flu and the start of the flu season is always the best time to get vaccinated.  Please take up your offer of the vaccination and help us keep the flu away this winter.

You can find out more from your GP or your child’s school, or visit www.nhs.uk/fluvaccine



In the footsteps of J.R.R Tolkien

It is a little known fact that Staffordshire had a major influence on the writings of one of the world’s greatest authors.

J.R.R Tolkien, author of best sellers The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings spent a short period of his early life living in Staffordshire, in particular during the Great War when posted to the Army training camps on Cannock Chase.

It was here that he got much of his inspiration for his works on the mythology, languages, history and landscape of what would become Middle-earth, the fictional world in which his stories are based.

To celebrate our proud connections, our Libraries Service have organised a series of guided walks that will take people through the landscapes and landmarks that had such an influence on his writing.

There are two walks taking place during October and November.  The Great Haywood Tolkien Trail is a ten mile walk on Sunday 21 October and the Cannock Chase Tolkien Trail, a slightly longer walk at 12 miles, on Thursday 8 November.

On the Great Haywood walk you’ll discover Brocton Coppice, the Sherbrook Valley, the village itself, or “Tavrobel”, Essex Bridge “The Grey Bridge of Tavrobel”, and Shugborough Hall “The House of a Hundred Chimneys” amongst others.

And, on the Cannock Chase walk you’ll get the chance to visit the Great War sites of Rugeley and Brocton Camps, including places where Tolkien himself was based.

The trails are perfect for Tolkien fans with not only a great opportunity to learn more about the connections but are also  a fun and healthy way to get out and explore some of our wonderful countryside.  If it sounds like your thing and you’re up for a good walk, you can book your place by calling 0300 111 8000.

Making sure we have the right housing for Staffordshire to prosper

We are all aware of the importance of growing our economy and attracting good quality jobs to the area and how everyone will benefit from this.

But, equally important to this, is the need to have more homes and in particular a good mix of different types of homes that people want to live in.

Our colleagues in the borough and district councils are already doing well in delivering housing, but we must find a way to support them to speed up the rate that homes are being built and where we want them.   An important part of this is also making sure that the right infrastructure is in place, including new roads, schools, electricity, drainage and broadband supply.

If we don’t have enough houses in the right places, we risk prices rising faster than incomes, young people finding it harder to live where they want and a greater risk of skilled and highly-educated workers draining from Staffordshire.

Over the next few months we will be exploring ideas and proposals which could see the county council working with established house builders to deliver the right type of homes or with the private sector to build houses on land owned by the authority.

We would also look to increase choice by encouraging self-build and more developments from smaller construction companies and ensure any infrastructure is in place.

I will keep you updated on our ideas

Planning for a balanced budget

We have a great story to tell here in Staffordshire with a flourishing economy, continuing investment and the creation of more better quality jobs.  We also have incredibly low unemployment, currently better than the regional and national figures, so there’s plenty to be proud of.

But at the same time, you will also have heard me say that local councils continue to face some of the most difficult financial conditions in modern times and because of this we have published our draft budget proposals early.  Over the next few months we will be working with partners, staff and yourselves as we finalise our budget and spending plans for the next year.

Growing demands on caring for our elderly and increased pressures on children’s services remain our biggest challenges. For example, ten years ago we spent £200 million on care, rising this year to our largest ever spend of £315 million –  all being invested to help support the most vulnerable in our communities.

But with increasing costs going out and less money coming in, the current situation is simply unsustainable.  And like managing your household budget, we can’t spend more than we have coming in.  This means we will have to prioritise things to make sure we can help the people in our communities with the most need.

We have been swift to recognise the enormity of the financial challenge and over the last nine years have already made efficiency savings worth around £240 million.

We continue to innovate and do things differently. We will continue to work more closely with partners like the NHS, police and the voluntary sector to help make people’s lives better.

In addition to this, we will also be asking people to do more for themselves and where possible support their neighbours and communities to help find solutions to local issues.

By working together and us all doing our bit, I know we can  continue to build a prosperous and more productive Staffordshire for the years to come which we can all enjoy.  A great place to live, a great place to work and a great place to raise a family.

New medical centre for Burntwood

Later this month we’ll be showcasing exciting plans for a brand new medical centre in Burntwood on the former Greenwood House Nursing Home site.

The site, on Lichfield Road, will be home to the Darwin Medical Practice and contain 13 new consulting rooms, five treatment rooms and a health education space.  There is also potential for an adjoining pharmacy.

Improving health and wellbeing, and supporting independence for everyone remains a priority for the county council.  Not only is the new centre great news for local residents but it Should also help reduce pressure on local hospitals with purpose-built, modern facilities designed to meet the demands of our ageing population.

Here’s an artist’s impression of what the new centre could look like and on 18 September we’ll be giving people the chance to look through and comment on the proposals.  If you’re interested in the project you can view the plans and meet the team at Burntwood Memorial Institute on Rugeley Road, between 4pm and 7pm.  The plans will also be available online from 18 September at www.staffordshire.gov.uk./greenwoodhouse

Could you foster a child one weekend per month?

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll be aware of the important role of our foster families and their work in giving children a loving home.

This month, we’re asking people if they could foster a child for one weekend per month.  It’s known as short break fostering and it involves looking after a child for a short period, usually over the weekend but can also be during school holidays.  It could include looking after a child to give the full-time fosters a break, or providing respite for a child with a disability or supporting adoptive parents.

Like any type of fostering it’s really rewarding and you’ll get access to all the training and support on offer to full-time carers plus a competitive allowance.  It is also a great way of ‘testing the water’ to see if fostering is for you and to grow your experience to maybe foster full-time one day

These are children who really do need your help, so if it’s something you might consider or know of someone who is thinking about it then please get in touch.

Watch out for our special roadshows and information events running across the county over the next few months. You can also find out more at www.shortbreakfostering.info  or by calling 0800 169 2061.

Four years on and superfast broadband hits 96% of premises

It’s four years since Kings Bromley and Yoxall became the first villages in the county to ‘go live’ as part of Superfast Staffordshire.  It’s an exciting project and you will have heard about it before.

Run jointly with BT Group and the government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, the county council is helping bring download speeds of at least 24 Mbps and above to the majority of homes and businesses across the county.

I’m sure you will all agree that superfast broadband speeds are pretty essential these days for everyone, whether it’s for business or leisure.  In fact, it’s now one of the things people look for when moving house.  Communicating with family members, running our smart devices like Amazon’s Alexa,  streaming music and television are all things we can do because of faster speeds.  And for local businesses faster connections are absolutely vital to compete too.

So far, we’ve enabled around 76,000 households and businesses to connect to superfast broadband speeds. The figure rises to more than 481,000, which is around 96 per cent of premises, when combined with commercial fibre roll-outs by private sector businesses, such as Openreach.  We are also continuing to look at further funding options to try and get the remaining 4% connected.

Local businesses can also benefit too and improve their efficiency through the Government operated £67 Million Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. Small and medium sized businesses can apply for  vouchers worth up to £3,000 against the cost of a full fibre connection. This would give them a future proof ultrafast connection of up to 1 gigabit per second.

Groups of residents can also apply for the vouchers of up to £500 where a business is also included. Businesses or group applicants just need to find a supplier to start the process. You can find out more about the scheme by visiting https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk/

People can also keep up to speed with the roll-out via the Superfast Staffordshire website: www.superfaststaffordshire.co.uk via Twitter @superfaststaffs and Facebook following Superfast Staffordshire.

Exam results, and a bright future in Staffordshire

August is in full swing, and for many young people up and down the county, this means a nervous wait for their exam results.  Today (August 16) sees students across Staffordshire receive their A Level results, while next Thursday GCSE students will be the ones anxiously awaiting their grades.

There’s now more choice than ever for further and higher education.  We know not everyone is suited to pursuing an academic path, so it’s important they get the right advice and guidance to make sure the path they take is the right one for them.

Areas experiencing growth in Staffordshire include advanced manufacturing, construction, and health and social care, meaning that qualifications such as apprenticeships and Higher National Diplomas could be just as important as degrees in these sectors.

Whatever results they get, every young person in the county should be proud of their achievements, and I want to wish those who have had their exam results, and those who are waiting for them, the best of luck.

The county council’s website has a wealth of information about choosing the right path after A-Levels.  Visit www.staffordshire.gov.uk/learningroutes to learn more.

And speaking of advanced manufacturing, the plans for the extension to the i54 business park in South Staffordshire have been submitted.

If approved, it would mean one large or several smaller employers could deliver 2,700 jobs on site and generate £600million investment.  The success of i54 South Staffordshire has been outstanding – attracting global leaders in their sectors and thousands of skilled jobs to the county.

Coupled with the latest jobs statistics showing near full employment in Staffordshire, it shows that students getting their A Level and GCSE results certainly have a bright future in the county.