Huge welcome to England squad as they arrive in Staffordshire

With just less than a month to go until the start of the World Cup in Russia, it was great to be able to welcome the England squad to St George’s Park were they kick off their training.  The players began arriving at the FA National Centre in Burton on Monday morning ahead of a week’s training sessions.

Staffordshire is lucky and incredibly proud to be home to the FA Centre, which is not only home to the country’s 28 national teams but it is also a fantastic education facility and national attraction.

England’s first game of the World Cup is on June 18 against Tunisia, meaning most of the squad will get almost a month of preparation.  They will then play Panama on 24 June and Belgium on 28 June in the group stages.

I know people across Staffordshire will extend the warm welcome and be cheering on the whole team at their temporary home at St George’s Park and away in the competition in Russia next month.

Good luck lads.

Successful campaign to Mitigate Impact of HS2 on the county

Last month I was in London in front of the HS2 Select Committee campaigning for measures to mitigate the impact of high speed rail on the county. It was a successful visit with us being given a number of important assurances.

In total, we are petitioning on more than 60 items to help reduce the impact of the second phase which will run from Fradley to Crewe – cutting through a further 33 miles of the county.

Some of the assurances we’ve been given include:

  • Lowering of the King’s Bromley viaduct
  • Stone railhead and maintenance hub: Reducing the footprint and maximising rail use; ensuring M6 slip access is put in place to reduce the use of Yarnfield Lane as soon as possible;  limiting the height of buildings, additional noise and visual mitigation if the plans go-ahead
  • Multi-million pound highway and junction improvements: Including provision for temporary improvement works to be made permanent, thereby delivering long-term benefits for communities
  • Agreement that Kings Bromley will not be used as a main construction traffic route
  • Encouraging the recruitment of local, disadvantaged or under-represented groups in the construction of the scheme
  • Reduction of the need to take hedgerows and to protect veteran trees, as well as specific assurances on retaining Noddy’s Oak

We’re also pressing for the extension of a proposed tunnel at Whitmore to mitigate the impact on the highways network and also Whitmore Wood ancient woodland. A recommendation on this has still to be made by the select committee.

I have blogged about this before but from the very outset we have been committed to ensuring the voices of our communities were heard and getting the best deal from the project for everyone.  The assurances we have received will significantly help mitigate the impact of the project on some of our communities, but there is a great deal of detailed work still to be done with our district and borough council colleagues to mitigate the impact during construction and operation as much as possible.

I’ll keep you updated.

Summer’s on its way and tourism is booming

With the summer just around the corner and tourism emerging as one of the fastest growing industries in the UK, it’s good to see that we’re also reaping some of the rewards here in Staffordshire.

Our tourism economy is really booming and Our local tourism businesses continue to do a great job, innovating and attracting more and more visitors. Last year the sector  generated around £1.7 billion, and provided over 31,000 jobs for local people.

Only last month the National Memorial Arboretum, World of Wedgwood and Colton House B&B won gold, silver and bronze respectively in the Visit England awards. These are national awards and are always incredibly competitive, so winning is a great achievement.

WE really are a wonderful county to visit with great visitor attractions and pretty much something for everyone. We’ve national attractions like the NMA and The national FA Centre at St George’s Park.  We have world-class theme parks like Drayton Manor Park in Tamworth and the Alton Towers Resort, which has just launched a brand new £16 million wooden rollercoaster ‘Wicker Man’ this Spring.

If it’s scenic walks you’re after, we’re also home to some majestic countryside including the Peak District National Park, the National Forest and Cannock Chase – a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.  And, not to forget, our extensive canal network which is amongst the largest in the country.  Historic houses and gardens also feature in our portfolio of world-class visitor attractions, together with museums and visitor centres that tell the story of the county’s rich industrial heritage and world-famous pottery industry.

Later in the summer we’ll also be hosting IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire and the UK Corporate Games both of which will see thousands more visitors to the county, generating millions of pounds for our local economy.  It’s events like this that really help to put the county on a national stage.

We have a lot to be proud of and I do hope that people are able to get out and enjoy our great county over the summer months.

All set for Staffordshire Day

With only a day to go now, we’re all set and incredibly excited for our third Staffordshire Day taking place tomorrow.

You will remember our first two Staffordshire Days were a huge success, but I am sure you will agree we want this year to be even bigger and better.  Last year, over 60,000 people attended Staffordshire Day events, generating an estimated £1m for the county’s economy.  And we were trending on Twitter in the UK which was a great achievement.

New for this year is a celebration of the unique delights of the mighty Staffordshire oatcake.  Music and food festivals are also in the line-up along with a ‘mug shot’ campaign encouraging people to share a photo with a Staffordshire made mug on social media to celebrate our world-famous pottery industry.

The county’s libraries will also be getting involved, with arts and crafts activities, and a special campaign will recognise some of the county’s most famous historical figures like Josiah Wedgwood and Dr Samuel Johnson, author of the first comprehensive English dictionary.  We produced a series of short videos with local actors reliving their stories along with some great reasons to visit each area.  They’re very good.  You can watch them by clicking on each individual name. Josiah Wedgwood, Dr Samuel Johnson, David Garrick, Michael Bass and JRR Tolkien.

Other events already organised include a new exhibition dedicated to Newcastle-under-Lyme’s Philip Astley, the Father of the Modern Circus and the Staffordshire Plate Raceday at Uttoxeter Racecourse.

Remember, you can find out about events near you at www.enjoystaffordshire.com/staffordshireday

And, remember, where ever you are and whatever you’re doing tweet us a photo with the #staffordshireday.

Congratulations to our Commonwealth medal winners

I hope people got the chance to enjoy some of the Commonwealth Games over the last couple of weeks and in particular cheer on some of our very own Staffordshire sporting stars.

Swimming superstar Adam Peaty struck gold in the first week of the Games by clinching the 100m breaststroke title. Already boasting the 10 fastest times in history in the 100m breaststroke, once again the young man from Uttoxeter who started his career at the Dove Valley Swimming Club, has done us proud.

He’s a remarkable sportsperson and has had a truly phenomenal four years and this latest success just shows the calibre of swimmer he really is.  We’re really proud of him here in Staffordshire, and he is a wonderful role model for young people here and across the whole country, with the right attitude even when he came second with a silver.

Doing us proud as well was Burton super heavyweight boxer Frazer Clarke who won a gold medal After his bout against India’s Satish Kumar in the super-heavyweight contest.  His gold medal has followed some superb performances.  He has shown real grit and determination in battling through the rounds to achieve the success he deserves.

Cyclist Emily Nelson from Lichfield also won gold in her first senior world title at the Games and And Beth Cobden from Stafford won gold in Netball.

It’s really been an outstanding Games for Staffordshire athletes who are all great role models for young people across the county and I can speak on behalf of everyone in the county by saying we are very proud of them.

Extra funding to help vulnerable families

Over the last few years we have been at the forefront of working jointly with other organisations to help families with complex needs and to help them avoid reaching crisis point.

Now, after years of successful intervention, we’ve been awarded £5 million up front to allow us to develop this area of work further. This is great news which will help us make a real difference to the lives of parents, children and their wider families.

Our Building Resilient Families and Communities (BRFC) programme, which I’ve blogged about before, targeted families to help parents in to work, or children back to school and to reduce their involvement in criminal and anti-social behaviour.

Working more closely with the Police, district councils  and other agencies and a focus on the whole family rather than the individual members of a family, has been key to the scheme’s success.  As a result of this, more than 3,500 families have already been supported by the BRFC scheme which has also resulted in considerable reduction in the consequences of domestic violence, joblessness and anti-social behaviour.

The extra funding will now allow us to build on the good work already done but also allow us to deal with a wider range of problems including domestic violence, debt, poor health and where children are at risk of being taken into care.

If this “working differently” continues to be a success, we  can look forward to helping many more of our most challenged families.

Countdown on until Staffordshire Day

With just over a month to go to Staffordshire Day on 1 May, and more activities being added every day, the excitement is really starting to build.

This is our third Staffordshire Day and the extravaganza is set to take place over a week to give as many people as possible the chance to get involved.  Events already organised include the Staffordshire Plate Raceday at Uttoxeter Racecourse, and a new exhibition dedicated to Newcastle-under-Lyme’s Philip Astley, the Father of the Modern Circus.

As part of this year’s celebrations Enjoy Staffordshire are also coordinating the World’s Biggest Oatcake Morning.  Similar to Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning, they are encouraging groups and charities  to get involved and put on their own oatcake morning fundraisers.  Many groups have already come forward but we want as many oatcake mornings going on across the county as possible, so I’d urge you to get in touch with the team

Staffordshire Day is a wonderful opportunity to shout about our great county and we are keen to get everyone involved, so make sure the date, 1 May 2018 is in your diary.  You can find out about events near you or advice on putting on your oatcake morning at www.enjoystaffordshire.com/staffordshireday

Still time to volunteer at this year’s UK Corporate Games

If you love your sports and would like to join in the action at Europe’s biggest sports event for business then now’s your chance.

Organisers of this year’s UK Corporate Games which return to the county for the second time, from 21 to 24 June are now offering individuals and sports clubs the opportunity to be a volunteer.

It’s a real coup getting the Games back for a second time and they give us a great opportunity to showcase the area’s huge investment potential to top UK businesses.  They are also expected to generate around £3million for the local economy which is also good for many of our local businesses.

The games will see over 4,000 amateur athletes battling it out in 23 sports from cricket to tennis, and football to dragon boat racing.  We also have over 1,000 employees from local Staffordshire companies taking part which is also great news.

Volunteers are needed for all the events and venues including Keele and Staffordshire Universities, Fenton Manor Sports Complex, Newcastle College, and Trentham Gardens.  Your duties  could include marshalling the events, meeting and greeting guests, and handing out refreshments.  If you’re interested you can find out more at www.corporate-games.com or call 01733 380888.

 

Showcasing Staffordshire’s investment potential and the Chancellor’s Spring Statement

This week representatives from the County Council and our Local Enterprise Partnership are at a global property exhibition called MIPIM in Cannes, France. Here they will have the opportunity to showcase and market the many investment opportunities available in the county including the M54 Wolverhampton – Staffordshire High Growth Zone to world-wide investors.

The Growth Zone which will be one of the biggest in the UK consists of six sites with new high-value manufacturing, business and logistics investment opportunities next to the M54 and junctions 10a and 12 of the M6.  All of the sites within the zone complement each other and are already home to world-leading brands which are playing an important part in UK and our own regional growth.  The zone builds on the award-winning i54 South Staffordshire joint venture developed in 2012 which has already levered in millions of pounds of private investment.

Global events like MIPIM offer us a great opportunity to promote the huge investment potential in the area to the wider world, which will help to create thousands more quality jobs and ensure we have a skilled workforce to meet the needs of future business.

This week we also welcomed the Chancellor’s Spring Statement  which promised to review public spending, revalue business rates and promote house building.

We are all aware that more homes still need to be built in the right places to meet the needs of our growing population and help young people put a first step on their property ladder, and I welcome moves that support that growth. And at a time when we have fewer resources but are spending more money than ever before on helping the young, old and vulnerable, it is essential to review how local authorities are funded into the 2020s so that we can continue to focus on delivering value for money for our residents and businesses, while continuing to support residents to help one another within their communities.  It’s also encouraging to hear there may be more investment in public services like the NHS and we’ll continue to work closely with our partners to get the maximum from our combined budget in real outcomes.

Staffordshire has come a long way over the last eight years, taking a balanced approach as we build an economy that works for everyone with a focus on creating the right conditions for businesses to prosper and create more, better paid jobs for residents.   This is why we have such low levels of unemployment in the county, which in turn should help us enjoy life and stay healthier and safe.

Welcoming calls for stronger planning reform

Earlier this year, the Government pledged to re-write planning rules to help to speed up the building of more homes.  Cutting red tape, use land more efficiently, fast track planning permissions and putting local plans in place to give communities more control were all put forward.

We know that there is a national shortage of new homes.  And while we welcome the government’s proposals, which are definitely a step in the right direction to speed things up and ensure people can own their own home, the reforms needed to go further.   In addition, county councils needed to be given a greater role in creating the right conditions necessary to make it happen.

Like larger cities, we need to be able to take a more strategic overview to make sure the necessary infrastructure such as roads, surgeries and schools required for housing development are in place and funded in a more synchronised manner. The urgent delivery of more homes can be delivered by working ever more closely with our district and borough partners, who are responsible for planning control and ourselves as the county-wide lead for infrastructure.

I’ll continue to champion for change to speed up house-building, and in my role as Vice Chairman of the County Council Networks and their national spokesman on planning, housing and infrastructure, I will continue to lobby the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid to make the changes.