Stay at home, support the NHS and help save lives

On Monday night, the PM brought in a new wave of stringent measures to help slow down the Coronavirus outbreak and ease pressure on the NHS to help us all survive the crisis.

There’s many key workers like doctors, nurses, police officers and council staff who face the risk of Coronavirus infection every day while providing critical services. But most of us do have a choice, and now is the time to make the right choice for you, your family and your community.

Following Monday’s announcement for people to stay at home, the advice has become even more critical to help reduce the spread of the virus.  People should now only leave their homes for the following reasons:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, as seldom as possible;
  • One form of exercise per day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household;
  • For medical needs, including to provide care or help a vulnerable person;
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where absolutely necessary and when the work cannot be done from home.

I have no doubt that by following this latest advice we really do have the opportunity to ease pressure on the NHS and ultimately save many lives.

Our own council staff continue to work round the clock to try and keep people safe. Over the coming days we will also be calling on those with experience of care, the healthy and fit and our own staff to step up if they can to help some of our more vulnerable communities.

For example, our Coronavirus Kindness campaign offers ideas how communities can organise at a grassroots level to provide vulnerable people with practical support at home, including by collecting medicines, connecting safely with people living alone and supporting existing local voluntary groups. If you think you can help then there’s more information at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/coronaviruskindness.

Again, by all following the latest advice and by pulling together we will overcome Coronavirus.

Protecting the most vulnerable from Coronavirus

Thousands of our most vulnerable residents will now be receiving letters from the NHS or their GP asking them to take immediate action to protect themselves and help ease the mounting pressure on the NHS.

This is the latest action in what is now the biggest challenge of our generation and we all must do everything we can to protect ourselves and our families and help reduce the spread of the virus.

If you do fall into this extremely vulnerable group you will be contacted and the advice couldn’t be clearer: You should stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks from the day you receive your letter. I do appreciate that this may seem like a long time, but this really is the best action for you, your loved ones and your community.

If you can, try and make arrangements now for family or friends to pick up food and medicines for you to drop off outside your house. Don’t worry if you live alone and have no support network as over the coming days and weeks we will be mobilizing an army of staff and volunteers to ensure the most vulnerable in our communities continue to get the care they need.

Some of the most at risk people include those who have had transplants, people with specific cancers and people with severe respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). A full list of conditions and advice can be found here

In addition to this, we are still asking people to follow the social distancing guidance below:

  • Avoid non-essential use of public transport when possible
  • Work from home, if it is possible. Your employer should support you to do this
  • It is fine to go out for a walk or exercise but avoid direct contact with people – and stick to the 2m distance rule
  • Avoid large and small gatherings in public spaces
  • Avoid gatherings with friends and family. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media
  • Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services and don’t contact NHS 111 unless you already have symptoms and these worsen
  • As well as the above – remember the best way to reduce the spread is still to wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds

If we’re to get through this, It’s vital that we all follow the guidance and if we do that and pull together we can overcome the outbreak.

Please take care and remember, the latest official advice is available at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public

Libraries and Archives service to close temporarily to help tackle Coronavirus

Staffordshire Record Office will remain closed

This week we’ve stepped up our fight against Coronavirus by temporarily closing our libraries, the archive and heritage service and many day centres and postponing Children’s Centre activities. 

In doing this we hope to help protect our at-risk residents and at the same time allow us to redeploy some staff to other essential services to keep them running.

From the very start we’ve been following Government guidance and I’m sure people would agree that this is the most sensible way forward for the public, for staff and for the hundreds of people who volunteer in these services.

For library users, they can still access e-books, e-magazines and audiobooks online via Borrow Box and All library loans will automatically be extended until libraries reopen and no-one will face fines for late returns.  For those who use our day centres, staff are looking at other ways of supporting people.

It remains a very serious and rapidly changing situation and once again I would remind people to please continue to follow the official advice at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public

Remember, if we all pull together and look out for each other we can beat this.

Decision to close Schools over Coronavirus

In yesterday’s Coronavirus briefing, the PM announced that from Friday Schools will close to most students until further notice.

Some schools will still remain open though for our most vulnerable children, and those whose parents are ‘key workers such as NHS staff, police and delivery workers.

We know why The Government have taken this decision now and it wouldn’t have been taken lightly but the measures are necessary to help slow down the spread of the Coronavirus. Our education teams are working through what this announcement means for Staffordshire schools so we can give them clear advice.

Exams planned for May and June will also be cancelled with a number of alternative plans being looked into. As soon as we know the new arrangements we will let students know.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our teachers and staff  for their efforts so far and their ongoing work to keep children safe in these unprecedented times.

Once again, our priority remains to look after our most vulnerable residents to keep them safe. And, as I said in my previous posts, if we all pull together and follow the official advice we will get through this.

Remember, all the latest information and advice on Coronavirus is at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public

Pulling Together to Beat Coronavirus

I blogged about this last week when we saw our first cases of Coronavirus start to impact on the county.  It’s now a really serious and rapidly changing situation that we are all having to deal with.

There are now ten confirmed cases of the virus in Staffordshire, with many more people now likely to be infected and staying at home.

As I said in my previous post, our priority as a county council is to protect the most vulnerable, that is the elderly, the disabled and children in our care which we continue to do. Be assured, we’re working around the clock with our partners to try and keep these people safe, despite the expected critical shortage in the workforce.

We are still asking people to follow the Government’s current advice which includes:

  • The most effective way to reduce the spread is by washing your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds
  • If you have a new persistent cough or a temperature of 37.8C or more stay at home and self-isolate for seven days if you live alone – or 14 days for the whole household if anyone is symptomatic
  • Everyone should work from home where this is possible. Avoid non-essential travel by public transport and avoid social gatherings
  • If you are over 70, have an underlying health condition or are pregnant you are strongly advised to minimise all social contact
  • Do not contact NHS 111 unless you have symptoms and these worsen

We know that these unprecedented challenges are here to stay and will only increase. But I also know that Staffordshire has great community spirit and there has never been a more important time for us all to rally together to help Staffordshire get through the next few months.

To help, we are also launching a Coronavirus Kindness campaign to support those staying at home – particularly the high risk groups. Through this, we will be able to channel support through our communities to ensure those who are staying at home get a helping hand if they need it.

I do know, that by all pulling together and following the official advice, we can get through this.

What the budget means for Staffordshire

On Wednesday we had the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak’s first budget and while we need to read through the finer detail we certainly welcome some of the announcements.

In my last post, I spoke about Coronavirus and the Government’s action plan to tackle it, so it was good to see the Chancellor recognise the challenge by pledging billions of pounds to get the country through the outbreak as well as saying the NHS would get whatever resources it needs 

Other highlights of the budget included investment in key infrastructure such as roads and broadband connectivity, including a forecast £11 million a year for Staffordshire for repairing potholes.

The decision to increase the business rate discount for pubs and cancel the planned beer duty increase is also good news for Burton’s brewing industry.  The suspension of fuel duty was also welcome for our rural county while green travel alternatives are developed.

The county council already plans to invest more than £120 million in capital projects this financial year such as schools and business sites and to build nursing homes for older people in areas of need. On top of this we will also be investing £690,000 in climate change and sustainability projects and an additional £8.1 million in helping to keep more children out of care.

Clearly we will be looking at the fine detail of the announcement in the coming weeks but we will continue to lobby Government for long term solutions to council funding. This includes finding a sustainable funding arrangement for social care, which now accounts for 65 per cent of our budget.

Coronavirus advice for Staffordshire

I’m sure that most people will be closely following the story around coronavirus COVID-19 and the Government’s action plan to tackle it.

Last week we saw our first cases here in Staffordshire and I want to reassure everyone that we continue to work very closely with Public Health England and the NHS to monitor and manage any emerging risks.

It’s a rapidly changing situation and we are encouraging everyone to play their part by following NHS advice to help reduce the risk of spreading Coronavirus

For the vast majority of people it remains very much business as usual for the moment. The easiest and most effective way to stop the virus spreading is to follow good basic hygiene. This includes washing your hands more often and for 20 seconds and not touching your face if you’ve haven’t washed them.  Using the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ practice for coughs and sneezes will also help to lessen the chance of infection.

The cases of coronavirus here in the county are nothing unexpected. We fully anticipate an increase in numbers which is why our services have planned for, and are ready, for this situation.

Once again, I’d like to reassure people that the risk to individuals remains low and we continue to work with the NHS and other partners to stop the virus spreading and ensure the people of Staffordshire are protected.

You can sign up for our Coronavirus Update e-newsletter here.

New recycling campaign reminds residents to recycle plastic bottles

Staffordshire pupils have been helping spread the word about recycling

In my previous blog posts I’ve spoken at length about our work to tackle climate change and what activities and plans we are putting in place to help protect our environment. This latest campaign marks another important step in us addressing some of those key issues by reducing waste and boosting recycling.

Plastic Bottles: Recycle One and All is our brand new county-wide campaign to encourage everyone to recycle more plastic bottles.

In Staffordshire, one in four plastic bottles, that are perfectly recyclable, are still thrown away and we want to reduce this. We’re simply asking people to recycle just one extra plastic bottle, per person, per week. If everyone does that, it will save over 46 million plastic bottles in a year, which is the equivalent of nine Olympic-sized swimming pools. That’s great for our environment and value for money for council tax payers.  

While the target is ambitious, it’s important that we all do our bit, and I believe it’s more than achievable if everyone gets involved. Like lots of our other recent campaigns, it’s a small action for each of us, but together they make a big difference!

Through TV, radio, posters and a social media and email campaign, we’ll be showing people top recycling tips and exploring the types of bottles that can be recycled that some people don’t think about. We’ll also be giving people inspiring examples of how recycled plastic bottles can be turned into useful things like park benches, traffic cones,  car batteries and even gardening equipment.

Here’s some top plastic bottle recycling tips to get you started:

  1. All empty plastic bottles can be recycled, just pour out any remaining contents and send them on their way.
  2. Worried about lids? Keep them on! Even though lids are made from a different type of plastic than bottles, they are still recyclable, just put them back on before recycling. 
  3. Any colour goes! All coloured bottles, except black ones, can be recycled through the Council’s high-tech machines at the mixed recycling facility.
  4. Where possible, reuse your plastic bottles or invest in a reusable. If you do need to use a plastic bottle always recycle it and bring any bottles bought on the go home to recycle.

The campaign will run from March for a whole year, with community and schools activity taking place in Cannock and Tamworth districts before moving around the county.

People can sign up to get top recycling and reusing tips and find out more at http://reuseandrecycle.doingourbit.info or follow #ReuseandRecycle on social media.

Switching over to green energy

Last July the county council declared a climate change emergency and pledged to do more to reduce its carbon footprint and be kinder to the environment.

Over recent years we have made some big changes and reduced our carbon footprint by moving staff out of old inefficient buildings and introducing biomass boilers in Staffordshire Place, but we know that we still need to do more. 

One of the things we’ve done, more recently, is switched to green energy in all our buildings, as well as streetlighting and traffic signals across Staffordshire.

Making this switch means the council’s annual carbon usage has reduced by a total of 24,000 tonnes. Added to a saving of around 19,000 tonnes achieved previously for reducing the amount of buildings in use and switching to smart street lighting, this means the council has reduced its carbon output by nearly 43,000 tonnes.

Green energy comes from natural sources such as sunlight, wind, rain and geothermal heat and are much more environmentally friendly. These energy sources are naturally renewable, as opposed to fossil fuels that create more pollution and are a finite resource.

We know there’s much more to do and we continue to look for new ways of addressing the issue across all council functions and departments. And, as well as looking at our own contracts and processes, we will continue to work closely with our district and borough partners and continue to lobby Government and consider the implementation of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Free NHS Health Checks to roll out across the county

Be sure to keep an eye out for the Everyone Health van

One of the county council’s number one priorities is to help people be healthy and happy and to encourage them to make the right lifestyle choices.

Our free NHS Health Checks are one way to help people do this and to find out how healthy they are, and the steps they can take now to nip any potential problems in the bud and set themselves up for a healthier future.

They are a bit like an MOT for your health and are for people aged 40 to 74 who live in Staffordshire and have no underlying health issues. They can also help identify any potential issues early on, so people can make the necessary changes and avoid more serious problems as they get older.

Further to this, the recent ‘Health of the Nation report’ found that up to 75% of cases of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and 40% of dementia cases could be reduced if people adopt a healthier lifestyle.

To make it easy for people a series of roadshows have been organised at local village halls and venues across the county where people can just drop in. During the health check, people will get their blood pressure checked and a cholesterol test and get their results immediately, along with any free health and lifestyle advice.

It really is a simple process and it only takes around 20 minutes to find out how healthy you are, and I would encourage anyone in the age bracket to try and have one done.

Everyone Health are carrying out the health checks on behalf of the county council with roadshows across the county:

  • Abbots Bromley Village Hall 24th Feb 2pm-8pm
  • Barton under Needwood Village Hall 28th Feb 2-8pm
  • Tutbury Village Hall 2nd March 2-8pm
  • Marchington Village Hall 6th March 2-8pm
  • Ashley Memorial Hall 13th March 2-8pm
  • Martin Heath Village hall 21st Feb 2-8pm
  • Madeley Centre 10th March 2-8pm
  • Eccleshall Community Centre 11th March 2-8pm

Further advice can be found at www.everyonehealth.co.uk/staffordshire.

It’s definitely worth doing.