Celebrating Armed Forces Day

Staffordshire County Council Chairmen Michael Greatorex

Armed Forces Day is this Saturday (24 June) and as a big supporter of the forces we all hope people will join the county council in showing our support for the brave men and women who make up our Armed Forces community.  From currently serving troops at home and abroad, to service families, veterans and cadets.

We will be proudly flying the Armed Forces flag from the top of Shire Hall to show our support and pay tribute for their hard work, dedication and efforts to keep us safe in the UK and across the globe.  The #SaluteOurForces campaign on Twitter is another great way of showing your support and I would encourage people to join in.

There will be lots of activities taking place right across the country including at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, near Lichfield.  This is a wonderful attraction and we’re incredibly lucky and proud to have it here in Staffordshire.  With flypasts, a field gun display, military band and the RAF Falcons Parachute Display team and adventure activities, There’s something for all the family and if you have never been, it’s well worth a visit.  It’s also ten years since the dedication of the famous Armed Forces Memorial that remembers those forces who died in service.

Staffordshire has strong connections with the county’s Armed Forces and is home to three Signal Regiments in Stafford, the Defence Medical Services in Whittington, as well as a large number of Reserve units and Cadets.  And with sites such as the National Memorial Arboretum, Commonwealth Graves and German Cemetery on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire continues to play an important role in both supporting and honouring our Armed Forces.

Click here to find out more about the National memorial Arboretum and visit

Click here to find out about events happening in your area.

Celebrating three years of Superfast Staffordshire project

Superfast broadband is recognized as the next essential utility for everyone, whether it’s for business, schools, or leisure and when we don’t have good access we miss it.

You should be already aware of our ground breaking Superfast Staffordshire project, working with BT and BDUK, that’s delivering high speed fibre broadband to homes and businesses across the county.  We’re now celebrating the three year anniversary of the project launch which has been followed by a hugely successful programme. When complete, together with commercial roll-out, 96 per cent of properties will be able to access fast broadband by the end of 2018.  To date we’ve enable connection to over 70,000 properties across the county.

Having this kind of speed on this kind of scale is great news and is cutting edge technology that will have a huge impact on our county. This will be some of the fastest internet tech available to nearly every house and business in Staffordshire, making us one of the best connected counties in the country.

Right from the start of this project we have always said we would do all we could to reach the final four per cent in the most remote areas and now the Community Fibre Partnership Support Fund initiative is helping us do this. This additional funding allows the project to co-invest along with local communities.  £400,000 has been set aside to help local eligible communities get connected with additional funding towards engineering work coming from Openreach, BT’s local network business.

Stafford borough has been the first area to benefit from this with three communities – Cotwalton, Brookside Business Park near Stone and Cold Norton. Cotwalton will have the necessary upgrade work completed in the next few weeks. Cold Norton is the most recent addition to the project with around 50 premises, including the recently opened Norton Bridge Golf Club.

I firmly believe that access to superfast broadband is now an essential utility service. It helps improve quality of life for people and means businesses can thrive. That is why connecting communities remains a priority for us

Celebrating Volunteers’ Week

VIDEO: How ‘Leek Food Co-op’ is Helping people lead healthier and happier lives

Throughout this week we have been recognising and celebrating the contributions of the thousands of volunteers helping out across the county to make Staffordshire a great place to live.

We will all know people who work tirelessly, giving up their time working with voluntary organisations, groups and charities to help improve the lives of others.  Well, National Volunteers’ Week, is when we put these selfless individuals in the spotlight and thank them for the great work they do.

Whether it’s helping out at a local sports group, youth club, library or children’s centre, or simply supporting those people in communities that are  most in need –  elderly, young people,  and children and families it all makes an amazing difference.

There are some amazing examples happening right across the county, such as the ‘Leek Food Co-op’  project which is helping people live healthier lives by providing families with bags of fresh fruit and veg.  We have over 800 people volunteering in our libraries and in our children’s centre’s volunteers are helping support some of the most vulnerable families in our communities.  There are also over 8,000 people volunteering in youth groups, of which over 1,500 are young people aged under 18 which is very encouraging to see.

But volunteering is not only great for those receiving the help, it can also greatly benefit the people who give up their time too. Whether it is learning new skills, keeping active, improving mental health and wellbeing, or simply meeting new people, volunteering can have real benefits.

There are lots of volunteering opportunities available and we are working closely with our partners in the sector to make sure volunteers get the support they need.  Anyone interested in getting started with volunteering and exploring flexible opportunities that suit their lifestyle can visit www.staffordshire.gov.uk/volunteering

Remembering the Battle of Messines and its Staffordshire connections 100 years on

Video: Commemorating Staffordshire’s role in the Great War and the Battle of Messines

On 7 June 1917 Allied troops were fighting their way into the village of Messines in Belgium in one of the most successful offensives of WWI.  But many people may not be aware of the close connections to Staffordshire and the vital role of the two military training camps on Cannock Chase during the Great War.

It was here that over half a million troops from across the UK and abroad were trained for fighting on the Western Front. You can still see the lines of practice trenches, the railway, remains of the parade ground and hut bases, and a Great War Hut next to the Marquis Drive Visitors Centre. Today, they survive as some of the most complete Great War archaeological sites in the country.

men from the New Zealand Rifle Brigade were also based at the training camps where they built a scaled model of part of the battlefield at Messines which was used to train troops about battle tactics and skills like map reading.  We’re incredibly proud and lucky to have such an important piece of history on Cannock Chase which is thought to be the only one of its kind in the country. The model was excavated and recorded by archaeologists in 2013.  The 100th anniversary of the battle is 7 to 14 June and you can watch a video with Steve Dean, our county archaeologist as he explains the connections.  Video: Commemorating Staffordshire’s role in the Great War and the Battle of Messines.

Anyone interested in Staffordshire’s role during the Great War or Cannock Chase’s wider history can also come along to our free commemoration event on the weekend of 24th and 25th June.  You’ll get the chance to experience a WWI field hospital, take a tour of the Great War hut and watch films of the time in an authentic period cinema. There’s a full sized replica SE5A Fighter Plane too and the Birmingham Pals will demonstrate mining techniques and infantry training methods from the period.

We do have a fascinating history in Staffordshire and If you can’t make the event and are interested in finding out more about our WWI connections, there’s lots of stories at www.staffordshiregreatwar.com.

Welcoming new county councillors

This week we had our first Full Council meeting since the election in May and welcomed 31 new members to the Chamber. As well as welcoming our new colleagues and looking forward to working with them to help improve the lives of people in Staffordshire, the meeting was also an opportunity to thank former councillors for all their hard work for the council and for the communities they represented.

I will continue as leader of the council and announced my Cabinet which has been shaped to give members an even greater influence on how the council works with local communities in particular.  In addition to executive and scrutiny roles, the new administration will also see dedicated support members assigned to borough and districts to help shape more community-led action over the coming years.

Four new All Party Member Groups will also be created to support the council’s long term policy ambitions and look into specific potential issues and proposals for how public services can continue to deliver better outcomes for Staffordshire people.

I would also like to welcome Michael Greatorex and Kath Perry who were chosen as Chairman and Vice  Chairman of the county council and wish them well in their new roles.

As I have spoken about many times before we have a good track record on delivering on investment, growing the economy, creating quality jobs and working with families to ensure children and young people get the best start in life, but we are not complacent and know there is more hard work yet to be done.

There will be more challenges ahead, but over the next four years our key priorities will be to continue to grow a strong economy, focus more on skills and learning, work to deliver better joined up health and social care and support communities to take action on the issues which are important to them.

New Vice Chair Kath Perry and Chair Michael Greatorex

Countdown on for IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire

It’s hard to believe it’s almost a year since our last IRONMAN, but it’s back for the third time and there’s now less than a month to go.

The world-famous competition  on Sunday 18 June will once again see competitors complete a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile half marathon.  Last year’s event was a huge success  and saw more than 2,000 athletes take part from all over the world.   Thousands also turned out to lend their support and watch at spectating hotspots along the route.

Our previous two events gave us a great opportunity to really showcase what a fantastic county Staffordshire is and I have no doubt that this year’s competition will be even better.

As like previous years there are also opportunities for people to get involved as a volunteer. If you do fancy this, you could be joining a team of over 500, including stewards, medical staff and technical officials, getting the chance to gain great experience of working behind the scenes of a world-renowned event.  You can find out more at www.ironman.com/ukvolunteers

The event will also involve some diversions and road closures to help keep everyone safe and we have put together some information to help people plan their journeys on the day.  You’ll find some useful maps and details at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/ironman.

And remember, you can also follow the route of the Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire on an interactive map at www.enjoystaffordshire.com/ironman

Good luck to everyone taking part.

Making a difference in local communities

There are lots of people in our communities going out of their way to make a real difference within their local neighbourhoods and following the County Council’s local elections on 4 May, 62 councillors were chosen by the people to represent them.

I would like to thank everyone who voted in the election as well as all those who stood as candidates. We will be welcoming 31 new councillors to the role and I am looking forward to working with them to help improve the lives of people in Staffordshire.

I would also like to thank those councillors who will not be re-joining us in the council chamber this year for all their hard work for the council and for the communities they represented.

Being a County Councillor is an important role and as the voice of the community, they play a vital role making democracy work in Staffordshire.  Working together they’ll make decisions which affect everybody, with overall responsibility for the work the council does – for its policies and how well it performs.

Our priority over the coming four years, as it has been will be to continue to grow our local economy, create better jobs and support more people to lead healthier, more independent lives for as long as possible.

Furthermore, Staffordshire is now one of the strongest economic regions in the UK and working together we will continue to make it a great place to live, work and visit.

Backing Stoke-on-Trent‘s bid for City of Culture 2021

I’ve often spoken about how Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent have always been closely linked and are steeped in history with a proud and rich heritage going back many years. I am delighted that the city is going for City of Culture 2021 and am pleased to support their campaign.

Any successful destination benefits from a vibrant city culture. We have seen the recent success of Hull and how the area has been regenerated and its reputation transformed. Winning the accolade would not only be great for the city but would also be great for Staffordshire and the surrounding area. This would also help to create even more jobs not just in the culture and tourism sectors, but also through attracting more inward investment in terms of companies being attracted by the city’s and Staffordshire’s offer for their employees and customers.

The City is up against some tough competition including, Perth, Paisley, Sunderland, Coventry, Hereford, Warrington, Portsmouth, Wells, Swansea and St Davids.

The final bids must be submitted by the end of April with a shortlist announced in July and the winning city named in December.

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.