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.

Fireworks Safety

Fireworks cluster.

This time of year is one when we want to have some fun and lighten things up as the nights draw in. It is also a busy time for our Trading Standards team. Christmas and New Year are just around the corner, and before that we have Halloween and Bonfire Night; and the one thing these events have in common is fireworks!

We do want people to be able to enjoy their celebrations and have a good time but we want them to do it safely. Fireworks by their very nature can be dangerous so there’s a few areas of work that keep us busy as a county council.

Over the next few weeks our Trading Standards team will be visiting traders to make sure that those licensed to stock and sell fireworks are doing so safely and responsibly. This includes storing them safely, only selling to over 18s and only selling within specific dates in the run up to Bonfire Night and for New Year.

We’re also reminding consumers to be particularly cautious when buying fireworks too. This includes only buying items from properly registered sellers and not to be tempted in to buying fireworks through social media.

Only last week our team led an operation into an individual who was storing a large quantity of fireworks and selling display fireworks from a flat in a multi-story block. Not only was he putting his family at risk but also the entire block of residents. These were ‘display fireworks’ with high amounts of explosives which should only be used by professionals.

There’s lots of advice on fireworks safety here and anyone concerned about unsafe selling of fireworks can contact the Trading Standards confidential helpline on 01785 277855.

Have a good time, but please stay safe.

Signing off on our housing and economic development plan

I have always maintained we have a need for a long-term plan for housing and economic development, the infrastructure needed for it and what we can all in the public and private sectors do to support this.

Well, at our Cabinet meeting this week we signed off on a plan that will support the construction of new homes and ensure our communities are provided with job opportunities, high quality transport, leisure facilities and excellent digital connections. 

As a county council, we have the responsibility to provide an overview that will help to inform the various organisations and companies that would be involved in the actual work. This includes, potential developers, investors, transport organisations and energy and waste companies. 

Having the plan means there will be better coordination to ensure new communities have excellent schools, healthcare, leisure and community facilities, in addition to protecting established town and village residential areas. It also means that the necessary infrastructure like roads, utilities, broadband can all be put in place earlier on in the process and ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum.

Some of the areas for larger developments to watch out for over the next few years include:

  • Stafford Gateway and Burleyfields
  • Branston Locks near Burton
  • Liberty Park in Lichfield
  • Tamworth golf course
  • Rugeley power station
  • Keele Science and Innovation Park
  • Biddulph and Codsall

Well planned housing development is a key part of our continued economic growth and will also make sure we have thriving communities across our county.

I will keep you posted on the plans.

Jobs figures make good reading

Today we got some more encouraging news which shows the county is maintaining a near full employment rate. This proves our work to build a strong economy and create more better paid jobs is paying off.

The figures show that in Staffordshire just two per cent of the local population are claiming out-of-work benefits. This is lower than both regional (3.7 per cent) and national (2.8 per cent) figures.

Regular readers will know that building a strong local economy with plenty of skilled jobs is one of the best ways of making Staffordshire a great place to live and work. And to achieve this, our work with our Local Enterprise Partnership  and local councils continues at pace.

We continue to have a good story to tell and plenty to shout about. Across the LEP area since 2011, 58,000 jobs have been created. In the same period of time wages have risen by 13.5 per cent and during 2017/18 there were a total of 2,750 apprenticeships in place across the county.

Just as important as creating the higher skilled jobs, it’s also vital that people have the skills to take them on. This means our work with the LEP’s advanced manufacturing and engineering skills hubs, local colleges and training providers remains key too. Good jobs comes hand in hand with having good skills.

Importance of good health and wellbeing

In my last post I spoke about this year’s Stoptober campaign and how it’s helping people quit smoking and hopefully live longer.

But there are lots of other things we can do to help us stay healthier and happier too. Encouraging people to stay active, improving our mental wellbeing, helping people reduce their drinking and eat more healthily are some of the areas we continue to focus on.

Keeping fit, healthy and having positive mental health can really improve your quality of life and could help to prevent diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and reduce your risk of suffering a stroke or living with dementia and frailty in later life. Making small practical changes that fit into your life can make a big difference.

We also know that people in Staffordshire are living longer, which is a good thing, but not necessarily healthier lives. And, with less money available, we need to encourage people to take greater responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, so that the council can focus its resources on those that need help the most. 

So, to help people improve their health and wellbeing, we have a handy online health and wellbeing planner that will signpost people to advice and support from a range of public, private and voluntary organisations.  The planner can help identify what changes people might want to make in their lives, what they can do differently to achieve their goal, and has advice to help them along the way. A personalised report is produced at the end of the tool summarising all the actions along with the relevant information and guidance.

You can go straight to the online health and wellbeing planner and get started here.  

In addition to this, there is also a targeted lifestyle service for people aged 50-plus who  live in priority areas where residents have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and poor health. The service provides NHS Health Checks as well as lifestyle help, including weight management, advice on diet and malnutrition, physical activity, stop smoking, falls prevention and social isolation.

If this has left you thinking, and you are serious about making some lifestyle changes then there’s more information on the Staffordshire Everyone Health website.

Stoptober’s back!

Stoptober, which has just kicked off this month, is the national campaign to help people quit smoking and it’s a really important initiative we’ve been supporting since it launched in 2012.

Now that the county council are responsible for Public Health in Staffordshire, one of our major areas of work is encouraging people to take greater responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, so that the county council can focus its resources on those that need help the most.

This probably won’t be news to most people, but half of all smokers die from smoking-related illnesses like heart disease and lung cancer, so it’s still a major health problem.

But there is help available. Through the Stoptober campaign you can get a personalized quit plan and support via the Stoptober app to help you on your journey. And remember, research shows that people who can give up smoking for 28 days are five times more likely to quit for good.

Finally, quitting is good for your friends and family too who don’t have to breathe in the smoke and leaves more money in your pocket, saving the average smoker over £150 a month or £1,800 a year, enough for a good holiday or other healthy pursuits.

If you are serious about quitting smoking, you’ll get more information here.

Latest economic update makes good reading

On Thursday, our latest economic update, which makes encouraging reading, goes before the county council’s Prosperous Staffordshire Select Committee.

Highlights include that more jobs are being created at business development sites with county council involvement and its skills programme is exceeding its target.

This is encouraging news for the county and something we’ve been focusing on for a number of years now. We’ve already got near full employment in Staffordshire but we will continue our work in supporting growth in higher value sectors and creating better skilled, better paid jobs.

A recent example of a site developed with county council investment is Innovation Centre 5 (IC5) at Keele Science and Innovation Park. When the business case was put forward it was estimated that 120 people would be employed there when full but there are now 160 skilled employees on site.

The update definitely demonstrates that businesses want to invest here and that our skills programme is making a real difference. It also shows how good private and public sector partnerships is vital in ensuring projects happen and achieve their aim. 

The total value of the county economic growth programme is around £477.6 million, which includes £81.9 million direct investment by the county council. Furthermore, for every £1 investment by the county council in current live projects, £9.22 additional funding is levered in.

Our work to create more better paid jobs in Staffordshire and to make sure people have the skills to do them is paying off.

Good news for Staffordshire History Centre

Artists’ impression of how the Staffordshire History Centre will look

You will have heard me talk about how proud we are of Staffordshire’s amazing history and rich heritage many times before.

Well this week we got some encouraging news about the Staffordshire History Centre project and our application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for funding.

We’ve now been given the go ahead to make a round-two application for funding which the team will be doing next March (2020).

It’s great news and if we’re successful it would see an extension to the existing Staffordshire Record Office on Eastgate Street in Stafford incorporating the William Salt Library.

But, this project is not just about the new building, it’s about taking activities and collections out into local communities and getting people interested in local history. There are so many unique stories in Staffordshire waiting to be told and we want communities to get involved in developing the project.

We’ve seen a huge rise in the popularity of family history and ancestry in recent years, so the timing is perfect.

Our Archives and Heritage team continue to work closely with partners and local history groups on the plans which I have to say do look good. For a taste of what could be on offer visit Staffordshire Record Office to see the Distinctively Staffordshire exhibition which is on until 27 September.

Not only will the new centre provide a great visitor experience, but there will be additional strong rooms for future collections, exhibition space, and reading rooms too.  Rare archives, books and museum pieces would also be displayed in a dedicated exhibition space, and over six million online records, documenting the lives of ordinary Staffordshire people will be available.

The total cost of the project is £5.9m and we are looking for £3.9m from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  We’ve already managed to raise £2m through various grants  and donations which is great, so if we can secure the Lottery funding we can move ahead and realise our vision.

I will keep you posted on progress, or you can visit www.staffordshire.gov.uk/Heritage-and-archives/Staffordshire-History-Centre.aspx for the latest updates.

How Trading Standards are keeping communities safe

Sniffer dog Yo-Yo

A very important area of work for the county council which I often don’t talk about is Trading Standards and the work they do, quietly behind the scenes, to help keep our communities safe.

It’s a wide area of work from advising businesses on their responsibilities to helping people who have been affected by illegal business practices or have been ripped off by unscrupulous traders. They ensure those who have food allergies are not served with food which is unsafe for them as well as helping those who run sports grounds do so safely.

They help to keep young people safe by ensuring that retailers act responsibly when selling age restricted products such as knives, tobacco, alcohol, solvents etc. They fight the rising tide of dangerous goods, such as unsafe electrical goods, toys and cosmetics which can cause so much misery to our communities.   

Preventing people from being caught up in financial scams is another important area of work. We have a number of volunteer scam ambassadors and marshals here in Staffordshire who work with the local community to prevent others being scammed. It’s especially important to prevent vulnerable people from becoming victim to scams and this is a great way to ensure they are protected.

We also have an animal health team who work hard to protect animals and assist the farming community to meet their legal obligations in relation to livestock. Unfortunately on rare occasions there have been cases where livestock keepers have poorly treated their animals, resulting in deaths in some instances. The team always act accordingly to protect animals and legitimate businesses and have been successful in helping to bring justice to those people and securing food safety from farm to fork.

Recent successful cases for the team include the successful prosecution of a man in Kidsgrove who was selling counterfeit golfing goods on eBay, as well as a Staffordshire livestock keeper from Great Wyrley guilty of a string of animal health charges. Some shop keepers who have had their licenses removed and suspended, and traders jailed for selling fake cigarettes are also amongst recent successes. 

These cases often featured prominently in local media, and even feature in major national publications. This is great for us as it sends out a message that we will take action wherever required to protect consumers.

The team does rely on local communities being their eyes and ears on the ground too so, if you have information relating to any of these areas of work then you’ll find out how to contact the most appropriate team at Staffordshire Trading Standards on their website.

By all doing our bit, we can help keep Staffordshire a safe place to live.

No myths, ifs or buts… You can foster!

Left to right: Foster carer Kathryn English, fostering recruitment officer Emma Howitt and foster carer Kelly Hyden

Our foster families play a hugely important role in providing children in care with a loving home and family for as long as they need it. Their dedication and commitment makes a huge difference to the children and young people.

Fostering can be a hugely rewarding experience and you can see how you make a real difference to young people’s lives. It can be challenging at times but it has some wonderful moments and experiences as well.

We currently have around 380 foster families in the county, however, with a number retiring each year, we do aim to find a further 60 new families a year.

Now, through our latest campaign, ‘No myths, ifs or buts, you can foster!’, we hope to bust those myths and find those special people.

We’ll be busting these myths each day on social media and it would be great if you could help us share these.  Some of the most common myths are that you need to be married, you need to own your own home, you need to be older and you can’t own a pet, all of which are false.

We’re also supporting the campaign with a series of coffee mornings and information evenings taking place across the county.  You can find out where at http://bit.ly/2iZEoCk

And, with children off to school for the new September term and teenagers flying the nest and off to university, it could be a good time to try something new like being a foster carer.

Think about it!!!