Archive for the ‘Leaders Blog’ Category

Standing down as Leader

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

This is a blog post I knew I would have to write one day and that day has come.

After 11 years as Leader of the county council, I have taken the difficult decision to stand down and hand over the reins.

Regular readers of my blog will remember I was first elected to the county council back in 1987 where I represented Uttoxeter Rural division. 33 years on and I’m still there and more so, our great county is unrecognisable.

Both Staffordshire and the council have changed enormously in the three decades and for me, there have been many highlights. The innovation of extra care homes has led to a different and much better way of caring for our elderly, and, through the dedication and hard work of both Members and staff, we’ve taken Children’s Services from an Inadequate Ofsted rating when I became Leader to close to Outstanding today which means children are safer.

Landmark developments such as i54 South Staffordshire, Keele Innovation Centre 5 and 6, Branston Locks, Stafford Western Access Road, Redhill, Lichfield Southern Bypass and more are all projects I am very proud of.  These have all helped put Staffordshire on the map while creating more better quality jobs for people.

The discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard in 2009 is also something I won’t forget about in a hurry. I still remember how exciting it was, not just for everyone at the county council but for everyone in Staffordshire and even across the globe.

It’s not every day you find the largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold in the world. It certainly put Staffordshire on the world map as has the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, when Staffordshire even got a mention at Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding as Patrons of the NMA in Staffordshire, one of our four National Centres, National Football, National Forest and National Brewing Centres.

There’s many more highlights, too many to mention, but you’ll find details throughout my blog.

I really have had the privilege of working with so many brilliant people all helping to improve the lives of the people who live and work in our great county. 

Also serving as Deputy Leader of East Staffordshire Borough Council, vice chairman of the County Councils Network, Chairman of West Midlands Councils and been a member of Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect as well as serving as both school and college governors have all kept me busy.

And, in The Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2016, I was incredibly touched to have been awarded an OBE for services to local government.

As I stand down as leader, the County Council is in a strong position, and financially stable, and I have every confidence that we will bounce back from the Coronavirus pandemic which we have been battling over the last four months.

I still have work to do and hope to remain a  county councillor for Uttoxeter Rural so will stand at the next election. I offer the new leader and cabinet my continuing support in the months ahead.

I hope people are able to fulfil their dreams.

Please continue to be proud of our great county.

Managing our finances during Coronavirus

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

It was finance on the agenda at this morning’s Cabinet meeting where we gave an update on our performance and how we were continuing to manage finances, including throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

Before the virus struck, we had allocated two-thirds of this year’s budget to adult care and supporting vulnerable children and young people which still remain serious areas of concern because of rising costs.

At the start of the outbreak we created a £38 million Covid-19 ‘battle fund,’ that has helped support care homes, businesses families and schools to deal with the crisis.  And, while we are currently looking at a forecast overspend of £10.1 million, mostly due to COVID-19 we are currently managing the over spend well.

Lockdown restrictions are easing, but there is still a long way to go for the economy, both on a local and national level, to recover. We need to work with central Government to help our communities recover economically in the short term and, in the long term, find a sustainable solution to the national problem of providing social care.

The pandemic has definitely put extra pressures on our finances, but we will continue to do what is needed and to spend on what is required to get through it.

As before, the latest Coronavirus advice is available here

Please stay safe.

Good news for the hospitality sector and families eating out in August

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

In the Chancellor’s budget statement last week, Rishi Sunak announced a new scheme that would help boost the hospitality sector while giving families discounted dining on every Monday to Wednesday throughout August.

The hospitality sector is a really important sector for us here in Staffordshire but it has been hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 crisis. It is now hoped that the Government-backed ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ Scheme would help to boost trade over August and protect jobs in the sector.

We have some fantastic restaurants and eateries across the county that we want to see get back on their feet and thriving again and I would encourage them to sign up to the scheme.

It’s a win-win situation, with local businesses getting a welcome boost and customers getting a 50 per cent reduction on food and soft drinks, up to a maximum of £10 per person. People won’t need vouchers either, as the discount will be automatically taken off the bill. 

Businesses can sign up for the scheme here and where they will be able to reclaim the discounts.

As more and more people start to get out to enjoy themselves safely, I do hope that both businesses and families take advantage of the offer.

Super Saturday and getting libraries opened

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

On Saturday and over the weekend, we saw hundreds of Staffordshire businesses open their doors for the first time since March as restrictions were eased. It meant that people were able to have a proper haircut, go to the cinema, and have a socially distanced pint in their local.

It’s been great to see our local businesses opening their doors once again, and I’m pleased to say that the majority of people across Staffordshire enjoyed the lifting of restrictions sensibly.

It’s really important to support our local businesses in the current economic climate, but we must remember that the threat of coronavirus has not gone away, so we need to continue following all the official advice.  This means continuing to social distance, washing hands, and following the government’s Test and Trace advice if called upon to do so.

On Monday, we also saw the start of a rephased opening of our 43 libraries, beginning with Burton, Newcastle and Stafford.  It’s not exactly business as usual yet, but it’s a welcome step in the right direction.

We are asking people to use an ‘order and collect’ service for books to start with and feedback so far is good. To keep people safe; there is no physical browsing or computer access yet, but remember, we still have access to a wealth of e-books, e-magazines and e-audio books available online, so there’s plenty to keep you going.

You can keep up to date with the Library Service via their social media and library web pages.

100 Days Since Lockdown

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

It’s hard to believe but on Wednesday, it was 100 days since the Prime Minister announced the lockdown back in March.

While we have made good progress since then in managing the outbreak, and with a further easing of the lockdown this weekend, it’s vital we don’t become complacent.  

The risks to our communities and to our local economies are still very much there and we must all do everything we can to stop a second peak of infections.

That means following all the advice, including social distancing, good personal hygiene and regular hand washing. If  people are symptomatic they should self-isolate, contact NHS111 and get tested.

If people are contacted by NHS Test and Trace because they have been in contact with a confirmed case they should self-isolate for 14 days.

In this next phase of managing the outbreak, along with Public Health England, the NHS and District and Borough Councils, we now have plans in place to swiftly identify, contain and stop any local outbreaks across the county. 

The main areas we’ll be focusing on are schools, care settings, local businesses, community settings and hard to reach communities such as the homeless.

Having our plans in place means we are able to monitor cases on a daily basis to ensure we are in a position to mobilise efforts to identify any outbreaks and do everything we can to prevent the spread of the virus.

Throughout the pandemic, the county has pulled together like never before and I’ve seen some amazing community spirit. But if we are to win this battle outright, we need to continue our efforts by taking precautions and following all the advice.

As always, the latest Coronavirus advice is available here

Please stay safe.

Easing the lockdown

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

In his speech to the House of Commons on Tuesday the PM outlined a number of important changes to lockdown rules to come into effect from 4 July.  These include:

  • People should still stay 2 metres apart if they can, but this can be reduced to least 1 metre apart as long as there are mitigations in place.
  • Two households will be able to meet inside, in any setting.
  • Pubs and restaurants will be re-opened, but limited to table service.
  • People will also be able to stay in hotels and on camping and caravan sites
  • Hairdressers will also be able to reopen, so long as there are precautions in place

It’s good news that we are in a position to ease the lockdown but it’s still a real balancing act between keeping people safe and allowing businesses to get up and running.

The leisure, tourism and hospitality industry have been impacted quite badly throughout the pandemic with many having to close or vastly reduce or change their services. 

This is also a really important sector for us here in Staffordshire too, worth around £1.8 billion each year and employing over 33,000 people.  But with these new rules and a firm opening date in place, businesses now have enough time to adapt to the new working guidelines.

We’ve supported our local businesses throughout the crisis, and we’ll continue to help them get back up and running, as well as pushing ahead with our plans to attract even more investment and grow our economy.

The easing of restrictions is also great news for families, especially when coupled with yesterday’s announcement about relaxing the guidance on shielding, as it means they can spend more time together.

As the Prime Minister said, COVID-19 has not gone away, so it is important people keep following the guidelines and keep themselves and everyone around them safe.

As always, the latest Coronavirus advice is available here

Reopening of high streets and support for students preparing for GCSEs and A levels

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

From today we’ll see a slight but welcome step back towards normality with many ‘non-essential’ shops reopening since the lockdown. But, it’s still vital that we all continue to follow the official advice and specific guidance when visiting shops if we are to help prevent further infection.

Our highways teams have been busy working closely with borough and district councils to prepare shopping streets and town centre areas for social distancing and hygiene requirements for when customers return, as well as promoting walking and cycling routes.

There’s a lot of considerations and possibilities. For example, we could create one-way pedestrian streets to allow for social distancing,  or close car parking bays to widen pavements to allow pedestrian segregation while people are passing each other or queuing for shops. 

The most important thing is that people are kept safe, and while we will do our upmost to achieve this, we will need people to do their bit by following the spirit of social distancing too.

Also from today, every secondary school in Staffordshire will have provision for students preparing for GCSE and A Level exams next year.

Social distancing, reduced student numbers in classrooms and more online learning are just some of the measures being put in place to help keep students and staff safe. Parents have already been informed of the arrangements being put in place, which will vary from school to school.

Making sure that our children are able to continue learning is really important for their future but it’s a real balancing act between keeping the virus contained. We will continue to support all our schools throughout the pandemic and once again I would like to thank teachers and staff for what they have done and will continue to do for the children of Staffordshire.

The latest Coronavirus advice is available here

Life after Coronavirus in Staffordshire

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

There’s no doubt that the Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world in many ways. Life as we all knew it is unlikely to return to exactly the same and we have to recognise the impact of the virus on businesses, communities, a fragile care market and our own finances in our recovery.

But if the crisis has shown us anything it proves that in times of need, the council and the whole county can pull together to make an incredible difference. I have spoken about this in previous blog posts too but I have been truly humbled by the incredible response from our communities as they stepped up to help family, neighbours and people who were strangers before the crisis started.

Throughout the pandemic the county council has focused on the immediate response and managing the outbreak locally, but also kept a close eye on the lasting impact it will have and how we can shape a stronger Staffordshire post pandemic.

While we will not forget the huge toll the virus has already taken on individuals and their families across the county, our priority now must be to contain the spread of infection and also to look to the future, gradually reopening the county for business, for investment, for growth and ultimately for the benefit of Staffordshire families.

Next week, I will be taking our recovery plan to Cabinet for approval, detailing how we will rebuild the county. We will be focusing on key areas i.e. health and care, families and communities, economy and skills, the digital agenda, and climate change.

Once again, we have shown how resilient the county can be which will be a huge strength as we continue to build on our response and look more to the future and a different way of life after Covid-19.

But please let’s not forget, the virus hasn’t gone away, so we still need to stay alert and follow the advice around social distancing and good personal hygiene and thorough hand washing.

All the latest Coronavirus advice can be found here.

NHS Test and Trace service

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

Last week we saw the launch of the NHS Test and Trace service, the next phase in Government efforts to contain the virus.

This means people who are known to have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, will be contacted and instructed to self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of whether they have any symptoms.  It’s vital that we follow any instructions from the service, so if you are contacted please do as they ask.  This is about protecting yourself, your family, and the wider community – and avoiding a second peak and further lock-down restrictions.

As a county council with responsibilities for public health locally, we will also be taking a lead role in managing any outbreaks in the county such as in care homes, schools or businesses.

There are no doubt still difficult times ahead as we balance easing “lock-down” with trying to contain the virus, but as always, if we pull together we will get through this.

Please keep yourself up to date with the latest Coronavirus advice here.

Supporting our schools

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

I have spoken about the incredible work that schools and their staff have been doing during the pandemic in a previous post. The continued efforts of staff and leaders in schools and education settings since the start of the pandemic have been humbling and inspiring to us all. We have seen scores of examples of great practice and efforts by individual staff and schools as a body, which have been shared with the wider education sector.

Most schools have remained open to support vulnerable children and the children of key workers, which has allowed essential staff to get to work and help keep things going during the pandemic. Teachers have also been working hard to make sure that those children at home can still get the best education possible which is really important.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been in regular contact with our schools, making sure they are kept up to date with the latest information from Government and making sure they have everything they need to operate safely.

Following the latest Government guidance, we are now working with primary schools to give them the support they need so they can open safely to nursery, reception, year one and year six pupils from 1 June. Our health and safety teams continue to offer advice on social distancing measures as well as access to a pack of personal protective equipment should someone fall ill.

Schools know what is best for their staff and pupils, so it will be up to each individual school to make the decision about when and how they can open. Our understanding is that the majority of schools will be open in some way, and will be letting parents know what will be happening over the coming days.

I trust this gives you some reassurance, and that you will also join with me in thanking our schools on behalf of the children and families of Staffordshire for their response to date, and the work they are planning for the next phase.

Be assured, we will continue to support our schools in these very challenging times. And if we continue to follow all the official advice on Coronavirus and pulling together we will beat the pandemic.