Archive for September, 2012

“Who Do You Think You Are?” comes to Staffordshire

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

I do now think about you when I’m tucking into my Shredded Wheat, if that’s the same stuff as Weetabix!

As the warmongering Mother Nature would have it, she chose this, the week when the fields for next year’s wheat harvest must be prepared, as the time to let loose a most violent turn in the weather.  A pre-emptive strike was called for, so twenty five acres of field had to be rolled, sprayed, and riddled with slug pellets before she could begin her bombardment. Hard to believe that last year’s wheat harvest was only just dried. I’m sure farmers everywhere understand my plight when I say that I wonder whether the graft will be appreciated when people tuck into their Weetabix in the morning.

All the more frustrating when I returned home on Monday to find the Rivers Dove and Churnet flooding my farm.  The damage was unfair to say the least.  Mind you, it’s been much worse in the north of the country.

Interesting times as a councillor this week; had a recent meeting with South Staffordshire College Board to discuss the College’s delivery of education and the maintaining of financial health during these current economic conditions with good results.

And Staffordshire’s candidate for Police Commissioner Matthew Ellis debated a unique idea to form a uniformed young Police Cadets Service for  10 – 18 year olds to strengthen links between the police and young people (see: http://tellmatthew.org/?p=967 for a recording of the debate).  It is good to see such ideas and efforts for the benefit of Staffordshire’s youth, and to strengthening our ties with them.

The annual Staffordshire One Hundred event was held on Monday, a superb chance for some notable current discussions like ensuring how the Olympic legacy continues and how to encourage apprenticeships, partnerships and  business start-ups. Thanks go out to Mike Sassi for chairing the event; it was a great success for the partnerships that attended and an excellent event for bringing Staffordshire’s organisations into the spotlight.

I hope everyone enjoyed Wednesday’s episode of “Who do you Think You Are?” as much as I did, with William Roache of Corrie fame.  His journey led him to Stafford to see the William Salt Library Archives to learn about his grandfather’s mystery past, and it was great to see the archives get such celebrity attention. Amazing to see those photos of Alton Towers from when it wasn’t a theme park though; just proves that the grounds there would look wonderful with or without the ominously named roller coasters.

I also had the pleasure and honour of meeting David Cameron at 10 Downing Street this week, there to meet with other Conservative council leaders from across Staffordshire.  Exciting stuff to be on the other side of that famous black door, and the company was excellent. I’ll never know where Mr. Cameron finds time to talk amongst the running of the country, and it is good to see him in such a relaxed light when he appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman. I think forgetting what Magna Carta meant is forgivable in light of his excellent knowledge on Britain; 9 out of 10 is a good mark for a trivia quiz, considering.

Autumn’s in the air

Friday, September 21st, 2012

This week I was lucky enough to win on the horses at the recent Chester races, and took the pleasure of spending it in the marvellous city of Chester, a great place for a day out if you have an eye for that famous Victorian restoration style of black and white wood.

In the shifting weather of this autumn I managed to get ahead with ploughing up the fields for next year’s wheat harvest, only to remember the wheat seed hasn’t been delivered yet. I wonder if it’s even ready for harvest yet! Mother Nature must be focussing her efforts on keeping us all guessing on the possibility of an Indian summer and figures we can do without bread and cereal for a little while longer next year.

I’ve had a busy week in the Cabinet. The county council met on Wednesday to discuss and approve the additions to the updated Waste Plan, a monster of a document weighing in at 90 pages! The wisest decision of the meeting was to not print off individual copies for the attending members!

Other items discussed included the new Funding Reforms for local schools and proposals to simplify the formula of how education is funded. The proposal’s scheme needs some noticeable rethinking lest the balance of funding between schools is tipped unfairly. The education of children in Staffordshire is our highest priority, and we will work with ALL the schools to protect ALL their futures.

Speaking of schools, we’ve also launched a consultation to enlarge River View Primary and Nursery school with, a step towards providing an extra 1,000 primary school places for Burton-on-Trent, a really positive step in accommodating more pupils and providing further facilities. Plus, the expansion will require the building of new classrooms, and I’m sure the children will love a JCB rolling around school.

Closer to my own world of farming there was terrible, sad news to hear from Northern Ireland on Saturday. For those who don’t know, the young rugby player for Ulster Rugby Nevin Spence and his brother & father (all farmers) were tragically overcome by fumes and killed in a slurry tank accident whilst trying to rescue a dog. Nevin was an outstanding and valued rugby player, who had had a stellar career and his death at the too young age of 22 is a great loss. My thoughts go out to his sister, who was caught in the accident and is currently in a stable condition in hospital. ‘Come home safe’ is something all farmers must remember as it is the most dangerous job in the country for fatal accidents.

On a brighter rural note if anyone is ever in the Ashley area, head down a little beaten track there and you’ll come across the Hungersheath farm shop, a wonderful hidden treasure of Staffordshire and a great place for cream tea and scones.

Tour of Britain comes to Staffordshire

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Last week I was in London for the CCN AGM and met the new government minister Brandon Lewis MP, also listened to Louse Casey on the work of the Troubled Families Team DCLG.  Many of the complex partnership issues are being addressed in Staffordshire.

I had some productive talks with all our district councils last week, about how the county council can help all of Staffordshire to reach its full economic potential.

Following the success of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, we are looking at holding a legacy celebration event in the next couple of months to thank the people from Staffordshire who helped in any shape or form (e.g. torchbearers, games makers, local athletes, local leaders and the many volunteers during the torch relays).  If you helped out or have a story to tell, get in touch with our Olympics Co-ordinator, Marie Fitzpatrick on 01785 854595.

Remember you can watch live webcasts of many of our Council and Cabinet meetings and listen to the discussions.  Just go to the website.  Last week we discussed the Staffordshire Care Quality Green Paper, which was webcast to the world.

And closer to my heart and being a proud father, big congratulations to my daughter, Katy for graduating in Paediatric Nursing after her studies at Wolverhampton University.

Pension Fund Update – Positive news as the Staffordshire Local Government Pension Fund hits £2.705 billion, the highest level ever, despite the uncertain world economy.  This proves our investment strategy works!

Good luck to Graham Morley Principal at South Staffordshire College and his team on the news that the College has been shortlisted in the Times Education Awards for their “Sustainability” practices.

On my way to Birmingham to a meeting at the WMC, I caught a glimpse in Rocester of Stage 5 of the Tour of Britain after crossing Blithfield Reservoir.  Lots of people lined the roads to catch Olympic golden boy and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, and also sprinter Mark Cavendish, sweep through the county.  Great for the county again as the cyclists went through Stone, Stafford, Cannock Chase, Rugeley, Blithfield Reservoir, Uttoxeter and Rocester, before climbing through the Staffordshire Moorlands.  Playing host to such a prestigious event really does lift everyone’s spirits.

Staffordshire’s Paralympians do us Proud

Friday, September 7th, 2012

I am sure you enjoyed like me the exciting and busy summer of sports we have had with the Olympics and thrill to see Team GB and many of our local athletes do so well.  And now half way through the Paralympics we have had three more Staffordshire athletes taking part.

Equestrian rider, Lee Pearson from Cheddleton, Goalball player Jessica Luke from Gnosall in Stafford and Richard Dobell born in Biddulph in the sitting Volleyball all gave it their best for the Games.

Lee won a further gold, silver and bronze medal to add to his already impressive 9 gold medals in the last three Paralympic Games, 3 in Sydney in 2000, 3 in Athens in 2004 and 3 at Beijing in 2008.

Jessica and Team GB reached the quarter finals in the Goalball event and Richard  also made it through to the quarter finals in the sitting volleyball.  Congratulations to all of them, the whole of Staffordshire is very proud of you.

I have been to see the construction work at Jaguar Land Rover’s i54 South Staffordshire plant along with our continued infrastructure work.  Last year we worked  closely with our colleagues at Wolverhampton and South Staffordshire councils to ensure we had done all we could to attract Jaguar Land Rover and other global firms like Moog and Eurofins UK to this site and key to JLR was our delivery.

It is rewarding to see it as an active location for leading business and job creation  and we can now see our vision for i54 South Staffordshire being fulfilled. Our next big job is to construct the new slip road off junction 2 of the M54 which is a significant project.

And what a summer! The ‘wettest in 100 years’ according to the Met Office, making farming really difficult for everyone. I’ve got my wheat harvest done, just acres of wet straw to dry out before bailing now! Thinking of those still to gather their harvest, but at least  we’ve had a few days sun to help.

But for some more good news the Academy at Rodbaston opened its doors on Tuesday. JCB in Rocestor is set to create 100 apprenticeships and Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire has been ranked in the top three Local Enterprise Partnership or LEP areas for attracting inward investment.

On a more cultural note, I’m looking forward to Stafford Arts Festival, starting on Saturday 15 September.  There will be lots happening, including the Festival of Authors at County Buildings, featuring over 20 authors and book signings.  A real treat for all bookworms.