Archive for December, 2012

More Staffordshire Hoard

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

It seems Staffordshire’s most famous field hasn’t finished with us yet. The recently ploughed field in Hammersly, which three years ago turned up the internationally famous Staffordshire Hoard, has revealed a further ninety pieces of historic gold. This adds to the 3,500 pieces found in 2009, with most of the pieces this time weighing less than a gram – certainly on a smaller scale, but still profoundly interesting. Some of the pieces match and fit with ones found in the original hoard, and most notably a cheek piece to the incredibly rare Saxon helmets has been found. I am glad that the heritage of Staffordshire still has yet more to deliver, and that such a historically significant find is a part of Staffordshire. Fund raising has already started to try and keep the new finds here, and I wish those efforts the best of luck.

I also witnessed the signing of our contract with Capita, securing the future of education support services in Staffordshire.  The creation of the joint venture company will bring over £50 million of new investment into Staffordshire and safeguard thousands of jobs. The partnership will have its headquarters in the county and provide an extensive package of services.

It’s been a bad year for milk, of all things. The wet summer meant Britain’s farmers could not provide decent quality feed (and had to use expensive high concentrate feed instead) and has resulted in an all time low for milk production this November. Meanwhile falling dairy prices in the EU prompted the farmers’ over-the-channel to park up hundreds of tractors as a blockade on the European Parliament before firing hoses of milk on the windows, the pavements, and the unfortunate shield-holding riot police sent out to control the issue. I won’t make any jokes about Spilt Milk, but the news may well be cause for concern. Hopefully we’ll see better weather for this year’s harder-hit farming industries in 2013.

The West Midlands are receiving a sizeable funding boost for its roads, and Staffordshire has been provided a good deal of it. In light of the recent, and possibly yet to come, severe weather conditions our road teams have been diligently busy in their work to maintain our roads and keep the public safe. Not only will this funding help current maintenance but we’ll be able to further improve the roads for the benefit of everyone. We welcome the funding and the opportunity to make our roads better for our public.

And, with Christmas just around the corner, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone in Staffordshire a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year.

Lots of people will be working over the holidays including many of our council staff and we want to make sure that our services and facilities will be as accessible as much as we can.

The Council will be open for business as usual during most of the Christmas and New Year holidays, apart from Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day.  Most services will be open as usual on 27, 28 and 31 December including the main Customer Contact Centre on 0300 111 8000.  Remember, the Council’s website at www.staffordshire.gov.uk holds a wealth of information on the services and will have more details on opening times over the festive period.  Following us on twitter is another great way of getting the latest information, we’re @StaffordshireCC.

Census stats now out and what it means for Staffordshire

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Lots of numbers this week, as Staffordshire’s results in the 2011 census are published, plus a special visit by the Government’s ‘Troubled Families Czar” Louise Casey, here to learn more about our work with troubled families and pass on best practice.

A senior Government advisor, Louise visited last Friday (7th) and wanted to come to “an area where county, city and district councils and their partners are really prepared to work together”. A nice way to sum up Staffordshire in general I think.  Troubled families – a term to describe families with children avoiding school, are involved with crime or parents who are out of work – unfortunately exist, but Staffordshire has been merited with its efforts to tackle the issue, and I hope when Louise returns we will have yet more good things to report.

Back to the 2011 Census, the forefront statistic is we’ve had a rise of people living in our county by 5% since 2001, up to 848,849. I could be here for a long time if I went into the other figures, but looking over it gives a snapshot of Staffordshire.  We have a large portion of our young people active and contributing to society (that’s 70% of our 17 – 24 year olds) through employment, job seeking and full-time education, which is encouraging. We do have more people in rented accommodation, a trend reflected in most parts of the country and due to issues around getting on the property ladder in these difficult times.  The census has highlighted where we are succeeding and were we can have more focus, and the council will work to make full use of the information to continue to improve the lives of people living in Staffordshire.  You can see some more of Staffordshire’s census results on the council webpage.

There’s some clever stuff in law enforcement technology around in this day and age, and we are now seeing the installation of new road cameras with Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology here in Staffordshire.  They can detect licence plates on cars and identify non-taxed vehicles, wanted plates and suspicious activity, passing the information on to the police for action.  Despite the novelty of this sci-fi-esque installation, on a serious note they are being put in place for real reasons.  Staffordshire will not tolerate crime in any shape or form and has pledged to prevent and oppose it.  The new cameras will help to keep criminals out of the county and keep people safe.

I’d like to remind everyone of the upcoming Volunteer Staffordshire awards. The nominations close in two or so week’s time, so there’s still time to name your volunteers for their chance at countywide recognition. You can see more on the awards and make your nomination www.volunteerstaffordshire.co.uk

Very impressive work by our trading standards team this week, after raiding a warehouse where they found seven removal vans filled with millions of pounds worth of counterfeit Dr. Dre headphones, CDs, DVDs and “designer” clothing, in possibly the biggest single seize made by a trading standards team in the country. The council even got contacted by Los Angeles based Beats by Dr. Dre for congratulations on the operation.  Counterfeiting on this scale is bad for business and the general public, and is often used to fund other more serious criminal activity. Well done to the teams involved.

Autumn Statement, winter weather…

Friday, December 7th, 2012

At an intense cabinet meeting this Wednesday, the cabinet has accepted the bid by Capita for a joint venture to sustain the future of the county’s Education Support Services.  At its heart is securing 4,000 jobs in the education support business and creating 1,600 more, as well as bringing in £50m of new investment.

As I mentioned last week, this new venture company is created to sustain vital local support services for all our schools both large and small, secure jobs and ensure that the people who keep our schools running behind the curtains can continue their services without worry. With the pressure on school budgets in these times the cabinet’s action on the future of their education employees is a thoroughly considered, positive move.

I listened to the Autumn Statement on Wednesday. As you know, creating more jobs and driving economic growth is Staffordshire County Council’s top priority and the Chancellor’s announcement will help us deliver on it.

In particular, investment for small and medium sized businesses will help our efforts to attract more companies to Staffordshire, create more jobs and complement the steps we are taking, for instance through the Staffordshire Business Loan Fund.

Extra funding devolved through local enterprise partnerships and support on exports for example, will give us extra impetus to stimulate the local economy by supporting companies to grow, as well as attracting new ones to the area.

It looks like the winter weather has arrived, so just an apt reminder to motorists to please take care on the roads.  With temperatures set to fall below zero there is risk of water spilling off saturated ground and freezing in patches on the highways.  While we will be out gritting, this doesn’t completely remove all the ice and drivers need to be extra careful.

Staffordshire’s Olympians – here to inspire

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

It’s very possible that there isn’t a single person in the country who hasn’t been affected in some way by the recent flooding crisis. Houses have been badly damaged, work has been halted, post has been delayed, and every news report has shown us new ways heavy rain can attack a country.

The flooding hit everyone in its own way. For me and fellow farmers there was the rush to get livestock out of danger before the storm arrived, a wise move as I woke up to find a lake where my field was. A plague of slugs and the cold, sodden soil has left Britain with a forecast for a wheat deficit this harvest. As I drove past Rocester I also saw the reflection of the village lights in the water-logged land where a developer hoped to get permission for 90 new homes, good job he failed! Big thanks to our highways crews who worked around the clock to keep our roads safe and clear.

Following the Olympics legacy celebrations Staffordshire hosted last week, Anna Watkins was welcomed around Lee Pearson and Anna’s old school at Westwood High School in Leek. Anna was there to inspire young athletes and both contributed to a time-capsule and I even got to see and hold the famous gold medal, they really are spectacular. I’m glad that Staffordshire’s Olympians take the time to invest in the future of national sporting achievements. They are both great motivators for our up coming athletes.

This week was a monumental one for the Council and schools in Staffordshire. A new joint venture is being sent to the SCC cabinet for approval, a deal which will save 4,000 new jobs and creates 1,600 others. School support services will be safeguarded by a joint venture with Capita, who will bring £50m of investment, £40m of which is intended for staff and services, to be put into action over the next three years. I have a lot of confidence in this deal; it is a positive move that will allow us to invest additional resources across the county. Capita are a strong partner for this venture and I look forward to the benefits this deal will bring.

I also travelled to London and listened to Emma Squire Head of Local Growth at BIS talking on City Deals at the Local Government Association Economy and Transport Board. Draft Expression of Interest for Wave 2 in this week.

Congratulations to Tracy Key who supports us in the Cabinet Office for 25 years service with the Council. We celebrated her achievements with 19 others at the long service awards pic.twitter.com/9R49sDFphttp://t.co/9R49sDFp

And I managed to get to Newcastle under Lyme Borough Council to sign the District Deal with their Leader Gareth Snell. Another great example of good partnership working.