Archive for February, 2013

Through to the next round of the City Deal

Monday, February 25th, 2013

I’m delighted to report that our bid for the City Deal is one of those to go forward to the next phase!  Our joint bid with Stoke on Trent City Council for the £1billion investment package has been shortlisted for the list of potential areas for the next wave of talks, thus beginning several months of negotiation with the Government to finalise the bid and secure the deal.

This is a fantastically exciting development plan for the county, with an ambitious goal: making Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire “the key European centre for research and manufacturing of advanced materials, including ceramics, metals and polymers, thriving alongside other businesses and growth sectors in the region.

The opportunities available to us all with the City Deal funding are enormous, allowing us to accelerate the progress of current projects, attract new businesses while boosting our existing firms. Making it through to the next phase of the selection talks is great news, as it shows that our bid is recognized as beneficial and achievable. There is still a lot to do between where we are now and sealing the deal, but the ongoing talks will ensure that what we are offering is the best that it can be. It will not be a deal at any price however, only if it serves us well locally.

We are also very proud to have received an ‘outstanding’ rating in a recent Ofsted inspection of our fostering service, achieving the highest possible rating and certifying the quality of our service. I’m sure that our latest rating will reassure potential foster carers that they will be in good hands and receive the best support around.  Well done to all the team.  There are more details about our fostering service at www.care4child.org

Remember you can keep up with the latest news, comments and developments by following me on twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/PEBAtkins .

Nation Farmers’ Union meets with HS2

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

I was at the Stafford Showground recently where around 180 concerned farmers were gathered to discuss HS2, the new high speed rail development that will pass through Staffordshire. The development will cut its way through large areas of Staffordshire as it travels to Manchester, impacting farms, homes and communities.

The gathering was organised by the National Farmers’ Union, who wished to discuss the consequences of HS2 and the available help. I attended to hear the concerns of everyone there, as fellow farmers and as Staffordshire residents. I was concerned to hear about some of the personal ways the railway will affect our residents, and it has strengthened my conviction that the council will do all it can to mitigate the development’s effects.

The potholes of Staffordshire should soon vanish as our extra funding for pothole repairs is put to use. Our road maintenance teams have done some excellent work over the past year, but the wettest year on record has done its damage and we’ve seen 50% more holes in the past six months than the previous year. Let’s look forward to smoother, safer roads across the whole county. 

In a piece for The Guardian where SCC got a mention , Sir Merrick Cockell describes a future where as further cuts are taken the role of councils will require the commissioning of services rather than direct delivery. 

Efficient and effective commissioning will be vital and more important than ever and Councils will look very different in years to come.  We’re looking at a future where the county council increasingly takes on the role of the key decision maker within our communities whilst developing partnerships with the private sector, charities and voluntary organisations to deliver cost effective and efficient services.  For success Councillors and Officers will need the skills and expertise which they will get through the Commissioning Academy.  To learn more read the article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/local-government-network/2013/feb/13/merrick-cockell-lga-commissioning?CMP=twt_gu .

I’m also delighted to report that our ‘Budget for families and jobs’ proposals, which form part of the council’s Strategic Plan and Medium Term Financial Strategy, were given the backing by members of the full council last week.

The strategies outline our plans for the year and how we will pay for the work we will do, as well as recommending the new levels of council tax for 2013-14.  It is proposed that the county council share of the tax bill for a typical Band D property will be £1,027.25, a real terms reduction over the last four years once inflation and the tax freezes are taken into account.  Our proposals reflect input and ideas from local residents, businesses and trade unions from across the county.

Francis report calls for a “patient-centred culture”

Monday, February 11th, 2013

As far as importance is concerned, this is perhaps the most significant week for Staffordshire I can remember.

The Francis Inquiry issued its second report this week into the problems with Mid-Staffordshire hospitals, calling for a “patient-centred culture”, a no tolerance attitude to poor care, and sweeping recommendations to transform the NHS.

I want to take this opportunity to focus on what the County Council can do to make sure this kind of thing never happens again.

The events which occurred at Stafford Hospital are without doubt one of the worst times not only for the National Health Service, but for Staffordshire itself.  There isn’t a single organisation involved with the trust at that time which doesn’t bear some responsibility. However, from the first report issued in 2010 we took on board the lessons and have been proactive in working to improve standards and ensuring when things go wrong they are acted upon.

I believe that if we are really serious about transforming the NHS and local services, then the voice of the public needs to be the driver for change and sadly in Staffordshire we know all to well why this must happen.

Although not directly responsible for the way patients were treated, the county council could have done more at the time to challenge information that was presented and I am saddened we didn’t. But while it was a different time and effectively a different council – much has been done since and we remain committed to doing everything in our power to help support partners deliver a first class health service for the people of Staffordshire and to ensure that history is not repeated. 

We have a smaller, but still important, role to both scrutinise and challenge and we have already made decisive changes to ensure Staffordshire residents not only have a voice, but that it is as loud as it can be and is listened to.

We now have the independent patient champion ‘Engaging Communities Staffordshire’ up and running and we will be bolstering this in the spring with the launch of HealthWatch – a public-led organisation tasked with shaping NHS services.

We have also made the Council’s scrutiny procedures of NHS partners tougher, with the public also able to attend meetings and ask questions directly of senior NHS officials.

I would like to reassure people that real progress has been made and will continue to, and thanks to this we will have a very different, improving story to tell in the county.

A Taste of Staffordshire – Last week I was invited to the Palace of Westminster for the Staffordshire Food and Drink Festival, where over 50 MP’s were given the opportunity to sample our county’s finest delights. From our oatcakes and cheese to our bread and beer, our local wares are cherished by those who make and enjoy them, and traditional methods fill them with Staffordshire character. I’m sure many of our residents would testify to the quality of our food and drink and I’m glad we were able to showcase our produce at such an influential event. With current concerns about the traceability of food this is the right time to showcase what Staffordshire can offer and persuade customers they can trust what they buy when it comes from local producers.

I’m also delighted that we have signed our District Deal with Stafford Borough Council, to help create more jobs by increasing support and incentives for businesses.

For many years we have worked in tandem with Stafford Borough Council to regenerate the area, and improve the lives of local people. This District Deal sets out how we will continue working together on a range of key projects over the next five years.

The District Deals we are signing up to agree to pool the money collected through business rates, so that it can be invested in projects like new business parks, better roads and improved training that will make a real difference to residents and business.

Francis report due out tomorrow

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

I was pleased to see the council’s benchmark of saving £133m over the past four years and the work done to promote private sector investment recognised in a new way. SCC was named as Council of the week by Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis’ in this blog piece here. It’s good to see recognition by the Local Government Minister and such a positive statement from the home of Conservatism itself!

But there is still much to do.

The Francis Report is due out this week and will undoubtedly drive huge NHS reforms while reporting on the horrendous failings at Stafford Hospital.

If we are really serious about transforming the NHS, then the voice of the public needs to be the driver for change and sadly we need look no further than our own local hospital to see why this must happen.

As a council we are committed to doing everything in our power to help support partners deliver a first class health service for the people of Staffordshire and to ensure that history is not repeated.  We have a smaller, but still important, role to both scrutinise and challenge and we have already made bold, decisive changes to ensure Staffordshire residents not only have a voice, but that it is as loud and as powerful as it can be.

We now have the independent patient champion Engaging Communities Staffordshire up and running and we will be bolstering this in the spring with the launch of HealthWatch – a public-led organisation tasked with shaping NHS services.  We have also made scrutiny procedures of NHS partners tougher, with the public also able to attend meetings and ask questions directly of senior NHS officials.

As the winter sun starts to shine we can see the damage left behind by the wet and cold weather. Roads are made of sturdy stuff, and it takes more than your regular wear and tear to damage them. However as time goes on tarmac will take hits and potholes will pepper the asphalt. As such, the council will be taking further steps to make essential road repairs and will be investing an additional £500,000 into fixing our potholes. This is a demonstration of the council’s commitment to the safety of its drivers and upkeeping of a high quality road network.

Against rising fuel costs and the wide concerns for the environment, several council buildings have taken to using greener methods to keep warm and provide energy, with the use of biomass boilers. These eco friendly heaters use wood chips sourced from Staffordshire, with our new HQ currently being powered off of a single boiler. These boilers will become more popular and will help sustainably fuel other council buildings to help keep costs down.