Archive for June, 2013

‘Powerhouse Central’

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

At the risk of repeating myself, “Creating more jobs by encouraging the local economy to grow is our top priority”, and you may be aware of the work we are doing with colleagues at Stoke-on-Trent City Council to secure a City Deal from Government.

We have called our City Deal plan ‘Powerhouse Central’ and it aims to build on our unique heritage, know-how and skills of the people of our county and city.  If we are successful in our ask of government, it will give us greater powers and funding to invest in regeneration, skills and infrastructure schemes and help create thousands of jobs over the next decade.  If we secure a Deal I’m confident that we make better use of our energy sources and make the city and county an international powerhouse in advanced materials production.

The coming months will be an exciting time for us as we enter into the next stage of negotiations with the Government. I will be part of a team meeting with ministers and top civil servants over the summer and autumn to persuade them to agree to our offer.

Her Majesty the Queen celebrated her 87th birthday at the weekend and we have seen more people recognised for their contributions to society and their local communities in her Honours list.  An impressive number of the awarded men and women were from the West Midlands and I’d like to give my congratulations to those honoured, with particular mention to Eric Douglas Emery, from Uttoxeter, a volunteer car driver with the West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust, who has been awarded a BEM for services to Health.

I’ve also been out and about across the county with our Chief Executive Nick Bell meeting and listening to what our staff have to say about their work.  So far we’ve been to Cannock and Leek and I’ve been very impressed with the great work being done in all our departments and the willingness to embrace new ways of working.  As I told staff, we are developing a unique way in our delivery of services for our residents that other public sector partners look to for example.

Several months ago we wrote to and met with the Department for Education to ask for a rethink on their school funding reforms.  We realised the proposed changes would have an adverse effect on many of our schools but I’m glad to say our recommendations were listened to and taken on board.

As a result of our feedback, an important change saw the introduction of a ‘sparsity factor’ which, under certain conditions, would allow essential small and rural schools to access more funding which is better for Staffordshire.  We will always fight our corner against changes that harm our county.

We’ve had a busy first cabinet meeting since the county elections in May, but we’ve already agreed and signed off a number of key plans.  A decision has been made to invest a further £3.8million into care home services.  We have agreed to increase the fees we pay to local residential care homes in order to provide older people with a quality service at an affordable price.  The fees, which have not changed since 2010-11, will increase by an average of 13.2%.

We have also agreed to look for a new strategic partner to deliver highways services for the county for the next ten years.  This would allow us to invest in infrastructure and support our ambitious growth plans to bring jobs and prosperity to the county.  Excellent highways and transport links are crucial to a connected county and as the current highways arrangements end in April, it offers a great opportunity to look at our options.

For people keen on recycling, we have just approved a new management contract with waste management firm FCC which will see new services, centres open for longer and opportunities to recycle much more stuff.  In addition to the improved recycling facilities, small businesses and sole traders will be able to benefit from a new service provided at the centres at affordable prices.  New reuse opportunities will be available at the sites – giving people the chance to make use of goods no longer wanted by others.  The new arrangements will help us make average savings of £240,000 a year.

Remember to keep an eye on this blog or follow me on twitter @PEBAtkins for the latest news.
Philip Atkins

Leader of Staffordshire County Council

Living well in Staffordshire

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Last week organisations from across the county took part in ‘TRITON’, an exercise to test how well the county’s key agencies would react to a real-life major incident.

This was the first of its kind for the county, where all the key partners got the chance to respond to a large scale flooding emergency with helicopter search and rescue role plays by the RAF and Air Ambulance.

I’d like to thank everyone who took part, it was a demanding task that was handled very well by all of our agencies and we have learned a huge amount.  I’m confident that we’d now be able to handle such an emergency effectively if it ever should happen.

I was able to see the best of Staffordshire’s Morgan motors on parade at Doveleys, a mansion once home to the Heywood family. Club Shows like this provide a chance to display their interest and support the local economy at the same time. Doveleys was once the Heywood family home, who went on to found the Royal Bank of Scotland. I was glad to be able to visit this impressive collection and house as another example of Staffordshire’s notable history.

We’ve also just launched our new Five Year Health & Wellbeing Plan to transform the health and wellbeing of the county’s residents.  The Staffordshire Health and Wellbeing Board, which will deliver the ambitious plans is made up of public sector partners including, district and borough councils, NHS clinical commissioning groups, Staffordshire Police, Healthwatch and Public Health England.

Staffordshire is a huge county and there is a real contrast in health, education, work, experience of crime and even how long a person will live between the most and least deprived areas in the county.  Working together we will be able to reduce the inequalities that exist and provide the opportunities for everyone to live a healthy, happy life.  The plan will focus on five key areas including, supporting families to be active and eat well, reducing harm from avoidable causes such as alcohol, offering tailored support to help people live independently in the community and investment in dementia care.

It’s vital that we listen and act on the priorities of the people who live here and residents will have the chance to share their views on the plans over the following12 weeks.

Within government, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is leading plans to mark the beginning of WWI and here in Staffordshire are plans to commemorate the Great War are also coming together.

We have as good a claim as anywhere in Britain to be the national focus for the centenary commemorations and the Staffordshire Great War Trail is our unique project to link our offerings together.

We are already home to the National Memorial Arboretum and Cannock Chase is the site of both Allied and German war cemeteries.  The Great War Training Camps on Cannock Chase trained over 500,000 men for the trenches, and in August as part of our project we will be unearthing a scaled model of the Messines Ridge one of the most significant battles in the Great War.

The Staffordshire Regiment Museum details the history of Staffordshire’s regiments and the crucial role they played throughout the conflict.  There are also many more local stories, of the men and women who served at the front line, and of the ‘Home Front’ in Staffordshire.  Part of our project will see the introduction of a new website to pull our Great War Trail together which I will share with you when launched.

I also attended the Staffordshire Strategic Partnership meeting earlier in the week and was pleased to welcome Gavin Williamson MP as our guest speaker.  Gavin is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to former Staffordshire County Councillor, Patrick McLoughlin MP, Secretary of State for Transport and our theme this time around was transport and Connectivity.

This was a fantastic opportunity for the Board to highlight the region’s needs, plans and concerns to a prominent member of government.  Gavin praised the work we were doing in the county and acknowledged that key partners working together is key to long term success.  He particularly praised the i54 South Staffordshire development, and our efforts to secure a City Deal for the county.

He explained that transport is a vital part of central government’s decision devolve powers locally and said that the two councils were ideally placed to make decisions that met the needs of local people, businesses and communities.

Philip Atkins

Leader of Staffordshire County Council

Welcoming Chinese delegation to i54 South Staffordshire

Friday, June 7th, 2013

After a short break over the election it is back to work and there is a lot happening! 

It was great to welcome a delegation of Chinese Government representatives to the county.  The 16 strong group, made up of government representatives from across China visited the i54 South Staffordshire site as part of a fact finding mission.  They were keen to find out about how we are leading the way in terms of growing our economy through increased manufacturing, research and skills development.

It’s great that our achievements are being noticed on an international stage and that others want to learn from our work.  After their visit they told us that our approach was visionary and strategic, reflecting the hard work that is going on to make Staffordshire an internationally recognised place to do business, which is a good endorsement from a knowledgeable observer.

We have also taken modern technology services in Staffordshire a step further by signing a deal with BT to provide access to high speed broadband to 97% of the county’s homes and businesses.

The Project – being led by the Council, hopes to bring the superfast broadband service to the county by Spring 2016.  With the contract signed, the work can begin and we can start bringing homes and businesses access to fibre optic broadband, bringing with it great opportunities not only for residents but for many of our local businesses who rely on high speed access.

I would also like to congratulate 13 of our voluntary groups from across the county who have been recognised with a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

The award recognises the invaluable contributions made by groups of volunteers in Britain, and carries the same prestigious credit as an MBE.

This is a unique honour and I am even more pleased to say that Staffordshire was the county with the highest number of awards out of the 117 awarded across the country.  Well done to all involved and a tribute to our community spirit.

Staying on a Royal theme, I attended a full St Mary’s Church in Stafford last week for a special Celebration Service for the 60th Anniversary of Queen Elisabeth II’s Coronation.  Staffordshire’s Lord Lieutenant, Ian Dudson CBE was also representing us at the actual service at Westminster Abbey.

The Scientia Academy, a new school in Burton that will focus on science and technology based education, is starting to take shape and I was happy to visit the construction site to see the work completed so far. This is one of three new schools that are needed to meet the demand of our county’s growing population. I look forward to seeing the academy provide its 420 pupils with the very best education and school experience.

I would also like to congratulate the winning team in the Staffordshire Young Enterprise finals and all the school teams that took part.  The project helps young entrepreneurs aged 16 to 18 develop their business skills.  The teenagers create their own company and sell their own products and services as part of the competition.

Equipo, a company set up by pupils at Elaine’s High School in Stone, who came up with a great product that keeps headphones from getting tangled up, won the competition.   They will now go on to represent Staffordshire in the West Midlands finals later in the month and I wish them the best of luck.

It’s great that the Council is able to help fund the Young Enterprise project for Stafford and Stone, which could help to produce some of the county’s future business leaders.

Remember, you can follow me on twitter @PEBAtkins for the latest news and updates.