Archive for July, 2013

The Olympics – one year on

Monday, July 29th, 2013

A big Staffordshire congratulations to Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of Prince George, our future King.  The name George also happens to be popular amongst Staffordshire parents, coming in at joint fifth in our top ten names. For anyone interested our top ten boys names in reverse order are Tyler, William, Riley, Jacob, George, Alfie, Oliver, Charlie, Jack and Harry.

All the Local Enterprise Partnership Chairmen, including our own Ron Dougan met with the Prime Minister this week at a special reception to thank the partnerships for their important contributions to rebalancing the economy. Ron raised the issue of energy security and price volatility, speaking of how Staffordshire’s LEP businesses were energy intensive and must be a priority.

LEP’s are an important player in the country’s efforts to promote and grow the economy and we are fortunate to have forward thinking, innovative people leading our efforts.

It is exactly a year since the start of the 2012 Olympic Games and its legacy must be to ensure more young people take up sport. We all saw the positive impact the Games had on our communities as well as seeing some of our home grown sporting stars shine.

We need to nurture our sports stars of the future and we can do this by providing opportunities to try new sports, and we have plenty to offer here in Staffordshire.

On August 9th and 10th we have Staffordshire’s first cycling festival which will see some of the top professional cycling teams visit the county.  As well as the professional race around Stafford town centre and Shugborough, our amateur cyclists will also get the chance to take part in a 35 mile sportive.  School children will also get the chance to ride out before the professionals and show off their cycling skills.  All this at a time when Chris Froome wins the Tour de France in its 100th year as only the 2nd British cyclist ever!  Join in at http://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/News/staffordshire-to-host-its-first-cycling-festival.aspx.

An exciting new water sports attraction at Chasewater Country Park should also help increase participation while boosting visitor numbers and jobs. The Wakelake wakeboarding centre is the first of its kind in the Midlands.  Our very own Charlotte Millward from Stafford is a Team GB wakeboarder and demonstrated the sport at last year’s Olympics.  The 17 year old has also managed to secure a job there coaching others. Supporting a new and upcoming sport is exactly how we find the future Charlottes.

Beyond sport we are also celebrating 100 years of our County Farms, where there is as a great a need for them now as then if for different reasons.  I was out with Midlands Today during the week talking to some of our tenants about their achievements and plans for the future.  pic.twitter.com/1gF8tUch2n.

Many of us are passionate about rural areas and I know how crucial County Farms are to supporting some of the 60,000 new farmers we need nationally to get started over the next 10 years to produce our future food needs and to ensure that rural economies like Staffordshire’s prospers.

We have 102 tenant farms with many local farmers contributing to the local rural economy.  Among the contributions they make, our tenant farmers supply meat, vegetables and milk for our local schools.  By cutting down on the amount of food miles and using the wealth of resources Staffordshire has, we can support local farmers whilst also ensuring children get a healthy and nutritious school meal and help understand where food comes from while securing future food supplies.

We also saw in the week a 0.6 per cent increase in UK economic growth in the three months to June which is encouraging news.  This follows our continued work with our partners to boost job creation and enhance Staffordshire’s position as a leading location for business.  Seeing flagship Staffordshire firms like JCB and Alstom making national headlines for continued expansion is fantastic. We’re also seeing the hard work of our inward investment team reap benefits and the Jaguar Land Rover plant at i54 South Staffordshire has already been extended.

Two of our lollipop men also made it onto the Daily Mail website after it became apparent they had been reunited as father and son after 44 years.  Darren, who was adopted as a young child is a lollipop man in Cannock. He found his biological father Paul who was also a lollipop man working for us in Tamworth.  It also turned out they had actually applied for the same job without knowing they were related.  Read more at http://dailym.ai/12GLQqc  via @MailOnline

Supporting our communities on HS2 – Phase 2

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

I hope you have all been enjoying the recent hot weather, but please keep an eye out for your friends, relatives and neighbours you know who, for whatever reason, may be less able to look after themselves over the recent high temperatures.

Since the winter we have been working hard to make sure communities voices are heard about the impacts of Phase 1 of HS2 on their homes and we are now doing the same for those affected by Phase 2 which is being consulted on now until January 31, 2014.

The impact of living in the shadow of this project is enormous and if it does go ahead, residents could face years of uncertainty, living near a construction site with eventually a high speed train going past close by. As a Council we are committed to fighting for meaningful mitigation and compensation for those affected by both phases and will be doing everything in our powers to persuade government to lessen the impact if Parliament decides the project goes ahead.

The western leg of the network would serve the proposed stations at Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly stations. The line would connect with the London-West Midlands leg near Lichfield in the West Midlands, before heading north-west past Stafford and on towards Crewe. The eastern leg would serve stations in the East Midlands, South Yorkshire and Leeds. The line would connect with the London-West Midlands leg to the east of Birmingham, near Junction 4 of the M6, and then follow the M42 corridor north-east towards Derby and Nottingham, clipping parts of Tamworth.

The consultation events will take place where communities will be affected including, Yarnfield, Armitage, Whitmore, Tamworth and Stafford. You can find out more on the official HS2 Ltd website.

http://www.hs2.org.uk/have-your-say

Unemployment figures released last week show that Staffordshire’s economy continues to show improvement for people looking for work. Staffordshire has seen a fall of 5.3 per cent over the last month in the number of people claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance. Every district or borough in the county has seen a decrease for the third month in a row which is great news.

Over the last year in Staffordshire, JSA claimants have fallen by 11.9 per cent and 14.6 per cent in the last quarter. The figures follow last week’s announcement that Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent is one of just three areas nationally to be awarded the opportunity to run a pilot initiative to drive skills development. And, we also saw the announcement of more jobs for Alstom in Stafford and JCB with a new warehouse operation in Newcastle.

We know these are still challenging times, but we will continue to work on building Staffordshire’s growing reputation as a prime location for business and ensuring we have a workforce skilled to meet the demand.

Philip Atkins

Leader

Latest finance reports show how we continue to run an efficient Council

Monday, July 15th, 2013

You may have heard recent news of a £3.8bn social care fund being established by the Government in 2015. This has been a welcome announcement, reflecting our drive to make sure our elderly residents have access to the best support and healthcare . Communities and Local Government Secretary of State Eric Pickles gave more detail about how the government wants social care to work in a similar vein as for troubled families in bringing services and resources together under one umbrella.

He spoke about the need for closer integration of health and social care services, but if you’re a regular reader you’ll know that this is something we’ve already achieved for Staffordshire.  Back in April 2012, we moved 1,000 social care staff over to their health colleagues at the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership Trust.  I have written to the Minister to make him aware of this and if he wants to see what we have learnt and the results, we would gladly share with him.

Several Council reports have also been published ahead of a cabinet meeting this coming Wednesday, notably our treasury outturn report and our budget monitoring report, both of which bear good news for us all.  We’ve managed to save £1.3million over the last financial year through using cash instead of borrowing it, resulting in productive investments and reduced interest payments.

The reports also detail how through the early months of this financial year we have continued to run an efficient county council with carefully thought-out financial management. We will always make every penny of your hard earned money count for the benefit of our residents. Last year we made savings of £46million and did so while freezing council tax and investing in better services like our highways and roads.

Reliable roads and effective traffic systems are the lifeblood for a county and its businesses and you’ll be glad to hear that our highways crews will be finishing developmental work on more than 400km of our roads as part of a £7m investment.  Much of this work is basic surface dressing which needs dry weather to be done properly, so our teams will be making the most of the summer sun over the next few months. Without this treatment, roads would need to be replaced three to four times as often so any short term disruptions now are worth the long-term gain.

At the LGA conference promoting the county

Friday, July 5th, 2013

I opened the Centennial Garden at Dove First Primary School in Rocester.  This year the school celebrates its 100th birthday, having been originally built in 1913 as the original school was not large enough.  Well done to everyone who has worked on the project cutting back the overgrown hedge to get it to where it is today – it looks brilliant.

Following the Chancellor George Osborne’s speech on the spending review, I was pleased with the news from Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander MP in his speech outlining the Government’s plans to increase capital spending plans by £3 billion a year, from 2015.  I do agree with him that we need a long-term infrastructure investment plan to ensure that Britain can compete in the global race.  For Staffordshire to prosper we also need investment in good infrastructure, and as part of the plan the M54/M6 link and M6 will all be receiving the attention of motorway development teams.

This week I have been in Manchester at the Local Government Association. I attended a fringe event where we announced the launch of our “Powerhouse Central: Changing Partnerships” Report. The document outlines how the City Deal has helped forge a working partnership between Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council like never seen before.  Minister for Local Government Brandon Lewis joined the panel debate and was very positive about his visit when he heard of our proposals from local business and politicians. It is now for Government to continue to deliver, to support our approach and devolve more powers so that we can unlock the potential of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to be the economic powerhouse for the local, regional and national economy.

Also at the LGA Conference, Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, revealed in a speech that Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP will be one of just three areas to pilot a radical new scheme that will promote development in skills and help get people back into work. The speech outlined how the Skills & Funding Agency will design financial incentives giving LEPs influence on skills training over further education providers to deliver skills training and courses that support their local economy.

All in all we’ve had a busy few days but it’s satisfying to see our hard work and innovative thinking starting to pay off and be recognised by Government.  This proves we are ready for the challenge of developing our area and that with Government support we can drive growth and make a real difference.

I’ve mentioned Equipo before as the young enterprise team from Alleynes High School who represented us in the UK finals. Sadly they didn’t make it through to the European finals but they did incredibly well to get where they are, flying the flag for Staffordshire. Huge congratulations to them.  They have great energy and a good business and one which could still achieve significant opportunities.  You can see more from them at www.equipo.co.uk.

The 2015 spending review and the County

Monday, July 1st, 2013

The Chancellor’s spending review on Wednesday held no surprises for anyone who thought ahead in 2008, the key message for me is the fact that times are tough. Local government is going to see more reductions in the money we get from central government and that means that we will have to continue to work harder to provide the services our communities really need.

The county council will continue in its work to deliver the best services with the money we have. And, as I have said before, it’s not about the number of pounds we have, it’s how we spend them that counts.

We have the lowest county council tax in the country and with government grants added we have around £300 less per household than the average council has to spend. We have listened to what is important to people in Staffordshire and transformed the way we work to both protect frontline services and bring jobs and investment into the county. Our integration of health and social care has made significant real savings, and we’ve achieved a £25m cash injection through a partnership with Capita to deliver education support services.

I remain confident that our bold, innovative approach will continue to deliver real benefits and better prospects in business, education, employment, health and wellbeing for the people fo Staffordshire.

But we also need to be aware that others know we are preforming well as a council; I’m proud to report that we were recognised nationally last Thursday by a independent third party endorsement of our work at the local government equivalent of the “Oscars”, when SCC won two awards at the highly prestigious 2013 MJ Awards.

Through our efforts in developing partnerships with Wolverhampton City council and South Staffordshire Council on the i54 business park, we have earned the ‘Community Investor Award’.

Our second award, ‘Innovation in Communication’, recognised the comprehensive communications approach that launched Families First our early interventions services which ensures children and young people have the best start in life.

We were also highly commended in the Best Achieving Council category leaving us something to aim for for next year! These awards and commendation further cement how we’re leading by example and how together we’re striving for, and attaining, excellence to deliver real and positive results despite the tough decisions we face and our limited resources.

I also visited the i54 business park and met a group of students from Wolverhampton and Staffordshire schools who took part in the launch of the onsite education centre. The students took part in a series of workshops inspiring and promoting careers in engineering, construction and manufacturing. The students had a load of fun, building replica suspension bridges and wind turbines to teach them the principles and methods used in modern construction, which I’m sure made for an exciting break from school.

This week I travelled to London this week with Stoke City Council’s leader, Mohammed Pervez to meet the Financial Secretary to the Treasury Greg Clark to discuss our submission for a City Deal. We had a productive meeting with more detailed discussions planned for over the summer and autumn. This is one of many meetings on the way that will help us secure our Dealwith Government.

As I have said before, HS2, the new high speed rail-line to link Leeds and London will impact our county in many ways, and people living near the proposed route are rightly concerned. Following consultation we have drawn up a dossier outlining how to lessen the impact of the development which will be presented to HS2 chiefs. We have put forward the predicted damage the railway line will cause and where possible given suggestions on where they can improve their designs. We hope that by explaining exactly what effects the proposals will have on the county we can prompt a rethink in areas of the planning, reducing the impacts on people near the route.

Remember you can follow me on twitter @pebatkins for latest updates.

Philip Atkins

Leader of Staffordshire County Council