Archive for September, 2013

Meeting with the Transport Minister

Friday, September 27th, 2013

I met Patrick McLoughlin MP Secretary of State for Transport this week and made the case for the need to deliver a truly connected county to benefit people across Staffordshire.  Patrick, who is a former Staffordshire County Councillor from 1981 to 1987 when I was first elected is currently responsible for all things transport and we spoke about how first class infrastructure, and reliable and sustainable transport were vital to delivering the council’s ambitions on jobs and growth.

The meeting was very productive and I took the opportunity to raise our concerns over HS2.  I made it clear that we are opposed to the project and if the scheme does go ahead, we will look to maximise any economic potential, minimise the inevitable environmental impact and will continue to ensure residents’ receive meaningful compensation if their homes or livelihoods are affected.

At our Cabinet meeting last week we also gave the green light for a new approach to help families in Staffordshire live healthier and more fulfilling lives.

Having taken on the remit for public health in April, we have a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at the wider impact on health and wellbeing. We will be looking at more accessible streamlined services and how to maximise use of the £32m budget to commission services in an integrated way.  We want better support to help people make changes across all aspects of their lifestyles – not just on one aspect, such as giving up smoking. We will also be investing in prevention work – through screening and vaccination programmes where appropriate.

I did not realise how important the Battle of Messines Ridge was in the final days of WW1 until I watched a recent documentary .  We are now in week three on the excavation of the model trench at Brocton on Cannock Chase that I have mentioned before. Every week reveals more of this fascinating story which is also being eagerly followed by the media.  BBC News 24 have reported from the site and the story has even reached as far as the New Zealand Herald.

The level of detail in the model is incredible, particularly the depiction of bombed out buildings and field boundaries. Before the excavation we weren’t sure how much of the model would have survived, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised.

The main area of the town of Messines has now been excavated and lies beneath a covering of blue plastic to protect it from the elements. The team are now moving to the south of the town to join up with the small area of fighting trenches that were excavated during the first week of the dig.

Volunteers from Landrover are also working in the north-eastern corner of the site and have uncovered the north-eastern strong point based around a ruined farmhouse (and protected by fighting trenches) which protected the German position at Messines from attack.

Investing in jobs for the county

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

I was on the BBC’s Politics Show on Sunday from Bradwell Community Hospital in Newcastle talking about the work we have done around the integration of our health and social care services. There’s a lot of national discussions of how services can work together to provide more seamless, cost effective  services to patients and as we have already done it, many are looking to learn from our example.

There’s more good news again this month as we’ve seen the fifth consecutive monthly fall in the number of people in Staffordshire claiming job seekers’ allowance with at the same time our own news on what we are doing to bring more jobs to the county.

The latest figures come on the back of our work at Beacon Business Park in Stafford which is set to begin, backed by the Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership.  Further good news follows as an anchor business has also been secured for the new IC5 development at Keele Science and Business Park which is a joint project between the County Council and Keele University.  Work at the Redhill industrial park at the north of Stafford by the A34 is also making good progress, all destined to attract new jobs to the area. Once these sites are occupied, we will also see even more jobs created in the supply chain.

Continuing on the jobs front it’s great to hear that the government have invested £69 million in Start-Up Loans and New Enterprise Allowances to help entrepreneurs get their businesses started.  This will complement our already very successful Small Business Loan Scheme which we set up four years ago with BCRS.

Some of you may already be aware that our county town of Stafford has been celebrating its 1100 year anniversary of its foundation in the days of Alfred the Great and the Viking threat. To celebrate this our Archives team and volunteers have put together a unique exhibition of records and documents tracing the town’s history back through the years.

Archives on display at the Stafford – A Proper Little Town exhibition range from a first-hand account of the visit of Elizabeth I to Stafford, the description of the brutal execution of the priest Robert Sutton, to photographs of the lost pubs of Stafford.  It’s well worth a visit and will be at the records office on Eastgate Street until 4 October.

Shaping the future of rail travel in Staffordshire

Friday, September 13th, 2013

With HS2 hitting the headlines almost daily and reports being presented around whether or not the business case adds up, I want to remind people that we are still fighting our corner on the proposals.  The County Council does not make the ultimate decision on HS2, that is up to parliament to decide but we can ensure that people’s voices are heard and put forward  in a strong case for mitigation and compensation. 

Working together with Lichfield District Council and community groups, our experts have already looked at the potential impact of phase one of HS2.  The report highlights a range of issues including, the impact on the landscape and ecology, farming, heritage, viability of communities, flood management and connectivity.

We have produced a report with the findings which has been sent to HS2 Ltd and we will continue to fight the Staffordshire corner and make the case to lessen the impact on our communities and fight for meaningful compensation to those affected should the project go ahead. The next stage is likely to be the Hybrid Bill which we expect to be revealed around November. 

While the debate on HS2 continues, we are working on the here and now and, without  wanting to confuse people, we have just launched a consultation into the future of rail travel here in Staffordshire.    You will have heard me talk about creating a connected county which is the Council’s vision for Staffordshire.  A key part of this is in having a sustainable rail travel network and we need people’s feedback to help make this happen. The review to a certain extent ignored HS2 as there is little benefit to the project here in Staffordshire, but railways do form a significant part of local infrastructure and the council needs to have a strong stance so we know what we need from government.

The survey we want people to complete is available at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/railstrategy and aims to gather people’s experiences of rail travel in Staffordshire, good and bad and in all compass directions.  Those completing the survey will be asked for their comments and ideas for improving services, trains, stations, timetables as well as related facilities such as car parking at stations and access to cycle lanes. We want to hear from both Staffordshire residents (rail users and non-rail users) and people from outside of the county who use Staffordshire’s rail network.

The Rail Summit that we held with our partners in January was a great success and has given us a good indication of what is needed for the county.  This coupled with feedback from our survey will help us secure the best possible rail   travel network and any funding required to make it happen.  If you can afford five or ten minutes to complete the survey your feedback is appreciated.

Healthy Staffordshire Select Committee question the Trust Special Administrator

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

I want to reassure people that the County Council is using its influence to ensure we get the best outcome for people on the future of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

A lot of work is going into this, in particular the Healthy Staffordshire Select Committee asked the Trust Special administrator to attend a meeting to answer questions on the proposals. The committee’s work in conjunction with the Council’s wider efforts clearly shows our commitment to responding robustly to the TSA and ensuring that Stafford and Staffordshire has the health services it deserves.

A new, more integrated delivery model for the local NHS, the continuation of maternity services in Stafford and a single acute trust working for Staffordshire is what I would like to see. But these are early days and we are still putting these ideas together.

We need to find a solution that will improve health services for local people and the county council will work with all our partners to create a healthier, happier and more prosperous Staffordshire.

Again, I would urge people to get involved in the consultations, either at the events or via the website.

Moving from health to history, I am looking forward to an exciting archaeology project to unearth a Great War terrain model on Cannock Chase. 2014 is the Centenary year for the First World War and in Staffordshire our cultural and historical heritage during that horrendous war is being unveiled in new ways.

Archaeologists along with volunteers have just started work to clear the ground to unearth a large concrete terrain model representing a section of the Great War battle of Messines Ridge in 1917.

The model was built at Brocton Camp which, along with the camp at Rugeley, was used for the training of over half a million men during the First World War. Using a scale model of the defences on the Messines ridge allowed the British to plan and prepare the attack and ensure a level of planning that helped to avoid the disasters of previous attacks in earlier years.

Once the model has been excavated, the trench will be documented and recorded, and will be made available for public viewing before it is reburied to preserve it for future generations.

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