Archive for December, 2013

Looking forward to 2014

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

With the festivities now upon us, I would like to take the opportunity to wish people a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.

2013 has been a busy and exciting year at the County Council and as we turn to face another year there are some key events that I want to take with me.

From the extra treasure confirmed as part of the Staffordshire Hoard, to the developments at i54 South Staffordshire and Redhill, via the Countess of Wessex opening of Staffordshire Place to the recent announcement of the expansion of JCB.  It has been a year of successes, challenges and opportunities for us.

2014 marks the centenary of the First World War, as sombre and tragic a piece of history the war remains, it should also serve to remind us of the role that our past and cultural heritage plays in our future.

As a Council we are entering a new chapter, we continue to drive the best value we can out of every penny we receive from Taxpayers – I am reminded that Christmas is a chance to reflect on that, and to say thank you to our communities, staff and friends for what they have put into making Staffordshire the wonderful place that it is.

I hope that you enjoy Christmas as a time for family, friends and fun, and that the New Year brings you the chances and opportunities you want.

We will continue working to achieve our vision to make sure that people in Staffordshire have the chance to lead happier, healthier and more prosperous lives.  And, I look forward to 2014 and the challenges and opportunities it brings.

Have a very merry Christmas.

Looking ahead to next weeks Cabinet Meeting

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Next week we have an important Cabinet meeting where we will be presenting our new strategic plan and medium term financial strategy for the next five years.

By focusing on what matters most to people in Staffordshire and finding new, more efficient and more effective ways of working, we can deliver high quality services at more affordable costs.

We are building on good foundations, having made savings of over £130m over the last five years without anyone noticing huge differences in the services being delivered.  Our work isn’t done though, as we need to make further savings of £109m over the next five years.

New challenges demand new thinking and we will continue to work with our residents, voluntary groups, partners and the private sector to find new ways to improve all our lives. Our approach is about listening, creating the right conditions for Staffordshire’s people to flourish, and allowing people to get on with achieving their goals and aspirations.

Working more closely with all our public sector partners we will ensure that the £7.5 billion of public money spent in Staffordshire each year is spent wisely and effectively, reducing the burden on taxpayers.  We are again aiming to freeze council tax for 2014-15 but must first wait for details of our grant settlement from Government later this month.

We are also presenting our Achieving Excellence for Young People report which will see an overhaul of services for young people.

For most young people, Staffordshire is a great place to live, with plenty of opportunities to access education, leisure and jobs. Our aim is to ensure that these young people get the information and support they need to make the right choices in life, as well as providing highly specialist and targeted support to those who need it most.

We also know that the needs of our young people are changing, and we need to respond to that.  At the moment, four out of five of the 73,000 plus young people in Staffordshire do not use the existing services; yet it costs tax payers £8.73 m every year. This simply isn’t working and all the research shows us that there are gaps that the young people themselves want – and need – filled.

While we already have some good work going on in Staffordshire, other innovative councils are also ahead of us on this and we have seen how moving away from the universal to the targeted support has increased participation and delivered results, while lowering costs.  We want to emulate this success and believe that the proposal going to cabinet next week will allow us to help young people to build the lives they want, and deliver value for money.  We will be consulting on these proposals in January to find out what people think.

Good news for our local economy

Monday, December 9th, 2013

I am sure you were as delighted as me with the Chancellor’s announcement in the Autumn Statement that a multi-million pound Government investment for the A50 corridor will go ahead.  Staffordshire County Council has been working hard with the Highways Agency to lobby Government to secure this support and it’s very pleasing to see our efforts pay off.

This is great news for businesses and communities right along the A50, promising to cut traffic jams and speed journey times along one of the key trunk routes linking the East and West midlands. Some of our key manufacturers line the A50 and it is heavily used by hundreds of thousands of visitors to Alton Towers each year, so many people are set to benefit from the improvements.

Staying with the Autumn Statement, The Chancellor also made it clear the public sector is expected to deliver while tightening its belt and in Staffordshire we will continue to look at innovative ways to reduce waste and duplication, and attract new investment.  We will work even closer with partners to ensure the county’s £7.5 billion total public sector purse works even harder for the residents of Staffordshire.

And even more great news for Staffordshire this week as JCB announces £150m pound investment in jobs and buildings at their Headquarters.

Local people will benefit from an additional 2,500 jobs over the next five years at the companies sites but also potentially 7,500 more jobs in the supply chain. That means more money in people’s pockets locally which will ultimately strengthen our entire local economy.

JCB is not only a major local employer but a real British manufacturing success story taking its place on the global stage, it’s also Staffordshire born and bred. So it’s a company we should all be incredibly proud of and this tremendous news really shows the strength and health of engineering and manufacturing in the county.  You will know our top priority is creating the right conditions for new and existing business to thrive by upgrading roads, investing in new sites and infrastructure or improving education and training, to produce a highly skilled talent pool to supply major employers.  I look forward to supporting JCB with their expansion plans over the next few years.

We are also giving people the chance to put their questions to county health chiefs over the next few weeks at a series of meetings organised by our scrutiny committee.  Bosses from our key health partners will face questions from the public and scrutiny on their performance over the last six months.  It’s vital that the people who are directly responsible for running health services in the county hear first-hand from the people who use the services, so I would certainly encourage people to attend.  Further details of the meetings and the work of the scrutiny committee are available at www.staffordshire.gov.uk

I also chaired our quarterly Local Government Pensions Fund meeting which presented some encouraging news on the performance of the fund.  It’s now worth £3.2 billion which has seen it almost double over the last four years from 1.6bm.  Good strategic fund management and a stock market heading in the right direction helping with this.

Looking ahead to the Autumn Statement

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

We are all waiting for the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on Thursday and with it details of the funding we will have for the next financial year.

While we expect further reductions in funding, the county council will continue to ensure we deliver the best services possible for our residents without increasing the burden on local tax payers. We will continue to listen to residents and not let up in our quest for innovative solutions to provide them with the best possible outcomes.

Over the last five years we have made over £130m of savings whilst freezing council tax, invested in our economy to create more jobs, and worked closer with partners such as the NHS to make every pound of taxpayers’ money we have to spend deliver the most impact for our communities.  But we also know the job is nowhere near done and that new challenges demand new thinking, not least because people don’t want services that no longer fit how we live and work, may be expensive and only benefit a few.

By focusing on what matters most to people in Staffordshire and finding new, more efficient and more effective ways of working, I believe we have made a good start on the transformation of Staffordshire County Council and the county’s public sector to better meet the needs of local people today and tomorrow.

The Autumn Statement is also an opportunity for the government to support much of the good work we have already done here in Staffordshire and especially continue the support  for our local business. One thing I hope the chancellor will do, is take the opportunity to invest in our national infrastructure.

On a more local note, it’s great to see that South Staffordshire college’s Cannock campus is now complete after a year’s worth of renovations.  The new £6m centre is due to open soon and is key to skilling up our young people in preparation for their chosen career. Centres like this, along with high quality education and training are essential for our county’s continuing growth.