Archive for January, 2014

Up for a chat?

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Another interesting and innovative project that I want to tell you about is ‘Up for a chat’.  This is our latest campaign which looks at tackling loneliness and isolation among older people.

Over the last ten years or so, we have seen a 25 per cent increase in the number of people who are pensioner age or older and we know that developing friendships, staying active and really being part of a community really contribute to people’s overall health and wellbeing.

This latest campaign is encouraging residents, community groups and businesses to sign up to the campaign to help some of our older residents develop those friendships and trusted contacts in the community.

All you have to do is register on the website at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/upforachat and you’ll receive a badge or wrist band which you wear.  This simply shows older people that you are ‘Up for a chat’ which makes it less daunting for people to make that approach and say hello or ask for help.  It’s a very simple idea and we are certain it will make a difference to some of the loneliest people in our communities.  If you fancy making a difference by having a chat with someone then apply for your badge.

I have mentioned this before but we are set to freeze council tax for the fourth consecutive year under budget plans going before our next cabinet meeting.  While our economy and job creation is moving in the right direction, I have said we do not want to place any extra demands on Staffordshire people’s finances, and that is why we are looking to freeze council tax again this year.

Over the last five years, we have made £130m of savings while freezing council tax, investing in our economy to create jobs and working closer with partners to get the maximum impact from the £7.5 billion of taxpayers’ money spent in Staffordshire every year.

Our income is considerably reducing, so we need to be really clear about priorities and find new, better ways of doing things. We will therefore promote greater responsibility and independence where we can to reduce sensibly the demand for public services while supporting the most vulnerable in our communities.

You will know that our key priority is to bring prosperity and jobs to Staffordshire and superfast broadband is a part of our strategy to achieve this.  We want to make sure businesses are geared up for the opportunities that this will provide and we are putting on a number of special events to help them prepare.

We really do live in a digital world these days and our events will show businesses how they can utilise broadband to enhance the way they work – whether that’s by increasing productivity, saving money or growing their business through online sales. The Social Media event is free and I’d urge businesses to take advantage of the expertise on hand.  The event is taking place on 11 February at South Staffordshire College, Rodbaston Campus starting at 8:30am.  Remember, you can also check out the progress of our superfast broadband roll out at www.superfaststaffordshire.co.uk

Turning the A34 into a real power house corridor for economic growth

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Last week we announced our preferred delivery partner ‘Amey’ to provide integrated highways services for the county. The proposal goes to Cabinet in February and if agreed will see the company not only maintaining our 6,000km of highways, but delivering major flagship schemes and contributing to the running of the county’s street lighting, rights of way and country park maintenance. The deal is worth £80m a year and is for an initial ten years with the opportunity to extend further if the agreed performance is achieved.

The new partnership is great news for everyone in Staffordshire as it will help us deliver better value for money for taxpayers because we have negotiated hard to get the best deal we can, without compromising on quality. Working with Amey, we are also committed to making sure residents have an even greater say in shaping our services and your priorities.

Yet again we will all get the best of both worlds by joining forces with a strategic partner to combine the county council’s own experience with the expertise and resources of a private sector company. I have spoken often about this before, this is an approach we are keen to develop at the Council, which we know can help get the best deal for all of us, the county council and residents.

Another exciting future initiative is the proposed development of the former Meaford Power Station site near Stone. We will be investing around £6m in infrastructure around the site with developers St Modwen who have planning permission to build a brand new business park.

This is the largest undeveloped brownfield site in the county and once developed could create around 2,500 jobs. The scheme will see improved access with the building of a new roundabout and a second junction to serve the park. This coupled with our development at Redhill, north of Stafford is helping to turn the A34 into a real Power House corridor for economic growth, wealth creation and over 5,000 better paid jobs.

Moving from the A34 now and over to the A50, it was great to see the visit of TRADE minister Lord Livingston to Rochester and JCB’s HQ for a conference on exporting. The Minister reminded businesses about the help available from UK Trade and Investment to help them start exporting or break into new markets. This compliments the work we are already doing to support our local companies to make that move into the export market.

Finally, the latest jobseekers figures for the county were published, presenting encouraging news with a further drop in the number of claimants. This is the ninth month in a row where we have seen a decrease – more evidence that our local economy is heading in the right direction and giving people access to even more better paid jobs.

Some busy months ahead

Friday, January 17th, 2014

We have a busy couple of months ahead of us as we start to plan out our budgets for the next five years.  And, as ever, our priority is to make sure that every pound of what is your money is spent as efficiently and effectively as possible

While we are seeing improvements in the economy both nationally and locally, we are well aware that many families and individuals across Staffordshire are having to make every one of their pounds count.  To help families plan their budgets for the year ahead and not place extra demands on people’s tight finances, we are working towards freezing our council tax again this year, as we have done for the last four years.

And as we will have less money in future years, it is vital that we, along with our partners in the public sector manage our resources even more carefully.  This means that we can continue to provide the valuable services people really need, such as care for elderly people or looking after our vulnerable children.

We continue to look for new ways of working and obtaining results and are proposing changes to some of our services and I would encourage residents to make their views heard in public consultations that we will be running in the months ahead.

I am also pleased to report that we have been shortlisted for the Local Government Chronicle ‘Council of the Year’ Award.  To be recognised in this manner by your peers, you have to clearly demonstrate how the work you are doing is having a positive impact on local people, businesses or the wider community in your area.

Recognition of our efforts in this way also help raise our profile nationally and helps support important work, such as attracting more businesses to invest here to create more jobs for local people, or to influence decision makers in government to provide more funding for the county.

I also have to say that being shortlisted also acknowledges the dedication of staff across the county council in delivering results for the people of Staffordshire.

Just a reminder and with some cold spells predicted over the next few weeks, our gritting teams are waiting to spring into action when needed.  We’ve had fairly mild weather over the winter so far, long may it last, but if the weather does take a turn for the worst we are prepared.  To reassure you we still have 25,000 tonnes of grit in stock to help keep the roads on the move and safe.

Making every taxpayer’s pound count

Monday, January 13th, 2014

As we start 2014 I have some more good news for tax payers as we continue to make our £ go further through sound financial management

By using cash instead of borrowing in 2013/14, we hope to make a saving of £1.5m on the interest we pay, supporting our aims and ambitions of stimulating economic growth, supporting independent living and making Staffordshire safer.

Over the last few years we have demonstrated sound management of our finances, achieving significant savings in an improving climate which nonetheless remains challenging.  Any saving and investment return we can make is good news for Staffordshire residents and will support our aims of making the county a more prosperous place where people are healthy and happy.

I will be asking Cabinet to approve the annual treasury report at our next meeting on 15 January 2014.

As I have repeatedly said before, we are always looking for better ways of delivering our services in an ever changing world and we are asking for people’s views on what these changes should look like.  From adult social care to libraries we must ensure that we can adapt to the way people live their lives.  We are now looking at proposals to make sure we have a library service that is fit for the future.  The way we access information has changed significantly in recent years with libraries offering more digital services and a rapid increase in the borrowing of e-books.  We want to start that conversation with people and would encourage anyone with an interest in libraries to let us know what they think.  You can read more about it at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/libraries

We are also looking forward to seeing the development of Entrust’s new headquarters in Stafford begin – supporting the regeneration of the site and the town centre.  This is good news for the town’s economy, as it means the extra jobs created by Entrust will remain in the county. We will now be working with our partners to submit a further separate planning application for the supported living accommodation on the other side of the site.

It’s also great to see that this week JLR have started their campaign to recruit 600 staff for their new engine plant at i54 South Staffs.  The recruitment drive will run over the next four years and will see the new recruits take responsibility for the assembly of engine components and operation of the plant’s manufacturing equipment.

The new engine manufacturing centre represents a £500m investment and as we know, brings with it huge economic potential for Staffordshire.  This weekend we’ll also see a major milestone on the project with the lifting of the bridge over the M54 into place.   This was a crucial part of the project which will link the M54 straight to the site, giving businesses immediate access to the country’s motorway network.  Connectivity to the site is also moving forward with the introduction of new bus services to serve the site.  This is all good news for Staffordshire as things move on at a pace.

New Year’s Honours and Staffordshire does us proud

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

I would like to wish everyone a happy new year and I do hope you had an enjoyable time over the holidays.

I was delighted to see so many people from Staffordshire recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, 14 in total which is a tribute to those who were recognised.

It’s good to see such a wide range of outstanding contributions being recognised across the whole county.  As we all know, Staffordshire is a great county with wonderful people making a real difference in their chosen fields and it is great to see their efforts recognised.

Amongst those honoured are staff from St. Johns Ambulance, a community swimming instructor, a health campaigner, a nurse, charity volunteers and a number of people recognised for their invaluable contributions to their work in the public sector.

I would like to say a huge congratulations to them all and thank them for helping to make Staffordshire the great county it is.

If you have made a new year’s resolution to get fitter this year, or want to kick start 2014 with a healthy theme, you might want to join in with a series of scenic walks taking place at Shugborough over the next few months.

Our team have organised eight themed walks between Sunday, January 12 and Sunday March 16.

Led by an experienced and informed guide, each walk will last around an hour-and-a-half and provide some great photographic opportunities as well as the exercise.

Taking full advantage of the sprawling parklands which feature one of the UK’s most remarkable collections of monuments and follies, some of the walks will even touch-on why the Estate hit the world’s headlines just a few years ago – as the final resting place of The Holy Grail!  Visit www.shugborough.org.uk for more details or to book yourself on one of the walks.