Archive for February, 2014

Good news as we are ranked in the top three for inward investment

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

We had a busy last Cabinet meeting with the approval for our new Archives Centre in Stafford and Amey as our Infrastructure+ delivery partner for highways operations and much more.

Firstly we approved our plans for a new partnership with Amey to improve the quality, speed of delivery and sheer breadth of our construction, maintenance and operations. We negotiated hard and negotiated differently to get the very best deal for the county, the council and our communities. The fact that we can deliver this at a reduced cost to Staffordshire taxpayers of £21.5 million in the next five years is even better news.

From Infrastructure+ to historical records, and I have to restate we have one of the best archives collection right here in the county. But we want more people to be able to enjoy these resources and that is why we have approved plans for a new £4m Centre at the Staffordshire Records office on the Eastgate Street site. The new centre will help preserve our collections for many years to come, as well as giving people a much better visitor experience. We have been working closely with the William Salt Library Trustees and local history groups for over a year now to develop the proposals. We also held a month’s consultation in January where we had feedback from over 240 people.

As part of the proposals, a new service will be put in place at Lichfield, as a Lichfield Local and Family History Centre within the Library. This will offer access to digitised collections and microfiche sources alongside the local studies collection within the Library.

Before we move any of the collections we are working with Findmypast to digitise over six million records including parish registers, wills and marriage bonds. This means that visitors will get free access from Staffordshire Libraries as well as the Archive Service offices. We’ll be applying for a Heritage Lottery fund grant to do the work.

I was pleased to be able to welcome the Prime Minister to the county at a visit to the i54 South Staffordshire Business Park. He spent an hour at the new Jaguar Land Rover engine factory to see the progress at one of the most exciting new manufacturing and engineering developments in the region, and indeed in the whole of the UK.

JLR’s investment at the plant, announced back in September 2011, injected confidence into the British economy and into British manufacturing at a crucial time and it is fantastic to see the new facility nearing completion, with the promise of new jobs and opportunities that it will bring.

We have more to shout about after the county and Stoke-on-Trent were ranked in the UK’s top three areas for inward investment in a report published by the Financial Times. Our Local Enterprise Partnership came third out of the UK’s 39 LEP areas for attracting new business and supporting business expansion in the area.

We all know what a wonderful place and people we have in Staffordshire and much of the regional success is driven by the work of our Make It Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Inward Investment Service, telling that story and promoting the county as a sound place to invest. Many companies are drawn to the area by the excellent road and rail links, competitive major developments, a strong engineering skills base and the offer of tailored support for those who relocate to the area.

As many of you will know we are already home to world-leading firms at the cutting edge of engineering, energy production and advanced manufacturing. And, working with partners, we have clear ambitions to strengthen and grow our economy in the years ahead, to bring more, better paid jobs and increased prosperity to people in Staffordshire.

Helping families by freezing County Council Tax again this year

Friday, February 14th, 2014

I have been in Manchester speaking about fiscal devolution to cities and city regions to the Communities and Local Government Committee – they are holding an inquiry into the subject and where looking for evidence from councils.

Staffordshire County Council were one of just four local authorities to be invited to speak to the panel of MPs and it was pleasing to put forward our case to Government that in Staffordshire we are in a strong position, based on our track record, to be given greater decision making powers.

I explained that national policies should support peri-urban and rural areas and not let them fall behind cities. Furthermore, counties should have greater influence on central Government spending to boost their own economies and opportunities for residents.

I have also attended the West Midlands Employers annual conference in Birmingham.  Andy Street, CEO of John Lewis and Chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, along with  Dean Royles, CEO NHS Employers, and Jon West, Director of Employee Relations at Jaguar Land Rover where the key speakers.  They all spoke  about the challenges facing organisations and workforce development in the current financial pressures.  Some lively debates and plenty of food for thought.

Back to the day job for a busy full council meeting on Thursday with fellow County Councillors, where we approved next year’s budget and a 5 year plan which aims to make sure everyone has the opportunity to prosper, be healthy and enjoy their life.

This is an important time for all of us.  While we all have less money to spend than in the past, we need to be very clear about our priorities and continue to find new, innovative and better ways of doing things.

I understand that families are having to make every penny count these days and we don’t want to add extra burdens to household budgets. That is why we have again agreed to freeze county council tax which makes up the largest part of your bill. Three years of freeze and one of reduction makes Staffordshire the lowest county council tax in the country.

With young people in mind, I would like to remind people to have their say on our proposals for youth services before the consultation ends on 26 February.

People have until then to make their views known on a new approach that could see the county council move away from a traditional building focussed youth service.  Instead support would be targeted at those young people in greatest need of help, while we would work closer with schools and colleges, voluntary and community groups to provide a wider range of opportunities for all young people in their communities.

We are particularly keen to hear from the four out of five young people in the county who do not currently use our youth services.  So if you want to have your say please go to www.staffordshire.gov.uk/consultation

Getting the best deal for Staffordshire on HS2

Friday, February 7th, 2014

In our formal response to HS2’s consultation which we submitted last week, we restated that removing blight and providing appropriate timely compensations to communities must be the primary focus.

This second phase of the project will cut through a further 33 miles of Staffordshire making 45 miles in total, and our only interest is ensuring our communities voice is heard and we achieve the best possible deal for all of Staffordshire and it’s residents.

The impact of the route on our environment, on our communities, on our economy and on our current rail network cannot be underestimated and as I have said before we will be working hard with all parties to get the best result possible. You can read our joint response with Lichfield District Council and Newcastle Borough Council at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/HS2

On a local note for myself it’s great news that two Rocester schools have agreed to explore plans to merge and move to new, improved facilities in the village. It’s very early days but the proposal could see a brand new, purpose built school that will really enhance education for children in the area.

Ryecroft CE Middle School and Dove First School would merge and have a brand new school, while JCB would use the land on Ryecroft as part of their expansion plans to their headquarters.

Improving education is one of our key priorities and we are determined to work with schools and all partners to raise standards in education across the whole of Staffordshire, as we create the right conditions for our economy to grow.

I met Trade Minister Greg Clark MP on Monday with fellow LEP board members Ron Dougan (Chair) and Mohammed Pevez, Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council. Mr Clarke spent the day in Staffordshire finding out about our plans to bring jobs and investment to the county, taking in a visit to i54 South Staffordshire.

Mr Clark said that our partnership had a clear vision and strategy with the right focus on infrastructure and skills and added that it should continue to build constructive relationships with neighbouring LEPs and MPs.

This was an ideal opportunity to discuss our strategic plans with Mr Clark and it was good to receive some constructive feedback on our plans.  As you will know, we have been working hard over the last few years with businesses to enable them to grow their operations with hundreds of jobs being created, while undertaking major infrastructure projects to support our growth.

Finally, just a reminder to our young sporting stars that there is still time to apply for a grant under our STAF grant scheme before the closing date of 2 March 2014.

Grants of up to £1,000 are available to young people living in Staffordshire and are awarded in selected sports to reflect the broad range of talent in the County.  We have a wealth of young sporting talent here in Staffordshire and as a council we want to do what we can to nurture this talent.  I would encourage people to have a look at the scheme and if eligible make an application.  There are more details at www.sportacrossstaffordshire.co.uk