Archive for March, 2014

New approach to support Staffordshire’s most vulnerable families

Friday, March 28th, 2014

A top priority is to ensure that our Staffordshire families are well supported and have the skills, ambitions and knowledge to ensure their children aged 0 to 5 years old are safe, healthy and school ready.

To achieve this we are working with our partners, the Health and Wellbeing Board, parents, communities and other organisations to develop a new approach that responds to the needs of these families. We want to put greater focus on ensuring those who are vulnerable receive the right help at the right time before problems escalate. We will also be looking at services delivered by other agencies to ensure that our families are able to access what they need, when and where they want it. With a new approach we will be better placed to face future challenges of increased demand and shrinking resources.

I was also pleased to read about our online directory for care workers, ‘Patchwork’, and how it has made its way across the world to children’s services in Australia. We developed this online tool a couple of years ago with Future Gov to help frontline staff identify other agencies and individuals who have been involved with a particular child or family. It has been praised for its ease of use and it’s encouraging to know that our innovative work is not only being recognised by other councils but by other countries.

There’s also some good news around employee sickness absence at the County Council which is below the national average for both public and private sectors.

Our latest report shows that the average number of days lost through sickness is 7.2 days per employee. Since December, this has fallen again to 7.06. This compares to 8.6 days nationally in the public sector and 7.7 nationally in the private sector.

Two years ago we introduced a package of measures to help reduce employee sickness and get our staff help at the earliest stage. Part of this included a pilot physiotherapy service offering immediate assessment and treatment for staff. The service also focuses on preventing problems from arising in the first place, giving employees the opportunity to request referrals at the first sign of any symptoms.

In addition to our physiotherapy pilot, over 1,000 managers received training and information on staff absence, with new reporting measures also being introduced which is helping to make a difference.

It’s official – Vulnerable children in Staffordshire are very well protected

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Children Services are very much in the news at the moment for all the wrong reasons and one of our overriding priorities is to ensure that vulnerable children in Staffordshire are safe and I am delighted to report to you that our Families First services has been rated as ‘Good’ by Ofsted.

While worrying that children should ever be put at risk, this is obviously good news, especially in light of the fact that we were one of the very first authorities to face the much tougher Ofsted inspection regime. The Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, himself told MPs that this would result in more than 100 children’s services departments in England and Wales being rated as ‘Inadequate’, or ‘in need of immediate improvement’.

This is the result of a lot of hard work since we were judged as under-performing in some areas only two years ago. This rating recognises our excellent, and even trailblazing, safeguarding procedures, our good quality services, how our early intervention practices are appropriate and effective, that those leaving our care are safe and supported, and most importantly, how we listen and take account of the needs and the voice of the child in all that we do.

But the county council can’t take all of the credit. Our work to keep children safe and help them succeed and achieve is a partnership effort. Our partners, which include the Police, the NHS, the third sector and schools, all have a part to play. The Staffordshire Children’s Safeguarding Board is also instrumental in making a difference to children and acting as a critical friend to us. I thank them all for their continuing support in this most important work.

At this point though, I’d like to highlight the tremendous work of our staff – a team of dedicated professionals who have worked very hard to achieve this result. Yes, we’ve increased investment in providing the right support and training for social workers, but it’s the enthusiasm of our staff to achieve change and improve, improve, improve that has made the difference.

But we should never be complacent. Of course there is always room for improvement and we will continue to improve at pace. At the same time though, we’ll be working with other authorities to pass on those ways of working that work well. There is nothing more important than keeping children safe. They are the future.

A budget supporting Staffordshire’s firms to invest, export and create jobs

Friday, March 21st, 2014

On Wednesday we had the Chancellor’s latest budget with some promising business changes that will benefit many of our local firms while laying the foundations for sustainable economic growth. Also announced and set to benefit Staffordshire people was an increase in the taxable allowance and the introduction of some big changes to the pension system.

The new budget plan includes doubling direct lending to businesses to £500,000 which will allow them to invest, export and create jobs especially apprenticeships for young people. New export markets will be pursued with £3 billion being made available which is vital for continued growth and prosperity in Britain and of course for Staffordshire’s economy. This means that our small and medium sized manufacturers will get the help they need to expand and grow.

Many of the business initiatives will also support our recently-announced City Deal, which will attract more than £110 million initially, as part of a 10 year programme to create more than 20,000 jobs, 3,900 apprenticeships and cheaper power for energy-intensive manufacturers.

I was pleased to see that the personal taxation threshold will increase to £10,500 and the 40p tax threshold rise to £41,865. The Chancellor also announced major changes to the pension system which will give people the chance to take increased control of their own lives by being able to make more decisions about how they use their retirement income and live independently. This is the first major reform of pensions since the 1920s and pensioners will have freer access to decide what they want do with their pension pot.

The announcement of a 1p a pint cut in beer duty is thanks to Burton and Uttoxeter MP Andrew Griffiths for his hard lobbying on behalf of the historic brewing town and this will no doubt benefit the many local breweries and workforce.

Overall a positive budget plan that supports our ongoing work to boost the local economy, enabling Staffordshire to thrive with more people in employment.

Fantastic news for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent as we secure a City Deal

Friday, March 14th, 2014

I wanted to let you all know as soon as possible the fantastic news about our City Deal with the Government which we have been working on for some time now. Over the last few years we have been working closely with our partners on the Local Enterprise Partnership, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and a range of businesses to secure a ‘City Deal’ for Staffordshire and the city of Stoke on Trent.

I signed the Powerhouse Central City Deal on Thursday at Goodwins Ltd with Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Minister for Cities, Mohamed Pervez, Leader of Stoke City Council, and Ron Dougan, Chairman of our Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Local Enterprise Partnership.

The Government is committing £30.9 million which combined with private sector investment and other programmes will see over £113 million invested in the local economy over the next 10 years. Our Deal is the biggest of all the second wave of city deals in terms of direct cash from Government, which acknowledges our ability to deliver on such ambitious proposals. It is also the key to unlocking far greater opportunities for us all through European funding and inward investment.

The hard work starts now on delivering our City Deal – called Powerhouse Central. This will help to accelerate our work to create a connected county and the right conditions for business to thrive. Thousands more skilled, better paid jobs will be created across the area in the fields of sustainable energy, and advanced manufacturing and materials.

An important part of the deal is developing unique plans to supply locally-produced, sustainable energy to some of our major employers. Addressing the cost and stable supply of power tackles one of the biggest challenges for local manufacturers, which will help to safeguard jobs and enable thousands more to be created.

In addition to this our schools, colleges, training providers and universities will be brought together with employers to make sure Staffordshire people have the right skills and training to benefit from the new, higher skilled, better paid jobs. This will include more apprenticeships and training opportunities. New and existing sites across the county and city will also be developed so more businesses can set up or expand.

My thanks go to everyone involved in putting together this plan and I put down a challenge to all Staffordshire people to take the opportunities you now will have. You can keep up with the latest news on Powerhouse Central at www.stokestaffslep.org.uk<http://www.stokestaffslep.org.uk

Supporting young people into jobs and training

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Last week was National Apprenticeship Week and at the same time we saw the publication of a government report into youth unemployment. This showed encouraging news for Staffordshire as youth unemployment is still well below the national and regional averages and has been falling since 2010.

Supporting young people into jobs and training has always been a top priority for us and we’re making some good progress in the vital work of making sure we have a skilled workforce to support our future growth. We recognise that Apprenticeships are one of the things that are vital in bringing growth and prosperity to Staffordshire and it’s encouraging to see that we have increased the number of apprenticeships in the county by over 35% over the last four years. Our own apprenticeship scheme, which has seen us ranked in the top hundred UK employers has also taken on around 550 apprentices since 2009. I also know from my work as a business Governor at South Staffordshire College that over 300 employers have places involved with the College.

Apprenticeships give employers a great opportunity to grow their own talented and skilled workforce, while allowing young people to gain valuable skills and experience. I was pleased to see that twelve of the county’s apprentices were celebrated for their contribution to businesses at our annual Local Enterprise Partnership Apprenticeship Recognition Awards.

The creation of the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network is another exciting initiative that will help us to continue increasing the number of apprenticeships. Chief Executives, training staff, and former apprentices from across the county have taken on the role of Ambassadors to help promote the benefits that apprenticeships bring to businesses and organisations. Our Business and Apprenticeship Helpline on 0300 111 8002 is also giving local firms the advice they need to take on an apprentice.

Our Let’s Talk Jobs campaign which launched last year also continues to increase awareness amongst young people; giving them the best source of impartial advice to help kick-start their careers.

The Engineering Hub was also launched last week, which will be encouraging small and medium-sized companies in the manufacturing and engineering sector to join and help match up engineering apprentices with suitable placements. Larger companies such as JCB and Alstom already take on apprentices. Now more of our smaller businesses are realising the real advantages they stand to gain by taking on an apprentice and at the same time giving someone a great start in their career. Stafford Works, MP Jeremy Lefroy’s charity is behind the new hub which will play an integral part in increasing skills and thereby having real long-term benefits for the county.

Working together to build a strong local health economy for Staffordshire

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Although many of you will have been disappointed, but not surprised with the Health Secretary’s decision to dissolve Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, I want to reassure you that as a county council we will continue to use our leadership and influence and work with our partners in the NHS to deliver what is best for us, the people of Staffordshire.

A lot of positive work has already gone on over the past few years to improve our local health economy, not to mention our Healthy Staffordshire Select Committee which will continue to drive improvements and challenge every decision taken.

Our Health and Wellbeing Board will bring everyone involved in the wider health sector together and help all our partners to work more closely together.  ‘Engaging Communities Staffordshire’ is also the new independent body which is helping to give people a voice which had been lacking before.

While we can never forget about what happened at Stafford Hospital I sincerely hope that we can deliver an integrated health and social care service that we can all be proud of, with the help of our partners and crucially the patients and our families.

As I have mentioned before we are involved in an exciting multi-million pound Government scheme on my patch at Uttoxeter  which will drive economic growth along the A50 Growth Corridor.  This is great news for the area and will see the major trunk road improved in two separate projects around the town. The first project involves creating a new junction to the west in order to support housing and a new business park and the second phase focuses on improved safety and reduction of traffic delays by the removal of two roundabouts and the creation of a new junction to the east.

We have been asking people for their views on the project and at our first information session, over 350 people turned up to give us their thoughts.  You can have your say or find out more at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/a50growthcorridor.  We are hoping to submit an application in the spring, with work potentially starting on Project A in late 2014.

We’ve also reached yet another milestone on our major infrastructure project at i54 South Staffordshire.  Over the weekend an old access bridge over the motorway was demolished.  This means that we are right on schedule to finish the main junction by September and this is good news for employees of Moog and Eurofins, who are already on site.  Soon too will be Jaguar Land Rover and International Security Printers (ISP), bringing in a further 1,000 jobs to the area.