Archive for July, 2014

Commemorating the Great War

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

This week it is still important to remember the sacrifices made by millions of people, many from our own local communities as we join in the centenary commemorations of the Great War. Britain declaring war on Germany at 11pm on 4 August 1914 which saw the start of one of the darkest periods in the nation’s history.

With names on war memorials in all of our towns and villages, many with relatives living today, along with the National Memorial Arboretum, the Commonwealth and German War Cemeteries on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire has a long history of involvement, remembering, reconciliation and national focus for these commemorations.

Over the next four years there are lots of activities and events taking place to remember the county’s role in the Great War and to help future generations understand the legacy of the conflict. Our new www.staffordshiregreatwar.com website will be able to tell you what’s happening in your own local area.

Our Archives Service have produced a WWI War Memorial guide to help communities research their own local memorials. This is a free downloadable guide with 114 of the county’s memorials in it and packed full of photos. You can download it from the Staffordshire Great War website.

Our Poet Laureate, Tom Wyre has also written a series of special poems for us as part of our commemorations. Two of the poems, ‘Outbreak’ and ‘The Arrival’ follow the outbreak of the War from August 1914, through the trench battle scenes and finally detail the personal impact on loved ones through a telegram.

The Shugborough Estate is currently playing host to the Life on the Eve of War exhibition, reliving life on the estate through photographs and artefacts reflecting life for the Anson family and their servants at the house during the outbreak of war.

At Stafford Records Office you can also view the unseen final letters of 19-year-old Staffordshire soldier Private Horace Hill, from Eccleshall. Horace was killed on the front line in Soissons, in Northern France and his moving letters reveal his disillusionment with his situation as he shares his thoughts with his family. His final letter was dated just 9 days before his death in May 1918.

On August 4th, the anniversary itself, Shire Hall Gallery and County Buildings will be joining the nationwide Lights Out campaign for a shared moment of reflection. The campaign will see lights in buildings and homes across the country switched off from 10pm to 11pm as a mark of remembrance. Inspired by a famous remark made on the eve of the outbreak of war by the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”.

I hope people will join me and millions from across Europe in these times of reflection and take part in the many countywide events over the next four years until 11am on 11 November 2018, the centenary of when the guns finally fell silent.

Helping to shape the future of libraries

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

As you will know, we are currently looking at proposals for our libraries to make sure they are fit for future years, and we want your feedback to help us do this.

Libraries are something that are very close to most peoples hearts with most of us having used one at some stage in our lives. However, as the way people use our libraries continues to change, and the popularity of smart technology we are having to look at new ways to meet those changing needs.

We know, from consultation with more than 2,300 people and 150 groups earlier this year, that people do value their library, but we also know that visits to libraries are dropping every year. For example, last year only one in eight residents used their local library. At the same time though, the online library recorded almost one million visits in 2012/13, with the number of people borrowing an e-book doubling over the same period.

Our proposals, which we are now talking to people about would mean that more services would be available online while in some areas we would look for local communities to come forward, get more involved, and even run their own library.

I would encourage people to get involved and have their say in the consultation or drop into one of the face to face question and answer sessions that we are putting on in each of our libraries starting next week. If you can’t make one of the sessions you can always find out more about the proposals and have your say at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/libraries/connectedlibraries

Millions of Staffordshire records go online

Friday, July 18th, 2014

A lot has been happening in the county with the launch of our Archives Service project to get 6 million records online and our Generate Conference at Drayton Manor Park looking at Commissioning.

Coinciding with the centenary anniversary of WW1 coming up on the 4th August, and as interests grows we have seen the launch of our new Archives Service project to digitalise our records. This will now give people from across the world access to millions of Staffordshire baptism, marriage and burial records revealing over 360 years of Staffordshire history.

Over 2.8 million records from Staffordshire Parish Registers are now available on www.findmypast.co.uk which will rise to 6 million when the project is complete. We are keen to encourage more people from the county to explore their own family history, and access to the records on Findmypast will be free in the Archive Service offices and libraries across Staffordshire.

There’s lots of fascinating records about some of our more famous residents. Notable folk recorded in the collection include Captain of industry and prominent abolitionist, Josiah Wedgwood, the man who established the Wedgwood Company in 1754. His grand-daughter Emma Wedgwood, the future wife of Charles Darwin, also appears in the Collection.

Not only this, detailed accounts of a flood that swept two bridges away, an earthquake that rocked the parish of Alrewas in 1795, a series of local riots over food shortages and even a lightning strike that killed 3 cows and 2 horses. He also recorded events of national significance, such as King George III being fired upon with an air gun on his way to parliament.

We were delighted to be able to host, and welcome people from across the country, to the Generate Conference with the theme of improving public sector partnerships and commissioning to deliver better results for communities. This gave delegates a chance to hear about Commissioning in a new way – not about the theory or the intent, but the practice.

Speakers included Richard Vize from the Guardian and representatives from IBM, Capita and Staffordshire University who all shared their own insight and experience. The conference brought together people from across the public and private sectors in the UK and Europe, and part of the Public Health partnership CBI.

Anyone working both now and in the future with the public sector will understand the importance of working closer and smarter to deliver better results for local people, so it was good to share the best practice. Delegates also got a helpful UK perspective on accessing EU funding streams both present and future such as Horizon 2020. As well as examining the relationship of technology on commissioning, in particular how developments in technology are stimulating the ‘wellbeing industry’.

We got encouraging news from our treasury report discussed at our last Cabinet meeting. By using cash reserves instead of borrowing, the county council has made £1.9m savings on the interest it has paid over the last financial year. This contributes to our aims of stimulating economic growth, promoting independent living and making Staffordshire a healthier place.

As you will know, we always look to achieve the best value for money for our local tax-payers, and by running an efficient county council and by using our cash reserves rather than borrowing more, we have been able to make the savings, deliver priority services and keep council tax low in what remain challenging financial times.

More good news as £80m growth deal is announced

Friday, July 11th, 2014

This week in addition to our City Deal with Stoke on Trent we got the go ahead on one of the Government’s biggest growth deals in the country which will see major business, transport and skills development projects creating up to 5,000 jobs.

The £80.2 million available from 2015/16 onwards will support a range of projects which form part of our long-term economic plan drawn up by our Local Enterprise Partnership. The announcement is great news for local people and for our businesses and sends out a clear message that Staffordshire is very much open for business.

In Staffordshire we have shown time and time again that we can deliver big projects – i54 South Staffordshire, Redhill, Kingswood Lakeside and the new automotive skills hub in Tamworth to name but a few. We have completed major road improvements to aid business expansion and are about to begin a huge project on the A50 near Uttoxeter. The hard work doesn’t stop there though – we still have much to do, but the growth deal will make it happen. Exciting times lie ahead for the county as we stride to bring more higher paid jobs and prosperity to people.

Small businesses based in the county looking for finance to support their growth will be happy to hear that our business loans scheme has £1m of funding available this financial year.

Our Staffordshire Business Loan Fund has gone from strength to strength since it started in 2009 – supporting over 100 businesses and creating or safeguarding 860 jobs. Over the past five years, the fund has invested just over £3m, with £1m still available to support small businesses this financial year.

We know that many small businesses still struggle to secure finance from traditional sources, so I would encourage anyone looking to expand to get in touch with the scheme. You can find out more at www.bcrs.org.uk you can also get general advice by calling the Staffordshire business helpline on 0300 111 8002.

I’ve just spent a few interesting days at The LGA annual conference in Bournemouth which focused on the challenges and opportunities facing local authorities over the next few years. It was good to hear from colleagues and peers in other parts of the country and to get a feel for how we are doing here in Staffordshire.

The theme of this year’s conference was on Investing in our Nation’s Future: The First 100 Days of the Next Government. It lays out the ‘must do’ tasks that the new government will have to tackle in May 2015. It was interesting to listen to MP Brandon Lewis’s speech about the changing habits of British shoppers on the high street and also MP Toby Perkins on how local authorities are taking to help grow the local and national economy and to protect front line services.

I also got the opportunity to give a presentation and lead a workshop on Realising talent: employment and skills for the future. I was able to talk about our innovative work and plans to increase skills through our Education Trust and the new auto-motive hub in Tamworth.

IRONMAN is coming to Staffordshire… are you up for the challenge?

Friday, July 4th, 2014

We all know Staffordshire is a great place to live, work and visit because that’s why we all live here, and now we’re also fast becoming a key destination for great sports and leisure activities. I can say this as we’ve just announced that next year we will be hosting the world famous Ironman competition. And even more impressively, within 24 hours of announcing the news over 3,000 people completed a pre-entry form which is the best response IRONMAN have ever had for a competition.

Not for the faint hearted, but great for Staffordshire and our local businesses as we will be welcoming thousands of athletes, their friends and families and spectators who will be visiting and staying in the county during the event.

If you’re up for it, you could join contestants in a 1.2 mile swim at Chasewater, a 56 mile cycle race taking in Lichfield, Burton and Cannock chase, and a 13.1 mile run at Shugborough. If that all sounds too much for you, remember we are always happy to see families keeping fit and healthy by taking in a few miles walking or cycling on our cycleways – all contributing to our ambition for an active Staffordshire.

Attracting such a high profile event like this is a real coup for the county, and will give a further boost to our already booming £1.6bn tourist economy. As we all know Staffordshire has lots of great places to visit and things to do, and hosting the event gives us the perfect opportunity to showcase to the rest of the world what our great county of Staffordshire has to offer for both inward investment and visitors.

Now from sports to food – as you will know we want people to be healthier and happier here in Staffordshire, which is one of our key priorities. To do this and to help cook up some community spirit in our local communities we have just launched a new campaign.

Casserole Club is a new scheme to help reduce loneliness and isolation amongst some of our older residents. The scheme matches up cooks (people who are happy to prepare an extra portion of food for a neighbour) with diners (those not able to prepare their own hot meals). It’s a unique scheme that gives people the chance to get to know one another over a good meal, which also helps strengthen our local neighbourhoods.

The great thing is that you don’t have to be a fantastic cook, you just need to be willing to make a little extra and give a little extra….which will undoubtedly go a long way to helping others. If it sounds like something that you could help with, you can sign up or find out more at www.casseroleclub.com.

It was also good to welcome Frank Green CBE, National School Commissioner for the Department for Education to the county for our recent Improving Schools Conference.

The event brought headteachers from across the county together and focussed on the importance of building strong networks between schools and supporting each other to help increase standards. During his speech, Mr Green emphasised the importance of schools working together to form clusters, including multi-academy trusts, allowing them to grow stronger as a result and improve the education of young people in the county. He also outlined the role of the regional school commissioner, and how they will link in with local authorities to drive up standards in local schools.

Our focus for the future is to support and challenge school leaders to be the best that they can be, improving the way schools work together, with their governors, and in partnership with parents and pupils. And the good practice highlighted at the conference showed just what Staffordshire schools are capable of.