Archive for September, 2014

Working together to keep our communities safer

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Community safety was on the agenda this week at our Staffordshire Hundred event and as always it was good to get together with our partners to see how we can better work together.

Working together to deliver the best outcomes for the county is not a nicety – it’s a necessity. The need to work together has never been more important and I mean working with all our partners, public, voluntary, community and businesses.

This time round we looked at the issue of safety and how offenders and their rehabilitation and management affects our wider partnerships. We were lucky enough to have Matthew Ellis, Police and Crime Commissioner, and Dennis Phillips from Timpsons as our guest speakers. Timpsons do tremendous work in recruiting and supporting ex-offenders providing them with a means of turning their lives around and it was interesting to hear how they do it and why.

Thankfully, Staffordshire broadly is a low crime area but the fear of crime and the impact of crime can be tremendous.

With the national changes to the probation service, legal aid and the Care Act making explicit reference to the care needs of prisoners and probationers. It is clear that national challenges are filtering down to what we are doing locally. Also, with an election on the horizon, there are issues around the muddying of waters over what is going to happen across all of our policy areas.

Overall I still believe that there is an increasing role for our partnerships in eroding the artificial barriers between services and approaches. We no longer look at health and social care as separate – and everyone accepts that education and skills are intrinsically linked. When it comes to community safety we need to do the same as we do in other areas of work and work together for the people of Staffordshire.

Scotland to remain as part of the UK

Friday, September 19th, 2014

After months of campaigning on both sides I am really happy to see that the Scottish people have decided for Scotland to remain as part of the Union. The United Kingdom is one of the most successful unions in the world and we’re definitely better together. At the same time I would like to see the continuing approach in greater devolution for cities and counties. Devolving more power to our cities and county areas allows more decisions to be better made locally allowing areas to grow their economies and improve the lives of people living in them.

More power over property taxes and then income taxes and the right to reinvest savings to increase revenue would all help our regions. After all, our counties and cities are the drivers for the country’s economy but we  still need a mechanism to share the extra wealth creation in London across the rest of the country.

Our recent City Deal ‘Powerhouse Central’ demonstrates what can be achieved through less control from Westminster.   We’re now building on the unique heritage, know-how and skills of the people of the county and city which is helping create thousands of jobs over the next decade.

It’s also pleasing to see that employment opportunities are continuing to grow here in Staffordshire as news shows the number of people claiming job seekers’ allowance has fallen yet again. It’s now at 1.3%, which is its lowest rate since 2007 – that’s pre recession.

The future is certainly looking bright – we continue to see business expansion, inward investment success and ongoing site development, in addition to more small and start-up businesses.

A lot of hard work is going on across the county to ensure businesses of all sizes can thrive. We are seeing more start-up businesses which are vital to our economic growth and job creation and we’re doing all we can to back them through our business loans scheme, enterprise centres and advice line. Our drive to increase skills for all so our workforce can match the needs of business is also stepping up, working closely with the LEP, Education Trust and our education providers.

In other not so good news, we heard of the announcement that mobile phone retailer, Phones 4u has been placed in administration. This is devastating news for its employees up and down the country, and in particular for the 500 people based at its headquarters in Newcastle. Although we are still waiting on the administrator’s decision on the company’s future, we will be working together with our partners like Jobcentre Plus to support any staff affected by the closure.

This week we also had a visit from members of the HS2 Select Committee who are touring the county to see for themselves the impact Phase One will have on our communities. And, as you’ll know from reading previous posts we are committed to getting the best deal we can for Staffordshire. This means reducing the impact of the route, getting timely compensation for residents and securing any economic benefits there are for the county.

This is an opportunity for the people making the decisions to see the impact the scheme will have on our landscape and communities. It’s also a great opportunity for local people to talk to those involved and raise their concerns.

We will also be giving evidence before the Select Committee in London in October and arguing our case that by modifying the design will help reduce the direct impact on communities and on the landscape – particularly on the skyline view of the three spires of the Grade 1 listed Lichfield Cathedral.

Giving our youngest children the best start in life

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Making sure that our youngest children get the best possible start in life is something we all want and to make sure this happens the County Council is looking at proposals to change the way the Children’s Centres system works.

It is vital we get this right and we want to consult with families and communities on the best way to make sure our proposals work in the real interests of the children who need the best start in life they can get. We hope to start an 8-week formal consultation shortly and will be asking people for their ideas and thoughts and I would urge people to have their say.

The present situation is far from ideal. At the moment our Children’s Centres only reach a quarter of families with children aged 0-5 and only a quarter of those are from the vulnerable families who need the help the most. Furthermore, at the end of their first year in school, only 54 per cent of children are assessed as having reached a good stage of development for school which is not acceptable – we need to improve this.

The new proposals will shift the focus from buildings to people – ensuring that the children who need it most get the help they need where they need it. The changes we are proposing are all about children and not buildings.

Under the proposed new system we will work with schools, health service, safeguarding services, police and others on a joint-up approach to commissioning services to improve family life in each of our districts.

We’re proposing that we keep 10 main Children’s Centres, transfer 24 to schools with a stipulation they use the space for helping 0-5s, and offer 20 to the community. At our next Cabinet meeting we’ll be putting the proposals forward and will make a start on the consultation.

On a different topic, poetry – a big congratulations to Harry Shenton for winning the title Young Staffordshire Poet Laureate. Harry, aged 17 from Barlaston, near Stone was chosen following a tough competition, impressing the judges with his poems and his plans to try and make poetry more popular amongst young people in the county.

Harry has a busy year ahead of him, writing and performing poems for special events across our great county and we look forward to reading his work and listening to his poetry. Thanks also to our former Young Poet Laureate Natalie Coterill, who has done a marvellous job of promoting poetry to a younger audience over the past year. I hope the position leads on to greater things for her.

While it seems far off, I would like to remind parents that they can now apply online for their secondary school place for September 2015 by visiting www.staffordshire.gov.uk/admissions.

Last year, nine out of ten parents were allocated their first choice secondary school, with 99 per cent allocated one of their top three preferred schools. Parents choosing a school face a number of key considerations, including the school’s latest Ofsted inspection, its performance at GCSE and A Level, how the school fares in specific subjects that align to their child’s particular skills, and what links a school has with employers.

This is an important time for both parents and pupils and we want to be able to give parents the information they need when choosing a school. A good starting point is www.staffordshire.gov.uk/doyourhomework for the latest performance data on schools in your area. The new site also gives parents tips on choosing the right school for their child, and general information on school performance. Please have a look before you make your choices.

Back to school

Friday, September 5th, 2014

September is a particularly busy time for us and our schools with children heading back to the classroom. This term even more so, with regards to some big changes around school meals which means that year one and two pupils will receive a free hot school dinner in line with new Government policy. The Council and our joint partner Entrust have been working closely with schools over the last year to make sure kitchens and canteens across the county were ready to deliver the extra dinners.

We know, from research, that children who received a hot school meal were more likely to perform better at school, so we are hoping the changes will have a positive impact on our children’s learning, health and well-being.

Staffordshire received the eighth largest settlement of 152 authorities: £2.03m for maintained and church schools. Work to prepare schools has ranged from installing serveries, refrigeration and new ovens, to making structural alterations to accommodate equipment and moving mains electricity and gas supplies. The changes will see a 40% increase in the number of meals produced and almost all our schools are now able to offer the extra dinners which is good news for families.

Staying with schools, we have also launched two new road safety campaigns this September to coincide with the start of the school year. The 20 is plenty campaign reminds drivers that a maximum speed of 20mph is enough outside schools to ensure the safety of pupils. Speed Indication Devices have been set up outside another 16 schools to let drivers know how fast they are going – they’ll flash if drivers go over 20mph. I’m pleased to see All Saints First School in Denstone, one of my local schools take part.

As well as reminding drivers about slowing down outside schools, pupils are also being targeted to do their bit in our ‘Ditch the Distractions’ campaign. This latest campaign is reminding pupils going up to big school for the first time that they need to be alert on the way to and from school. We know how easily distracted young people can be.

The campaign aims to discourage school children from messing about with their friends, and using smart phones, games and tablets while walking to school. Posters on display at the school, talks from road safety officers and a new online game, to be played only on a PC gives them tips and advice on taking care on the way to and from school.

Staffordshire remains in the top three counties for road safety in the country which is something we should be proud of, but we’ll continue to work hard to maintain this and improve it.

Finally, a new campaign has been launched to help raise the remaining £2.74m to keep the fascinating Wedgwood Collection together here in the county for future generations to enjoy. We’re hoping that the total £15.75m needed can be raised to purchase the 800-pieces and keep the collection intact.

Staffordshire’s ties with the Wedgwood dynasty stretch back more than 250 years and to this day Staffordshire County Council’s archives houses records of the births of Josiah Wedgwood who established the Wedgwood Company in 1754. The Wedgwood Collection is a unique archive and includes works of art such as Josiah Wedgwood’s celebrated Portland Vase and is a real asset for the county. I hope people will support the campaign.

Staffordshire’s 2015 sports calendar gets even better

Monday, September 1st, 2014

I’ve written in the past about how Staffordshire is fast becoming a hub for sporting activity, well I am sure you will be pleased to hear of yet another top sporting attraction in next year’s calendar. Next June the county plays host to the Corporate Games which will see between 4,000 and 6,000 competitors taking part from some of the UK’s biggest companies. This competition has been held all over the world, so it’s a great coup bringing it to Staffordshire.

Top executives from some of the country’s biggest and brightest companies will be taking part in a range of sports competitions from hockey to volleyball, basketball to dragon boat racing. The Games will take place at both Keele and Staffordshire Universities, Fenton Manor Leisure Centre, Newcastle College and Trentham Gardens, giving participants the chance to sample some of our sites and facilities.

But it’s not all about sport. Alongside the competitions there will also be a business enterprise day to showcase Staffordshire and its inward investment potential. This will be a great opportunity to show what Staffordshire has to offer to some real movers and shakers from the business world.

Not only will the games showcase our county, provide investment opportunities and be a great deal of fun, they will also provide a substantial boost to our local tourism sector, restaurants and shops. Encouraging sports and having a healthy workforce benefits everyone and ties in with our aim of an active Staffordshire.

We also have the national football centre at St George’s Park in Burton, which is continuing to attract international teams from many sports. Coming soon are Barcelona, who are using it as a training base. Next year, Ireland and Argentina will both use the ground as they start their preparations for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Hundreds of local cyclists and professionals are likely to take part in the Staffordshire cycling festival next summer. And finally, let’s not forget the Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire, which had 8,000 pre-registered athletes and sold out in less than 15 minutes.

All these events are great for Staffordshire and I have no doubt will help to inspire many communities, encouraging them to take an active interest in sports and keep active.