Archive for December, 2014

Budget to meet the increasing care needs of our ageing population

Monday, December 15th, 2014

It has been a busy couple of months as we set out our latest spending proposals over the next five years, including the budget for next year.  Continuing care for those least able to help themselves, working ever closer with the NHS to improve people’s health and wellbeing, and supporting the county’s growing economic recovery are all central to the plans.

The budget identifies additional investment of more than £20m next year, with the vast majority for increasing demand for care from older people, people with disabilities and vulnerable young people.

To date £17m of savings proposals have been identified across the council. They include reducing costs through changes in the back office, closer working with partners or reviewing contracts, and either looking at new ways of providing or funding services.  It is proposed that council tax will increase by 1.95% from April, but bills would still remain among the lowest in England.

Over the last five years we have been able to manage the demands on the Council’s budgets and services well by changing the way we work, finding new and better ways to provide help those who need it and by reducing costs wherever we can.  We have done this by being innovative and creative, rather than relying on the old way of providing council services and will continue to look for new ways to work.  .

At the meeting of full council on Thursday we also announced and approved the appointment of our new Chief Executive, Mr John Henderson.  John is currently the Officer Commanding the British Army in Germany and will bring 30 years’ experience of providing the essential support services the British Army needs both at home and to its overseas operations.

His current role has required an innovative leadership approach in a time of immense change, similar to many of the changes facing local government today. This has included maintaining business as usual operations, while ensuring forces personnel and their families have the support and opportunities they need.

John will take up his role in May and will be responsible for over a billion pounds of annual expenditure focussed on benefiting the lives of more than 850,000 residents, and brings an extensive track record of financial innovation, commercial acumen and strong leadership.

Another exciting piece of work we are developing is around our proposal for a strategic property partnership with Kier.  These proposals for a new ground-breaking partnership will help boost the Staffordshire economy by unlocking value from empty and underused buildings.  We’re joining forces with Matthew Ellis, Staffordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, to maximise the use of our property and land to deliver greater value to the public purse.  If approved Kier will review the existing portfolio as part of an initial 10-year agreement.  The partnership will bring in the commercial expertise to allow us to take a fresh look looking at potentially packaging property or land with partners to make projects more attractive to investors.  We own around 400 buildings and offices and it makes sense to see if we are getting maximum value and use of every single one, particularly where they are surplus or underused.

It is very encouraging to see that primary school children in Staffordshire are making real progress. This year’s results show that over 85 percent of pupils achieved at least the expected level in writing, up from just under 84 percent last year which is great news. In maths, levels are now at nearly 86 percent, up by nearly 3 percent on last year.  The results represent a push to raise improvement across the county at Key Stage 2, and a greater focus on ensuring each child can fulfil their potential.

It is vital that our young people are given a solid foundation on which to build upon, both in education and ultimately in employment.  We have seen some big improvements in recent years, but we want to go further and move faster to collectively raise standards even more.  We want to make sure all our pupils have the opportunity to attend an excellent school, fulfil their potential and be equipped with the skills and knowledge to lead fulfilling lives and rewarding careers.

General’s letter reveals truth about 1914 Christmas Truce

Monday, December 8th, 2014

In the Autumn Statement we learned of an overhaul of the Stamp Duty system, more investment in roads and health, and greater support for flourishing business which is all good news for Staffordshire.

While clearly this was never going to be, nor should it have been, a “giveaway” budget, it is good to see changes to the stamp duty system to allow more families to benefit from “extra” cash in their pockets when buying a home.  More investment in roads and infrastructure, along with support for business are also welcome as we all work towards getting our economy back on track.

In Staffordshire, as well as the rest of the country, we have all had to look at just not how much money we have but how we spend it. This means it is more crucial than ever that we work with partners in Government, borough and district councils, the NHS and police to get the maximum value and the maximum benefit for Staffordshire and our residents.

Funding for a further round of Growth Deals from 2016 onwards to support growth projects across the country was also announced and we’ll be looking more closely at these opportunities.  It was only last summer that we were awarded £80m as part of the Government’s Growth Deal.  This funding is essential and really complements our plans to work with the public and private sectors to create quality, well paid jobs for people in Staffordshire.

I would also like to tell you about our Archives Service’s amazing discovery of a rare letter written by a British Army General on Christmas Day 1914. In the letter by General Congreve VC he talks about one of the most iconic stories of the First World War, the Christmas Truce and the famous game of football that took place between the German and British soldiers.

We revealed the letter at the National memorial arboretum and the news of its existence spread across the country and even made it as far as Australia.  to have such a detailed account from a high ranking officer, written on the actual day is a real gem.  The fact that this year we are commemorating the centenary anniversary of the start of the great war makes the discovery even more special.  You can read all about it on www.staffordshiregreatwar.com  or even listen to the letter being read out by Gary Longden, our Poet Laureate on our Youtube channel.  You can also see the letter for yourself at the Records Office on Eastgate Street in Stafford.

Finally, the cold weather has arrived but you’ll be pleased to know that our teams of gritters will be out and about across the county to keep the roads clear and people safe.  If you are driving over the next few weeks please take care and remember to keep an eye on Twitter for our gritting alerts.

Still time to have your say on proposals for early years

Monday, December 1st, 2014

In September we asked for people’s thoughts and ideas on changing the way we work with our under-fives through our Children’s Centres.  Our consultation closes on 3 December and I want to remind people if they haven’t already done so to have their say on our proposals.

Making sure that our under fives get the best possible start in life is something we all want to see but our current system is not working well enough to achieve this.  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.

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 and when they need it.  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.  People only have a few days to have their feedback on the proposals and you can do that at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/beststart.

I would also like to remind readers that people in “at-risk” groups can now get their free NHS flu jab in pharmacies across the county for the first time.  For years now GPs have been offering free seasonal flu vaccinations to pregnant women, people aged 65 years and over and those with certain long-term conditions. Now being able to pop to your local chemist makes it even more convenient for people to have it.  Flu can be nasty, especially if you have any underlying health conditions and we would advise people if offered the vaccination by their GP to take it.