Archive for March, 2015

Spring has sprung and lambing is in full swing …

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Spring has definitely sprung in Staffordshire and with English Tourism Week upon us, many of us will be looking forward to brighter evenings and hopefully warmer weather.

At Shugborough, the first delivery of lambs has already taken place and for the first time, people have had the chance to come and see rare breed lambs being born. The estate is half way through its spring baby boom with two rare Bagot goats born in the first couple of weeks. These goats are the most endangered species of livestock in the UK and there are only 100 or so breeding females left, some of which are at Shugborough.

The estate opened to the public on 13 March with a host of daffodils in bud in the gardens and a host of new-borns at the farm ready for daily bottle feeding and chick handling activities.  Again, this year there will be lots to do and lots to see at the estate and very much worth a visit.

As mentioned, we have just had English Tourism Week, and it is good to see that our tourism boom continues to draw visitors to Staffordshire. Our tourism businesses will be getting ready for hopefully another busy season.  Last year alone almost 25 million people, from home and abroad, enjoyed day or overnight trips to the county. This helped generate over £1.1 billion in direct spend on accommodation, entertainment, travel, shopping and food and drink which is great for our local businesses.  As well as this, the tourism sector supports over 28,300 jobs in the county.

I have said before we are a great county to visit with a wealth of visitor attractions that we are very proud of. We have Alton Towers, one of the country’s leading theme parks, as well as Drayton Manor Park in Tamworth. We also have a host of other exciting places including the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, St George’s Park and the National Brewing Centre in Burton, Cannock Chase and obviously Shugborough which all continue to attract thousands of visitors.

I am also delighted to report that we have formally agreed Proposals to create the first state of the art Dementia Centres of Excellence in the county.  The multi-million pound flagship centres will be developed in partnership with Symphony – a consortium made up of the Accord Group, Keepmoat and Quattro Architects.

The centres will create a real home-like environment where residents will be able to hold family gatherings, keep pets and have access to communal areas and facilities such as a café.  The centres are expected to open in 2017 – with overall places increasing from 109 in the three residential homes currently run by the council to 135 in the centres of excellence.

Preparing to welcome our armed forces and their families to Stafford

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Last year the county took part in a national scheme to help ‘troubled families’ and I am pleased to report that the scheme has been incredibly successful, turning around the lives of hundreds of Staffordshire families.

The broad aim of the scheme is to help parents get back into work, keep children in school and to reduce involvement in criminal and anti-social behaviour. The new approach of targeting the whole family, rather than individual members, is one of the reasons for the scheme’s success.

We’ve now got many families to the point of being more self-reliant, responsible and ultimately causing fewer problems in their local community. Stable families provide a platform for children to do better in school and that better education will help them in the long run to take advantage of the jobs and opportunities in the future.

We will start to focus on families with a wider range of problems, such as domestic violence, debt, health and where children are at risk of being taken into care. Working with our partners, we hope to help 5,000 families by 2020.

I’ve also been to see first-hand how the £150 million construction project is going at the Beacon Barracks site in Stafford. The site will soon be home for 1000 military personnel from 16 Signal Regiment and 1 Armoured Division Signal Regiment, plus their families.

Stafford has always had strong links with the armed forces and it is important that we provide the right conditions to allow our military personnel and their families to thrive. The site will include a mix of housing, technical and recreational facilities and a brand new school. The move is also expected to create a £90million boost to the local economy, with highly-skilled personnel moving into the site; bringing with them a wealth of expertise in information technology and communications. We are very much looking forward to welcoming the families over the summer and are working closely with the Ministry of Defence and Defence Infrastructure Organisation to make sure everything is in place for when they arrive.

Integration in Staffordshire

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Last week we saw the publication of an All Party Parliamentary Group report on “The State of Care in Counties” which calls for more integration between health and social care services.  The report came at the same time as plans to devolve £6bn pooled health and social care budgets in Greater Manchester were announced.

Getting care and health services to work together is something we have already been leading the way on here in Staffordshire with the creation of the country’s largest integrated health and social care trust back in 2012.  This work is essential if we are to successfully tackle the increasing demands and needs of a growing ageing population.  We do need to do more to reflect current pressures and priorities at a local level and will continue our partnership approach which brings together integration, prevention and early intervention.

I’m sure people will join me in congratulating Trentham Gardens who have just been voted BBC Countryfile Garden of the Year.

This is great news for Staffordshire and even more proof that our county is without doubt a great place to visit, live, work and play.

The Trentham Estate includes the famous Italian Gardens, a beautiful walk around the mile long lake, a children’s adventure play area and maze, and the Monkey Forest, home to 140 endangered Barbary macaques.

Beating off such tough competition from well-established gardens including Kew Gardens in Surrey is a real result for Staffordshire.  And, with Trentham Gardens and this latest accolade I’m sure we can look forward to welcoming even more visitors to our great county.

This month we launched our Big Commute campaign that is promoting alternative ways of travelling in and around Stafford.  During the campaign we’ll be offering people bus taster tickets, putting on cycling workshops, promoting the car share scheme and lots of other advice and competitions.  We are also giving people who try a different mode of travel for a week, the chance to win an ipad.  You can find out more about it at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/bigcomute

Whether it’s walking, cycling or taking the bus there are huge benefits in terms of keeping fit and healthy and for the town itself, as we reduce congestion on the roads.  Over the years we’ve completed a number of new cycleways in the town and made improvements to others. The NCN 55 linking Stafford with Newport is the latest one, giving people a 14-mile stretch to enjoy.  Later this month we will also finish off work on a modern £1.6m Cycleway bridge which will give walkers and cyclists a link over marshland between Baswich and Tixall Road.  This project has been all about connecting people in the south east of the town to our growing employment sites at Beaconside and Redhill.

Only last month we launched Real time Passenger Information on the buses, which is giving people live arrival times for their services.  This, along with new and modern buses, many with free wi-fi, means it’s a good time to hop on board.  There are plenty of travel options for people in Stafford and we want to encourage people to try them out.

Better value and better services through more integrated care

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

After three consultations over a 12-month period our final proposals for the library service were approved at a meeting of our Cabinet. We have listened carefully to people and have come up with a structure that we know will invigorate our libraries so they are better used and can respond to changing needs in the future.

Twenty of our forty three libraries will be managed and staffed by the library service, while the remainder will be supported in the community.  As we’ve said from the start no library will be cut adrift and left to its own devices, they will all remain part of our family.  It has been simply about adapting to changing technology and keeping the service relevant to local needs for years to come.

At our last Cabinet we also agreed the decision to join forces with five Clinical Commissioning Groups across Staffordshire to deliver more integrated care as part of the Better Care Fund plans.  This will see us and the NHS pool resources to develop a joint approach.

We have been quick to recognise the importance of providing integrated health and social care to deliver better value and better services for people.  We have already made fundamental changes to our approach and the Better Care Fund is another example of how closer partnership work, sharing expertise and pooling budgets is key to supporting a sustainable NHS.

And finally, there is still time for our young sports stars to apply for funding from the “Staffordshire Talented Athlete Fund”. There are three categories of awards, Gold, Silver and Bronze, with grants of up to £750 available to help meet the costs associated with training and competition. We are very proud of our young athletes and want to nurture that talent.  For more information on the grant or to check eligibility visit www.sportacrossstaffordshire.co.uk. The closing date for applications is Friday 6 March 2015.