Archive for July, 2015

Celebrating our Apprentices at the County’s First Graduation Ceremony

Friday, July 24th, 2015

I am sure you will agree that making sure that young people get the right training to get quality jobs should be a key part of plans to grow our economy and as I have spoken about before, apprenticeships are vital to this.  On Wednesday over 150 apprentices from across Staffordshire were honoured at the county’s first ever Apprentice Graduation Ceremony.  The apprentices with their families all joined local employers and training providers at the County Showground to celebrate their achievements.  It was a great event and good to see such a range of companies represented, including, JCB, KMF, the Fire Service, Entrust, the County Council and many more employers, large and small.  I am sure you will join with me in congratulating the young people who should all be very proud of their achievements.

We are continuing to make great progress in increasing the number of apprenticeships available to young people, in particular higher level qualifications.  Last year over 11,000 people started an apprenticeship in Staffordshire; nearly double that of five years ago.  The number of new apprenticeships in high-tech engineering is also on the up which is good news as many of the future jobs will be in this sector.

Sticking with skills, we also heard the encouraging news that our three pioneering skills hubs to improve people’s opportunities in the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector have made an impact on hundreds of Staffordshire people in its first year.

Training programmes have been operating in Tamworth, Newcastle and Stoke since October last year, providing courses employers say will give them the workforce they need while improving people’s career prospects.  There are growing employment opportunities in our key sectors in Staffordshire and it is important our workforce can make the most of them.  Over the next few months we’ll be announcing the next phase of the hub with additional spokes around the county.

Work is well underway at Liberty Park, in Lichfield – a £38 million development of industrial and warehouse accommodation which could create up to 1,100 jobs.  Alongside the work, it was also good to see the students from nearby Nether Stowe School visit the site to see first-hand what’s involved in an engineering project of this size. As at i54 South Staffordshire, the development is giving us the ideal opportunity to provide young people a taste of how rewarding a career in engineering can be.  Site development involves an eye for design, creativity, detail and mathematics and it was good to get this across to the young people themselves.

The county’s sports fans also got a special treat last Wednesday, getting to see Rugby’s greatest prize, the Webb Ellis Cup, as part of the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour.  The tournament starts in September, but people got a glimpse of the famous cup at Trentham Gardens and later on at Blessed William Howard School in Stafford.

Having this iconic trophy in the county I hope will inspire many of our sports people to pursue their sporting ambitions and build on our work to make Staffordshire a great county for sports events.

Devolution in the headlines again

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Devolution is very much the buzzword of our times – grabbing the headlines from Manchester to Cornwall to the West Midlands, and up to the North East, with everyone wanting a slice of the devolution pie.

With the Summer Budget and the devolution revolution gathering pace it seemed a good time to gather partners together and hold our own devolution summit here in Stafford.  This was an opportunity for councils, the police, the NHS, the fire service and business leaders to come together to see how devolution may look for us.

As a firm believer in localism, and decisions being made as local as possible, I couldn’t agree more that in successful counties like Staffordshire, more responsibility and resources should flow from Government to local communities and local decision makers.  In Staffordshire, we already have a track record of working closely with partners in the districts, boroughs and our surrounding shires and cities and the success of the City Deal and i54 South Staffordshire are a huge testament to this.

There should never be a one size fits all when it comes to devolution and, beyond Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country, residents may feel understandably a little anxious about control strings for some local services potentially being pulled from another urban area with a different mind-set.  So when it comes to serving up the devolution pie in Staffordshire there is certainly the appetite, but the focus for me is not on the size of the slice, but on ensuring we have the right ingredients to deliver the best for every single person in Staffordshire.

You may not be aware of this but Staffordshire will be 1,000 years old next year and to mark this we want to create ‘Staffordshire Day’.  The first recorded mention of Staffordshire was in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 1016, so a big year of celebrations is ahead of us.  Working with our tourism businesses through Enjoy Staffordshire, we want people to vote for what that day should be.  Amongst the dates are 5 July – the date the Staffordshire Hoard was discovered – and 1 May, which is the date Wedgwood was established.  Other dates refer to Samuel Johnson, author of the first English Dictionary and the engineer James Brindley.  To read more about the five options, cast your vote and get behind #StaffordshireDay, visit www.enjoystaffordshire.com/staffsday

Sticking with tourism, this year’s awards are now open for entries, so, if you are one of our wonderful tourism businesses, you have the chance to get yourself the recognition you deserve.  There are lots of different categories and all the details can be found at www.enjoystaffordshire.com The winners will be announced on 16 November 2015.

Creating the right conditions to help businesses flourish and give more people the skills and the opportunities to get better paid jobs

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

The big news over the last week has been the budget – designed to help businesses, children looking for adoption and people looking to secure better paid jobs.

While we work through the finer detail and what it means for people here in Staffordshire, some of the highlights include: an extra £8bn for the NHS, more support for businesses to create three million apprenticeships, car tax money being diverted to a new Roads Fund.  Further details are also expected on new enterprise zones and when powers on Sunday trading laws will be passed to local authorities.

As a county council, we are committed to creating the right conditions to help businesses flourish, attract investment and give more people the skills and the opportunities to get better paid jobs.

We’re very proud of apprenticeships and the contribution they make in growing our local economy and definitely welcome the additional places being made available.  Last year over 11,000 people started an apprenticeship here in Staffordshire; nearly double that of five years ago.  And, the number of higher level apprentices continues to grow also doubling in the last three years.  New apprenticeships in high-tech engineering have also increased by 39% in the last five years and are vital in securing future growth in the area.

Later this month we will also be recognising the county’s apprentices at the first Staffordshire apprenticeship graduation ceremony.  The event will celebrate the achievement of Higher and Advanced apprentices as well as raising the profile of Apprenticeships, in a bid to put them on an equal footing with a university route to success.

Still time for an opportunity for communities to run their own library – At the start of the year we outlined plans to reshape and safeguard our libraries by ensuring they are more flexible and responsive to people’s changing needs. This isn’t about closing libraries – all of our libraries will remain open. It is  about making sure our libraries move with the times, keep up to date and remain part of the community.

Part of that is  about supporting local community groups  in 23 areas and giving them the opportunity to develop and manage their own library.  Community Managed Libraries are about creating local spaces for the long term that offer a quality library service that meet the needs of local people.  This isn’t a new concept and we have seen how  this works well elsewhere in the country. .

We know that strong, vibrant communities can be built and renewed by the people living in them. Finding solutions together to make services more flexible and usable for local people not only gives people the chance to get involved and enjoy life, but helps them to take advantage of opportunities.

Managing and developing community libraries is a challenge, but I want to reassure people that Staffordshire County Council  will be there to support community groups that are chosen. It will be their decision as to how they  make best use of the library space and the partners and activities which they may wish to deliver. They will  have access to paid support from the Library Service to and will  remain part of the Staffordshire Library network.

This is a great opportunity to transform our local libraries so that people really benefit and with just a few weeks to go before the deadline for applications we’re urging people to register to find out more. Details are available on www.staffordshire.gov.uk/communitylibraries.  The closing date for applications is Friday 31 July 2015.

Work progressing well on new Stafford Library

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Earlier in the year we announced that the Stafford library currently located in the Shire Hall Gallery would be moving into Staffordshire Place, and having had a sneak preview of the work, it’s now starting to take shape.

The library is due to open in September and will not only offer access to books and resources for members of the public, but a range of modern facilities for businesses, community groups, schools and colleges.  It will have access to the latest technology, including new digitable touch tables, allowing people to view online resources and archives, photographs and other materials.  The new Innovation Suite is particularly interesting and will give people access to 3D printing, helping people and businesses to design and develop new products. Young people will also be able to use Raspberry Pi’s to help them develop their computer programming skills.

Technology has really changed how we live our lives these days and how we access information and books and it’s important that we keep up with it.  We’re very excited about the new library and I’m sure people will make good use of the facilities.  I will keep you posted on the progress.

Each year millions of people in the UK fall prey to scammers though it is thought less than one in twenty report them, and that’s why we are supporting Scams Awareness Month during July.

Our Trading standards team will be working with the police to set up a number of no cold calling zones in communities across Staffordshire to reduce fear of doorstep crime.  Criminals will go to any length to defraud   people and we want to help people spot the tell-tale signs and have the confidence to say no.

Common scams include doorstep double glazing sales, online investment offers, bogus bank calls asking for personal details and online job adverts asking for an upfront fee.  We would always advise that if something appears too good to be true then it usually is.  Quite often it is elderly people who are targeted too, so look out for your older neighbours and relatives.  You can get more advice on http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/

And even more sporting news this week with the Staffordshire cycling Festival that took place in Stafford and at Shugborough over the weekend.  This year’s event again welcomed some of the UK’s top professional cyclists.  As I have said before, we are fast becoming the ‘Sportshire County’ for great sports events which is very exciting.  In addition to the professional races, a fantastic programme of events was also planned throughout the weekend for amateur cyclists and families wanting to join in the fun.