Archive for December, 2015

Unemployment rate hits record low for Staffordshire

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

More good news this month with yet again another drop in the number of people claiming job seekers’ allowance in Staffordshire, hitting the lowest number on record this time, just 3,877 people are claiming job seekers allowance, 0.7% of the county’s population.  It’s been a good year with rates lower than 1% across all months, again testament to our ongoing work to grow, support and attract new business to the county.  Our mix of businesses both large and small also continue to drive our economy forward creating more jobs.

Moving from jobs to transport; we all want to see an effective, modern rail network with good connectivity  that meets the needs of passengers and the local economy.  In October 2017, a new franchise to run rail services in the West Midlands is due to start and the Government want to hear from people about what the new services should look like.  The 14-week consultation is being carried out jointly with West Midlands Rail and is a great opportunity to help shape future rail travel.  People are being asked for their views on most aspects of the network, from improving services and stations, journeys, timetables, ticketing to general customer service.  I would encourage people and especially anyone who currently uses trains in the region to get involved and have their say at www.westmidlandsrail.com.

And congratulations to our very own Adam Peaty who was shortlisted for the recent BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015 Award.  Adam, who started his swimming career at the Dove Valley Swimming Club in Uttoxeter didn’t win the Award, however, being shortlisted alongside such high profile sports stars was a real achievement for the young man.   2015 has been a fantastic year for the 20-year-old who won three gold medals at the World Championships in Russia earlier in the year and holds the world record for the 50m and 100m breaststroke.  Adam is a super sportsman and we are all very proud of his amazing achievements over the past few years.  We can now look forward to his appearance in the 2016 Olympics in Rio where we hope he is the first British man for 28 years to win an Olympic swimming title.

Delivering a balanced budget that is fair for everyone

Monday, December 14th, 2015

This week we will be meeting as Cabinet to consider our spending plans for the next five years which will deliver a balanced budget and one that is fair to all our residents. Care of the elderly, the disabled and looked after children would continue to be our priority along with improving education for our children, growing our economy, attracting more better paid jobs and helping people live healthier lives.

Over the last five years we have already reduced costs by £150m and continuing to reduce each year remains a challenge.  If you are a regular reader however, you will know that here in Staffordshire, we always look for more innovative and affordable ways of doing things and working more closely with our partners rather than just a knee jerk reaction of cutting frontline services.

We are still waiting on details of Government funding, but are considering a small 1.95 per cent rise in council tax – while still keeping council tax lower than the majority of other county councils.  In the Autumn Statement, the Government have also given councils the option to raise council tax by a further 2 per cent which would go towards the increasing cost of social care.  This is something we would only consider if there was no other choice.

Improving support services with a new finance system that could save the Council £250k per year is also a project that we are currently looking at.  This along with a tendering process to see if the current system that runs the payroll for staff and related administration personnel could be delivered in a new way, could both help us make valuable savings.  As I’ve said before we will always look at how we do things here in the Council and try to find better, more efficient and affordable ways of doing things which makes good business sense.  Any savings in our back office departments such as these also allows us to focus our resources on frontline services, protecting the vulnerable and supporting those who need help in the community.

And now to some festive cheer – and with Christmas just around the corner, here’s a reminder of some of the exciting things you can do and visit in Staffordshire over the next few weeks.

A visit with the children to see Santa, last minute shopping trips, fun of the pantomime and the prime locations to see in the New Year are just some of the activities available.  Treats include the Magical Christmas at Drayton Manor Theme Park With more than 20 rides and attractions to enjoy, spectacular decorations, festive music and guaranteed snow for at least three times a day.  Families can also join Santa on his annual adventure at the Alton Towers resort as it opens up. Experience the ‘Elves’ Emporium’, and selected theme park rides.

People can discover Christmas at World of Wedgwood, which is a treat for all visitors, with the museum, new restaurant and the shop with a host of Christmas bargains. Blithbury Reindeer Lodge is another experience like no other in the UK. It is an authentic, unique and award winning winter wonderland complete with Scandinavian style traditional wooden buildings, a Christmas tree lined sleigh ride path and reindeer of all ages and types. If you love your pantomimes there’s lots happening too for all the family.  In Newcastle-under-Lyme Robin Hood and Marian is taking place at the New Vic Theatre. Elsewhere in the county audiences can see Jack and The Beanstalk at Lichfield Garrick Theatre and Aladdin at Tamworth Assembly Rooms.

Extra funding for health and social care announced in Autumn Statement

Friday, December 4th, 2015

In the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement we saw a strong focus on improving health and social care services and extra funding for the NHS which I’m sure will be news welcomed by local residents. Alongside this was fairer funding for our schools, which we have lobbied hard for, an increase in funding for major transport projects and the creation of 26 new enterprise zones, one of which is at Ceramic Valley in the north of the county.

The Government still needs to reduce funding across its departments, and tough times still lay ahead but we very much welcome the extra support and funding being made available for health services and integrated community care.  Getting the very best care for our older and more vulnerable residents is something I’ve spoken about many times before and it’s something we all want to see.

We have already made major improvements in how we work with our health partners, including the integration of the county’s health and social care services three years ago.  And, through the Better Care Fund we will continue to work more closely with the NHS, pooling our resources to improve services and reduce the pressure on hospitals.

This year we have already specifically invested an extra £20m in social care and remain at the same time committed to finding better, more innovative, affordable ways to make sure people receive the best value and the best quality health and social care available.

Earlier in the week we got the long awaited announcement on the preferred route for accelerated Phase 2a of HS2 and that Crewe will host the station. The route will not only go to Crewe – but the project will be delivered six years ahead of schedule.  While the news will be welcomed by Crewe, the next phase of the project will cut through a further 33 miles of our countryside which I’m sure will be a bitter blow to those communities lying along its route.

Now that the route is confirmed, it brings to an end almost two years of uncertainty and means we can focus on getting the best deal for the county and for our communities.  We will be working hard with our partners to make sure we mitigate the impact on communities and the environment, we get meaningful compensation for people affected and we get some of the wider economic benefits of the scheme.

Back to the countryside and a subject that’s close to all our hearts.  As an 80% rural county it’s important we support our rural businesses and I’m pleased to be able to announce the brand new Staffordshire LEADER programme which will help us boost our rural economy.  There’s around 2.5m of funding available to a wide range of businesses or for those entrepreneurs who spot a gap in the market that will create jobs. Grants of £2,500 to £40,000 are being made available to individuals who need a little help in getting their idea off the ground. Funding up to 40 per cent of the total project costs is available, though more can be awarded in exceptional circumstances.  There’s more information at www.staffsleader.org.uk