Archive for February, 2016

Growing our rural economy and supporting our County Farms

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Giving people a helping hand so they can support themselves is a topic I’ve often spoken about before. Our thriving tenant farm programme is a good example and something that we are very proud of here in Staffordshire as it is one of the strongest such schemes in the country.

With food miles and food security being so important, agriculture remains a key industry for the county, providing thousands of jobs and supporting other businesses, the rural economy makes an enormous contribution to the county’s overall prosperity.

Not only do our County Farms offer the brightest skilled young farmers a foothold in the industry but they also contribute around £500k a year to the local economy. Spread across the county , our estate includes 94 farms, with houses, buildings and 8,600 acres of agricultural land.  And, even more encouraging is that of the 19 units let to new starters since 2008, all the tenants have been aged between 20 and 30 years old which proves we’re attracting even more young people into the sector.

Farm rents are usually reviewed each year, however, as a responsible landlord and to help support our tenants we took the decision to postpone this year’s review until March 2017. This is the second freeze in two years for some tenants.  We know that times are tough and we don’t want to impose an extra burden on businesses.  Furthermore, our County Farms team will be visiting tenants to offer advice on running the most cost effective business and being as competitive as possible.

We remain committed to developing the rural sector even further and the exciting new AgriSTEM Academy, part of South Staffordshire College, which is due to open later this year will make sure people have the skills to help grow the sector even further. The new £5.4m skills hub is being delivered by the county council on behalf of the local enterprise partnership and forms part of the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Skills Hub.  The project will see existing buildings transformed into state-of-the-art facilities for learners and will put Staffordshire at the forefront of skills development in manufacturing and agricultural technology.

Sticking with growing our local economy, I have also been supporting a call for a relaxation of Sunday trading laws which haven’t been updated since 1994. It’s exciting that the Government continues to increase devolution in a range of areas and Sunday trading laws are a good example of an issue which should definitely be handled locally.

The letter, published in the Sunday Telegraph, was also signed by other Council leaders and supports claims that updated trading laws could provide a boost of £1.4billion a year to the UK economy. Other research also shows that it could also help create between 7% to 10% more jobs which would be great for Staffordshire people.

Urging young people to “Say no to sexting’ in our latest campaign

Monday, February 15th, 2016

This week is a slightly more serious message.  We are all aware how essential mobile phones and devices are to young people’s lives, and how ‘plugged in’ they are to the internet.  Such freedom means they can connect to friends and people all over the world.  But there is a dark side to the Internet.

Online grooming is one of the major causes of  child sexual exploitation, which the County Council , Staffordshire Police, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, the Children’s Safeguarding Boards, schools and our other partners are working hard to prevent.

As part of a major campaign to tackle sexual exploitation, we’ve celebrated Safer Internet Day and we’ve launched the ‘saynotosexting’  campaign to help warn young people and their parents about the dangers of sexting.

You may have already seen the Central News Story on ‘Say No to Sexting’.  The new campaign includes a new website www.knowaboutcse.co.uk which has lots of information and advice on keeping safe.  There’s also a host of useful videos, activities, and resources that can help professionals, parents and young people in recognising the signs of sexual exploitation and how they can report it and prevent it from happening. Many schools have already joined in with the campaign and are using the materials but we are keen to see even more get involved.

Sexting is when someone sends or receives a sexually explicit text, image or video, usually in a text message or through other messaging service and more worryingly it’s on the rise. And, sadly, too many of our young people feel under pressure to take and share indecent images of themselves without fully understanding the potential consequences of this. Once that image is taken and shared, it becomes out of their control and can result in bullying, blackmail and even exploitation.

We have made great progress in recent years in protecting children and tackling child sexual exploitation, working even closer with our partners.  We all have a part to play in helping young people stay safe and I would urge everyone to visit the new website and help raise awareness of the issues.

Anyone concerned about ‘sexting’ can also call the NSPCC on 0800 800 5000, it is free and available 24 hours a day and the number won’t appear on a telephone bill.  If you think that your child has been forced to send or receive an indecent image or video, or is engaging with them inappropriately you can contact Staffordshire Police on 101 or report it online to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEO) at www.ceop.police.uk

Cabinet support proposals for a balanced budget

Friday, February 5th, 2016

You will know I have written before about supporting the elderly, protecting children at risk and investing in jobs, roads and training and skills and they will all remain our focus for 2016 and beyond.  We all know about the challenging times for councils and the public sector at the minute but it is our job to make those difficult choices, work with what we have and try our hardest to deliver a better life for Staffordshire people while supporting local businesses.  We want to continue supporting those who need our help the most while helping more people to be less dependent on public services and public money.

This week I met with my cabinet colleagues who have supported proposals to accept the offer by Government to increase council tax by a further 2% to spend on adult social care.  This would see a proposed total rise of 3.95% in county council tax in 2016/17. This still leaves our rate amongst the lowest in the country and works out around £40 per year for families living in a Band D council tax property. The proposals will now be presented to Full Council on February 11 for approval.

For anyone interested in volunteering, you might want to find out more about a range of exciting new volunteering opportunities at our libraries right across the county. The volunteer roles are designed to help people explore their own interests whilst making a difference in their community. Dedicating just a minimum of just two hours a week is all that is needed and volunteers will have the opportunity to meet new people and learn new skills whilst helping local communities get the most out of their library. 

Volunteers already play an important role in our 43 libraries, helping and advising customers, organising books and resources and helping out with reading groups and children’s activities.  We also have a team of IT Buddies who show people how to use the computers and the Internet.  If you have some spare time, skills you would like to share or if you’d like to meet new people then maybe it’s for you.  You can find out more at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/volunteerinyourlibrary

Sticking with libraries and books, young bookworms might also be interested in this year’s BBC Radio 2 national short story competition.  Children aged 13 and under are being invited to take part in the ‘500 words’ competition which has been running for 6 years now.  We’ve had some previous success in this competition with Uttoxeter schoolgirl Olivia Norton, winning first prize for her age group back in 2011.  The deadline is coming up soon on the 25 February so hurry and get your entries in.  You can find out more at www.bbc.co.uk/500words